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    No Eras Tour in China? Swifties Brought the Magic Home Anyway.

    To millions of Chinese fans, Taylor Swift is more than just a pop star; she embodies self-expression, authenticity, and resilience. When they couldn’t see her live, they turned to fan-organized screenings, merchandise exchanges, and elaborate recreations of concert scenes.
    Jun 03, 2024#music

    They hosted documentary screenings, crafted fan merchandise, and recreated concert scenes in meet-ups across the country. On social media, they shared travel tips, clips of performances, and outfit ideas. A lucky few even flew to Japan and Singapore for her shows, bringing back stories and souvenirs.

    Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour never reached China, but that didn’t stop millions of her fans across the country from joining in the excitement.

    Wu Wenxin, 25, was fortunate to see Taylor Swift live in Singapore, Swift’s sole stop in Southeast Asia. The six shows drew over 368,000 fans, 70% from overseas, boosting Singapore’s economy by an estimated $370 million.

    In Singapore, Wu was immediately engulfed. “Many wore fan attire with bracelets and decorations,” she recalls. “Chinese fans may have felt out of place at departure airports, but at Changi Airport, they suddenly blended in,” referring to Singapore’s largest airport.

    Before flying out, Chinese fans united on the social super-app WeChat to share travel advice and concert preparations, including outfit choices, friendship bracelets, and stickers. Some even coordinated their flights, meeting at the airport with banners and posters that read, “How did you know I was going to see Taylor Swift?”

    The fan frenzy was unmistakable. “During the week of the concerts, our school seminar coincided with the showtimes. Our professor jokingly reminded us to leave early to avoid traffic jams caused by Swifties,” says Chen Zili, a postgraduate student from eastern China’s Jiangsu province now studying in Singapore.

    Though the pop megastar has performed in China only a few times, most recently in 2019, Swift’s popularity in the country has grown steadily over the past decade. Her fame surged after an iconic 2014 performance in Shanghai, where tickets for her RED Tour at the Mercedes-Benz Arena sold out in one minute, the fastest ticket sale in China’s history.

    Among the most beloved Western artists in the country, Swift’s fanbase — dubbed Swifties — is predominantly composed of young adults and teenagers who find a deep connection with her evocative lyrics and relatable storytelling.

    Most fans are women aged 15 to 30. This diverse fanbase, often from first-tier cities, is actively engaged on social media platforms.

    Swift, affectionately known in China as “Meimei,” has over 10 million fans on the microblogging platform Weibo and 4.6 million followers on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok. The nickname is a play on words that references both the Chinese word for “unlucky” — due to her early career challenges and chart disappointments — and also phonetically echoes “beautiful.”

    This deep connection to Swift has not only fueled her popularity but powered a micro economy around her music and merchandise. From custom-made friendship bracelets to fan-organized screenings of her concert documentary, Swifties have created a vibrant marketplace to buy and sell concert-themed outfits, accessories, and unofficial memorabilia.

    Shake it off

    The excitement around the Eras Tour in China began months before the live concerts in Asia, with the global release of the concert documentary “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” in October.

    The film screened in China for 69 days, drawing over 2 million viewers and grossing 100 million yuan ($13.8 million) — the highest-grossing music documentary in Chinese box-office history.

    Wu watched the film three times, including once in Macau due to its delayed release in the Chinese mainland. “We went from sitting and singing to dancing on chairs, eventually standing up to sing and dance together. Though we were strangers at first, by the end, it felt like we were old friends,” Wu says about her trip to Macau.

    Zhu Jiaxing, 24, who attended four fan-organized screenings after the documentary’s release, says it’s more than just watching a film; it’s about bringing the concert experience to life. “Fans and organizers recreate stage scenes from the Eras Tour at specific songs or moments,” explains Zhu.

    For instance, during the song “Vigilante Shit” — about a woman seeking revenge — at one screening, Zhu saw a fan dressed in the same outfit Swift performs in. And during “Tolerate It,” a song about unrequited love, fans set up a table and chairs, acting out the scene with Swift and a dancer from the concert.

    Fans also designed interactive segments for different songs during the screenings. During “Champagne Problems” — a song about a troubled girlfriend who turns down her lover’s marriage proposal — Chinese fans toasted with champagne. Some even dressed up as Kanye West for “Look What You Made Me Do,” a song referencing the controversial American rapper.

    “Any scene, event, or meme resonating with fans’ collective memory is recreated at the cinema,” says Zhu.

    Many, like Zhu, who couldn’t attend the concerts in person, channeled their passion into merchandise exchanges, driving the economic impact known as “Swiftonomics.”

    Zhu highlights two prominent manifestations: the surge in sales of friendship bracelet beads and the box-office success of the documentary film. Initially, he underestimated the appeal of these small plastic beads, believing they wouldn’t garner much interest. But during the movie release and the Singapore concert, sales flourished.

