Meet Taylor Swift’s superfans: ‘You feel like she’s a part of your life that you can’t do away with’

Online culture makes it easy for fans to find each other and amplify their voices - but is superfandom always a healthy pursuit?

Swiftie Soc members Declan Cheetham (front), Ruairí O'Boyle and Sophie Hynes at University of Galway. Photograph: Joe O'Shaughnessy

On the evening of the Grammy Awards earlier this year, while most of us were sleeping, the phone towers over the University of Galway were alight with activity.

“There was a bit of chaos in our community group chat, at like, 5am,” laughs Ella Conneff. She and some others had stayed up to watch the Grammys.

“I knew [Taylor Swift] was going to be there,” says Aidan McNelis Kelly. “I was like, she’s going to announce something tonight, and I need to be there. And, sure enough, she did. And I did lose my mind.”

Both Conneff and McNelis Kelly are members of the University of Galway’s Swiftie Soc, Ireland’s first university society dedicated to Taylor Swift (other universities have since followed suit and created their own Swift-inspired societies).


Established in 2021, Swiftie Soc hosts activities like Taylor-themed movie screenings, charity events and club nights. Recently it teamed up with the university’s Granny Society to knit scarves similar to the one in the lyrics of the track All Too Well. And, of course, on occasions like the 66th Grammys, there are late-night WhatsApp threads, dissecting every syllable of Swift’s announcement that a new album was on the way.

“We’re all so different in so many different ways, but we all collectively love Taylor,” says Bhavya Bhatia, an international student from India who is studying for a master’s in digital marketing. To her, Swiftie Soc is more than just a society.

“Because I’m an international student, I’m far away from home. When you come to university, you have all these apprehensions about: are you going to fit in? Are you going to make friends? And then when you find a community where you feel like you belong, you just feel like you’ve entered the right place.”

Founding member Emily Donnellan points out that, in contrast with some other clubs and societies, entry into Swiftie Soc is nonconditional.

“You don’t have to be a talented musician. You don’t have to be a skilled sportsperson. It’s just really positive vibes all around,” she says.

Swiftie Soc members at the University of Galway: Declan Cheetham, Sophie Hynes and Isiri BM. Behind are Ruairí O'Boyle, Emily Donnellan, Aidan Kelly and Ella Conneff. Photograph: Joe O'Shaughnessy

Conneff, McNelis Kelly, Bhatia and Donnellan are hardly alone in their appreciation of Swift, whose latest album, The Tortured Poets Department, dropped in April and whose Eras tour has been blazing across the world. Once a country music kid from Pennsylvania, 34-year-old Taytay has morphed into a pop magnate of untouchable status. And as the truism goes, she couldn’t have done it without the fans.

But what does it mean to subscribe to a phenomenon like Taylor Swift? Is fandom a healthy endeavour? What makes a fan, and what does fandom bring to those who engage in it?

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Prof Eoin Devereux is codirector of the Centre of Study for Popular Music and Popular Culture at the University of Limerick and has studied and taught about fandom and discourse.

“Fandom, as I’ve studied it, is about meaning,” Prof Devereux says. “It’s about community. It’s about people making connections with one another. I’m very interested in the creativity that fans engage in. So, if you think about fans writing fan fiction, writing blogs, or running Instagram accounts, there’s a lot of very interesting activity that goes on which results, I think, in connections between people.”

This observation tallies with the experience of Jackie Cooney, a Marilyn Monroe superfan, who created the Irish Marilyn Monroe Fanclub as a means of keeping the memory of the 1960s star alive. Cooney runs accounts on Instagram, TikTok and X, as well a website, dedicated to providing accurate information about Monroe.

“She’s very intriguing, you just kind of want to know more,” says Cooney, whose interest in Monroe was first sparked by reruns of Some Like It Hot on RTÉ every Christmas day.

Jackie Cooney at home in Lucan, Co Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Gradually, Cooney came to learn the lore around Monroe, and the mystery surrounding her death – in 1962, Monroe was found dead, aged 36, in her LA home. Ever since, theories have spread about the true cause of her demise.

“The more you find out, the more you realise is incorrect, so you need to find out what the real story is,” Cooney says. “That’s led to 30 years of reading books and finding out.”

Cooney posts articles and videos debunking untruths about Monroe on her pages. This passion has brought her to places, and connected her with people, she might never have discovered otherwise.

“I went to a memorial over in LA,” Cooney says. “They have [one] every year in the same chapel where her funeral was. I went to one in 2004. And I’ve met a small group of solid friends who I chat to practically every day. Not just about Marilyn stuff now. Two of them are in the UK, one is in Oklahoma, and the other one’s in LA.”

