Swiftology: Universities Are “Enchanted” With Taylor Swift

United States Belgium North America Higher Education News by Erudera News Sep 04, 2023

Taylor Swift.jpg

The summer of 2023 was not a “cruel summer” for the American pop singer and songwriter Taylor Swift, as she says in one of her songs. In fact, Taylor Swift, who for years has been in the realm of pop music, is now at her career best, especially with the ongoing Swift’s Eras Tour. Amidst her great achievements, she has also found her way into academia.

Several universities and colleges in the United States, including Ivy League Stanford, offer courses on Taylor Swift’s art, how her lyrics relate to social psychology and her impact in the music industry. Most recently, a university in Belgium has introduced a course on the work of the pop star, becoming the first European academic institution to do so, Erudera.com reports.

Taylor Swift is mostly known for her representative lyrics, which professors who will be teaching Swift-related literature compare with the work of some of the greatest writers in the world, such as Shakespeare.

Currently, Swift is named the “Songwriter/ Artist of the Decade.”

Eight universities integrating Taylor Swift’s art in their curriculum are:

  • Arizona State University
  • Binghamton University
  • Berklee College of Music in Boston
  • Ghent University in Belgium
  • New York University
  • Rice University
  • Stanford University
  • University of Texas at Austin

The trend of introducing courses on Taylor Swift’s songwriting and storytelling commenced last year, at New York University.

This fall, Arizona State University (ASU) will offer a course on how the work of Taylor Swift is related to social psychology, which will be named “Psychology of Taylor Swift — Advanced Topics of Social Psychology.”

In an interview with Erudera News, Alexandra Wormley who will teach the course, said that the class will cover a different album of the singer every week, and each of the albums is linked to a topic within social psychology.

For example, when we talk about Lover, we’ll talk about romantic relationships and love. How do we define it? Are romantic relationships good for us? How do they help us achieve goals? Students will have read scientific articles about the topic before coming to class and then we’ll discuss them in class before applying them to Taylor Swift’s art and work,” she said.

Additionally, students who sign up for this class will have to conduct class experiments about how rumors spread and how music preference can predict one’s personality.

“I am incredibly excited to engage with students in such a creative environment-- after all, this class was designed by my students last year. They have grown up alongside Taylor Swift, and after COVID-19, they’re ready for a classroom environment that is fun and interesting while still being academically rigorous,” Wormley added.

Europe is also following the example of US universities in introducing Taylor Swift-inspired literature courses. Ghent University in Belgium, one of the largest academic institutions in the country, has launched what is believed to be the first course on the Taylor Swift's work in Europe.

The elective course “Literature: Taylor’s Version” will be taught by assistant professor Elly McCausland, who is also the author of the blog “Swifterature,” which analyzes and compares Taylor Swift’s lyrics with poems of prominent writers such as William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and Sylvia Plath.

Speaking about the course, McCausland said she hopes to cultivate critical thinking as the main skill, with students being able to make further connections between popular culture nowadays, the media, and English literature.

“I hope to make English literature more accessible to a wider variety of students by highlighting its relevance to their everyday lives,“ she told Erudera.

McCausland highlighted an increased interest among students to enroll in this course ever since it was introduced, including students from outside Ghent University.

There certainly seems to have been. I don’t know numbers yet, but I’ve had a lot of emails from people outside the university too, wanting to take the course,” she added.

Taylor’s Lyrics as Literature: A Hit Among Fans, But a Source of Controversy on Twitter

The introduction of courses on Taylor Swift was very exciting news for many people who like the singer’s music, especially for Swifties - fans who have a great connection with the pop star.

Nonetheless, some people appear skeptical about courses inspired by Taylor Swift, and even took to Twitter to question her art being analyzed at universities.

Some say there is no need for a degree in Taylor Swift’s music, and others raise the issue of whether student loans should apply for such courses. Referring to these courses, a Twitter user with the username Old Roy Rex, said they are “all hobbies.”

Yet, education experts do not agree with this view because they believe universities have decided to add Taylor Swift to their curriculums at the right time, considering the singer’s success and influence in the music industry over the past years.

Higher education expert Blerina Kelmendi said it is a win-win for students and universities.

“It was an opportunity taken by universities at the right time. I don’t think Taylor Swift has ever had a greater fanbase than she does today. So, it was a win-win for both the respective universities and students.

Universities get more students attending these classes, students get to find joy by being graded on something typically unheard of – Taylor Swift,” Kelmendi told Erudera News.

According to her, Taylor Swift’s art deserves to be studied as her lyrics are heaven for literature students. She described her songs as poems offered in the form of music with emotion, figurative language, and literary references.

Kelmendi recalled the song “Love Story” saying it alludes to Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” and “The Outside” that draws inspiration from Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.”

"I tried to take the road less traveled by

But nothing seems to work

the first few times

Am I right?" - Taylor Swift, The Outside

“Then, there’s “Wonderland,” which she admitted to having based on a “twisted Alice in Wonderland.” There’s also a reference to “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens in “Getaway Car,” where she opens the song with “It was the best of times, the worst of crimes.” And these are just some of the many,” Kelmendi went on.

She said these courses might face criticism, yet she expressed optimism that their positive impact would outweigh any negativity.

“I know there will be people who will inevitably question the academic value of these courses, but student satisfaction and positive learning outcomes will far outweigh any criticism."

Pop Culture in Academia: ‎2Pac, Bob Dylan, Beyonce & Harry Styles Also Find Home in Universities

In addition to courses covering the music of Taylor Swift, other universities offer classes in the art of other pop singers.

The Texas State University previously announced it will be offering the course “Harry Styles and the Cult of Celebrity: Identity, the Internet and European Pop Culture” for the spring 2023 semester, and the class was already full two minutes after the registration opened.

A Lana Del Rey course was also introduced at New York University last year, aiming at understanding the artist’s relationship to feminism and social justice movements.

Other artists with college courses dedicated to them include:

  • Tupac Shakur – course was offered by University of Washington.
  • Kanye West – course “Kanye vs Ye: Genius by Design” was offered by Georgia State University.
  • Miley Cyrus – course “The Sociology of Miley Cyrus: Race, Class, Gender and Media” at New York’s Skidmore College.
  • Rihanna – course “Beyoncé Feminism, Rihanna Womanism,” at University of Texas Austin.
  • Lady Gaga – course called “Lady Gaga and the Sociology of the Fame” offered by the University of South Carolina.

Kelmendi mentioned other institutions integrating pop artists into their curriculum, such as the University of Copenhagen with the course titled “Beyoncé, Gender and Race", and the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Continuing Education offering “Bob Dylan’s Lyrics: A Literary Exploration,” which delves into Dylan’s writing from a literary standpoint.

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