    Wu organized three friendship bracelet-making events and noticed that Taobao, China’s leading e-commerce platform, mostly sells beads in batches of 100 or more. “Realizing I couldn’t make them all alone, I purchased more and crafted them with fellow fans,” she says.

    Using social media to coordinate, Wu secured a terrace near a McDonald’s for participants to design bracelets. “During the event, some fans brought speakers, souvenirs, and snacks. We bonded over conversations, music, and our shared adoration for her,” Wu says, adding that most who attended were single women.

    “Given Swift’s international status and her rare appearances in China, the recent concert film screenings were a unique opportunity,” she says.

    According to Wu, she became a devoted fan during Swift’s 2023 U.S. tour, after which she delved deeper into her songs and lyrics.

    “After the documentary ‘Miss Americana,’ I recognized Taylor Swift as a talented singer with a profound feminist consciousness and positive principles,” says Wu. “I admire her unwavering expression of values and political beliefs in a challenging public climate.”


    Wu’s admiration is shared by many young Chinese fans, who find deep resonance in Swift’s advocacy for self-expression, authenticity, and resilience.

    Song Yang, an associate professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at Shanghai’s Fudan University, explains that these themes, along with the ability of China’s English-speaking young elite to navigate transnational pop culture, forge a powerful connection between Swift and her Chinese fanbase.

    “Contemporary fandom transcends traditional singer-audience dynamics. The lines between production and consumption blur significantly, with fans actively participating,” says Song.

    Wu concurs, noting that affluent Chinese fans often attend Swift’s concerts, further aided by the announcement of visa-free travel to Singapore for Chinese citizens.

    However, Wu also acknowledges a segment of fans overlooked by many: those who show their support through more modest gestures despite or because of limited financial means.

    “For instance, the friendship bracelets,” she says. “An entire afternoon’s activity might cost around 30 yuan per person, and tickets for the concert documentary are reasonably priced. With no domestic performances, fans’ opportunities are restricted, yet they express their devotion in unique ways.”

    For Chinese fans, Wu underscores that Swift’s music is also a valuable tool for learning English. She says fans, including herself, often use dictionaries to understand Swift’s lyrics and expand their vocabulary.

    One such phrase for her is “Champagne Problems,” which reflects the dilemma of choosing between two desirable options. “The female lead in the music video talks about how great the male lead is, just like how Champagne is a luxury, yet she is troubled about whether to reject him,” Wu explains. “Ultimately, she rejects him.”

    Song also asserts that understanding Swift’s appeal to Chinese fans solely through American and Chinese cultural lenses is misguided. “Many fans are drawn to her not merely because she is an American singer,” Song explains.

    According to her, Swift’s advocacy for self-expression and authenticity resonates with urban youth globally. “Taylor Swift dismantles negative stereotypes. She handles criticism with grace, asserting herself boldly and fearlessly embracing diverse perspectives. She stands firm in her beliefs, unafraid to stand alone,” says Song.

    Song posits that Swift’s discourse on gender issues — encompassing love, life, career, and public perception — is intertwined with her female image and self-identity. “She enriches the portrayal of modern and professional women within the broader context.”

    Zhu, who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community, felt a strong connection to the song “You Need To Calm Down.” The music video, featuring numerous queer individuals and celebrities such as the cast of Netflix’s “Queer Eye,” made a profound impact. “The lyrics and the cultural and emotional messages conveyed in the music video resonated with me, providing affirmation of my identity and alleviating burdens,” says Zhu.

    Chen, a Chinese student in Singapore, found personal echoes in the lyrics of “Midnight Rain,” a song about a woman who breaks up with her lover to pursue her career and dreams.

    At the time, she and her partner had different life goals, and she eventually chose to leave him.

    She recalls, “When I heard this song, I was in a toxic relationship and unsure whether to break up. But the lyrics felt like they were talking about me. ‘He wanted it comfortable, I wanted the pain; he wanted a bride, I was making my own name, chasing the fame.’”

    According to Chen, being a Taylor Swift fan is a form of liberation, which allows her to transcend societal expectations — whether as a student overwhelmed with coursework or a worker in a demanding job.

    “In the Western context, pop music and Taylor Swift are mainstream culture, but not in China. Chinese fans break through social roles and stereotypes,” says Chen.

    With the release of Taylor Swift’s new album “The Tortured Poets Department” on April 19, Wu has again found a sense of normalcy. She’s started a new life in Hong Kong, but her WeChat Moments feed still mentions Swift’s speech when she was awarded an honorary doctorate by New York University in 2022:

    “How do I give advice to this many people about their life choices? I won’t. Scary news is: You’re on your own now. Cool news is: You’re on your own now.”

    Additional reporting: Zhu Haijia; editor: Apurva.

    (Header image: At a screening of “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” in Beijing, Feb. 3. 2024. Jade Gao/AFP via VCG)