This sense of community and creativity around fandom is shared by Bartley Ramsay and Joe Doherty, fans of the Donegal League of Ireland side Finn Harps.

“There’s a whole social aspect of going to matches,” says Ramsay. “When you go to Ballybofey for a game, I could freely walk around and talk to 100 people. Even if it’s just hello, how are you? Joe and myself wouldn’t be friends only for Finn Harps. And we’ve been friends probably more years than we care to remember.”

Ramsay has been going to Harps matches since 1975, while Doherty, who is slightly younger, started going in 1988.

“Thirty-six odd years later, I’m still making the trek,” Doherty says.

An impressive level of commitment is involved in following a team like Finn Harps, whose closest away ground is 160km away from Ballybofey. Ramsay, who lives in Dublin, follows them all around the country, and will often make the 241km trip to Donegal to see them.

“I’ve seen Harps all over Ireland. There isn’t actually a League of Ireland ground that I haven’t seen them in. And there’s a lot of grounds, and clubs that have left the league and stuff like that,” Ramsay says.

Early on in his fandom, one of the motivations for going to a game was to get a programme.

“You couldn’t guarantee that somebody would bring one back, and there weren’t the WhatsApp groups, Facebook groups or X groups that there are now. I have no idea how many Harps programmes I have – thousands.”

Bartley Ramsay, with memorabilia associated with Finn Harps, holding a photograph of the 1974 Cup winning side. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Between Ramsay, Doherty and another friend of theirs, they claim to have every Harps programme going back to the club’s foundation in 1969. And it’s not just programmes they collect, but all kinds of memorabilia. Ramsay has about 60 match-worn jerseys, going back to 1986. He also has medals gifted to him by players, egg cups, shot glasses, mugs, pin badges, and match tickets, including a ticket from when Harps played Everton in the Uefa cup.

This dogged interest over many years has facilitated their recent project, We Are the Harps, a history of the club, co-authored by Ramsay and Doherty. The book comprises names, dates of birth, appearance statistics and other relevant biographical information for each of the 628 players who have played for Finn Harps since 1969, including a defector from the Czech Republic who played for Harps in the early 1970s.

“I was going mad looking for his date of birth,” laughs Ramsay. “And somebody said, oh he’s actually an artist in Sweden, he’s got a website. So, I logged on, sent him a nice message and got his date of birth.”

The book is a labour of love that might never have come into being were it not for the many years of fandom that Ramsay and Doherty have clocked up.

“We were building this, and collecting stats, and information, over the last 30, 35 years,” says Doherty. “We had that head start.”

But Doherty points out: “We’re just a sample of two Harps supporters.”

Many others like them devote time and energy to their team, come rain or shine.

“I was going to say we do it for enjoyment, the enjoyment at times can be in short supply,” Doherty laughs. “Generally, home or away, you come out of many’s a game cursing and giving out about what you just watched. But come the next week, and you’re ready to go again.”

Committing yourself to this kind of pursuit may well be socially and creatively enriching, but there are also negative aspects to fandom.

For Cooney, for example, running a fan page whose Instagram has 86.5k followers has some strange byproducts.

“There’s a lot of people online who message me saying that they’re [Monroe’s] child, that they’re her reincarnated. I had someone just last week telling me she was their mother. So, you have to just kind of ignore them,” Cooney says.

“And then you have people who, if you post anything realistic about her, will come in, like: absolutely not, how could you say you’re a fan and post something like that about her?”

Members of the Swiftie Soc feel similarly about “diehard” online Swift obsessives.

“There’s stan Twitter [X], which is a whole other aspect of fandom,” says McNelis Kelly. “It’s a mess. If you have one opinion that differs from someone else’s, sometimes it can get very heated.”

Indeed, the army of keyboard warriors who follow Swift, ready to pile on critics of her work, is at this stage infamous. Recently, the online music monthly Paste Magazine made the decision to post a review of Swift’s album without a byline. The reason? “[I]n 2019, when Paste reviewed Lover, the writer was sent threats of violence from readers who disagreed with the work,” the outlet said in a post on X.

It’s not the first time Swifties have been at the centre of this kind of hysteria. They’re known, and feared, for their rabidly protective behaviour.

But there are other arenas in which fandom can become just as heated. Are diehard Swifties quite as far apart as we may think, for example, from football “ultras”, whose devotion to their favourite team sometimes warps into hooliganism?

