Over the past two weeks, Taylor Swift has made headlines dozens of times. Only one, maybe two of those instances have been because of something she actually did. Her music getting removed from TikTok? That was a disagreement between Universal Music Group and the app itself. Her songs getting boosted illegally? That was pirates. Explicit deepfakes of Swift? Blame 4chan. Conspiracy theories that Swift is a psyop? Those come from right-wing commentators. Swift winning Grammys and announcing a new album, The Tortured Poets Department? That news Swift actually broke herself. Taylor Swift is the attention economy’s Tasmanian devil and all anyone can do is try to watch without getting dizzy.
On Sunday, that Tasmanian devil is probably going to Super Bowl LVIII.
The “probably” in that sentence is also something of a news item. Two weeks ago, after the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Baltimore Ravens and secured their place in the Big Game, fans immediately checked Swift’s Eras Tour schedule—only to find she’ll be in Tokyo the night before her boyfriend, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, hits the turf. After much fretting, and an assist from The West Wing, fans rested assured that she could make it. Further assuaging fears, the Japanese Embassy in Washington, DC, posted on X that “despite the 12-hour flight and 17-hour time difference, the Embassy can confidently Speak Now to say that if she departs Tokyo in the evening after her concert, she should comfortably arrive in Las Vegas before the Super Bowl.” This also made news.
Now, I’m writing about it. This is wild. It’s turning the American tradition of beers, burgers, and the Bowl into a pop culture and political lightning rod. The collision of flag-waving football energy and Swift’s brand of celebrity feminism are causing a cultural confluence not seen since Super Bowl 50 in 2016, when Beyoncé performed “Formation” and conservatives decried Coldplay’s halftime show for promoting the gay agenda. Except Swift isn’t even performing. If there’s a terrible storm between Tokyo and Las Vegas she might not even make it. If she shows up and belches, the internet will look into it; Google search interest for “watch necklace” all but quadrupled based on her Grammys accessory. Imagine what a little gas could do.
Swift’s mere presence at Chiefs games has been bringing huge viewership spikes to NFL broadcasts this season. Last year’s Super Bowl, which featured an iconic performance by Rihanna, was viewed by a colossal 115 million people, according to Nielsen. Swift’s attendance—or even the idea that she might attend—at LVIII could put viewership even higher. Even though the game is already the US’s most-watched sporting event of the year, having Swift involved significantly impacts the event’s cultural cache.
“The Super Bowl is already such a major US pop culture event. It’s already a mix of people who like the NFL, which is a big audience, and then you’ve got the people who are more interested in the ads than the game,” says Charles R. Taylor, a marketing professor at Villanova University. “Now you add this Taylor Swift Effect on top of that and it’s going to be record-breaking.”
This, in turn, is why Swift often finds herself in the crosshairs of conspiracy theorists and AI deepfake makers. Celebrity is a black hole for eyeballs, pulling in all the attention it can get. Swift’s brand, which has evolved in both mainstream media and social media simultaneously, is unlike anything before it. Swift now dominates TikTok and Instagram, just like she did Tumblr a decade ago. Awareness of Swift knows no borders, so anyone seeking attention—deepfakers, podcast pundits—gets more mileage out of using her name and image than any other.