Extreme Swifties and ultras alike are liable to be misunderstood. Both are youth-led, and staunch in their determination to fight for their cause (for Swift fans, this means they don’t care if the establishment has a different opinion to them). And both are about creating an aura around what they love that is, perhaps, even more powerful than the thing itself.

Being an ultra is “about creating an atmosphere ... and using whatever means you can to do that”, Doherty says.

Though he doesn’t consider himself one, “I know people [whose] first priority when they go to a match is all about singing and chanting. It’s about community, or [the] organisation, or the group.”

John O’Connor, assistant professor in clinical psychology at Trinity College Dublin, says that losing yourself to the pull of the crowd can be a good thing, as long as it doesn’t get out of hand.

“We’re always worried about the future, the anxiety of something on its way, whereas when we’re in a group of people who are all experiencing the same thing, or close to the same thing, we can actually, maybe, experience the moment in a way that we often wish for,” O’Connor says.

The desire to become a fan, he says, might arise from a need to “have something in life that seems perfect to us”.

“There is that desire for perfection. And that space is filled in different ways. Religious belief used to be a major part of it. Sometimes political affiliation. Falling in love. I think there’s something very deep within us that fandom fills up.”

Ella Conneff, vice auditor of Swiftie Soc, at University of Galway. Photograph: Joe O'Shaughnessy

At the same time, O’Connor is cognisant of the dangers of “cultural contagion, where we start going down one particular way of thinking of things”. Fan movements, and the capitalist bodies attached to them, can exploit our instinct to be part of a group.

“You can exploit all these things by making them look like: you need this thing. And if you’re not in them, then you’re missing out in a way. So, a risk of fandom is perhaps that we may suspend our critical faculties,” O’Connor says.

Still, he feels that getting out of our individual “I” and subscribing earnestly to something in the outside world is important.

“We all need to get out of ourselves, out of our own heads, out of our own minds. And we all need something out there that can draw that in,” he says. “Things we fall for in life are very important developmentally for us. If we can’t fall for things in the world, if we can’t be a fan of something, then we might be a bit stuck within ourselves.”

Whether a football fan, a music fan or otherwise, fandom is often a key part in the development of identity.

Conneff, who is now 20, has been listening to Swift since she was eight years old.

“[Taylor Swift] feels almost like a sister-type figure,” she says.

Bhatia agrees: “For me, it’s like: I was growing, and she was growing with us. You feel like [she’s] a part of your life that you can’t do away with. Every Instagram story that you post needs to have a Taylor Swift song running behind it. On your happy days, you’re going to listen to good, upbeat Taylor Swift songs. On your sad days, you’re going to listen to sad versions of her songs. If you’re driving, you’re going to be listening to her. If you’re jamming, you’re going to be listening to her. So, literally, she’s all around. That’s what fandom means to me.”

Swiftie Sophie Hynes with Taylor Swift's Lover vinyl on the grounds of the University of Galway. Photograph: Joe O'Shaughnessy

Not all members of the Swiftie Soc have managed to nab tickets to her Eras tour (a touchy subject). But those who have tickets have already bought sets to make friendship bracelets so they can participate in the ritual of bracelet swapping (where fans make bracelets with coded lettering and swap them with others they meet). They are also diligently planning outfits – it’s de rigueur at a Swift concert to express, sartorially, the Swift “era” to which you most belong.

“It’s definitely something that I’m [putting] a lot of thought into,” says Conneff. “I figure if I’m going to go, I might as well do the whole thing.”

At times, outsiders will express cynicism towards the unabashed passion members of the Swiftie Soc display. “I have five older brothers and probably all of them would be very cynical of me being a fan of Taylor Swift,” says Donnellan. “But I think a really important message that Taylor tells all her fans is that people are going to make you feel bad for doing something that might be a little bit cliche or a little bit cringey. But if you enjoy something, you should really take pride in that.”

Prof Devereux says some of the cynicism directed at fans can be gender or age related, but that there’s no shame in feeling an attachment.

“I would often say to my students in Limerick: there are people who take a week off from work to follow performances of Wagner’s Ring cycle. And they will talk about it in every detail. And they might follow a cycle of Samuel Beckett plays. And to my mind, there is no difference between a 15-year-old or an 18-year-old expressing themselves about a pop star, versus someone who is engaging with so-called high culture.”

Bhatia echoes this sentiment. “I think the queen herself said it: haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate. We let them hate. It’s fine. We love her anyway. You don’t have to if you don’t want to.”