Tweet the Town Red: Swift on Twitter

Taylor Swift has had a big week. Her fourth album Red was released on Monday and catapulted to #1 on iTunes within 35 minutes. It also made records on the Billboard Charts for scoring 60 Top 100 hits in 6 years. There is also speculation that she could sell 1 million albums by weeks end. Along with that she has done a ton of media promotions by performing a free concert in Times Square and showing up on a host of shows like The Ellen Show, The View, Good Morning America and David Letterman. All of this goes to remind us what we may have forgotten two years after her last album, Speak Now, released: Taylor Swift is famous. Like really famous.

Despite her fame, Swift seems to try to keep as low a profile as possible, but for a girl that is constantly followed by the paparazzi it’s hard to get a private moment anywhere which leads to permanent speculation about who she’s dating/seeing/talking to at the time. Actually, the only reason we ever really find out about her love interests are when a shot of them together shows up in the tabloids. In fact, every one of Swift’s relationships have been painstakingly recorded and talked about. This may be partly in fault to Swift herself as she is very well known for publicly airing her break-ups on her albums.

Besides her emotional transparency on her albums, however, Taylor Swift never (ever) seems to reveal what goes on behind the carefully controlled image she has going, which translates to her social media accounts. That seems to be the price of fame, however. It seems that either you can maintain a pristine image or be a total public meltdown. (Looking at you, LiLo!) Of course, anyone in the public eye feels the need to maintain and foster their identity to be better perceived but Swift is especially affected by this. She has millions of younger female fans and is seen as a role model for them. So while Swift attempts to be perceived as “authentic” in her Twitter account, this need for control over identity brings up the very issues of authenticity which “varies based on context. Users who present in this “authentic” manner are presumably making self-presentation decisions based on their assumptions of context and audience.” (Marwick 18)

No doubt, Swift is surrounded by publicists and managers that help her maintain her image so while her Twitter account (@taylorswift13) is certainly hers to control, she is still very careful with what she writes. At the time of this writing, she has over 20 million followers so her messages reach a vast amount of people. This past week, most of her tweets are promotional with announcement of her TV appearances and loving thanks to her fans for helping her album to the top of the charts. There are also many RTs from her fans and other celebrity friends congratulating her and quoting lyrics of her songs.

While fans get an intimate look into her world through her songs, it’s still hard to know who Taylor Swift really is. Being that her huge celebrity status makes her largely inaccessible on a personal level the one way we can get to know her is through her Twitter account which, like everything else she does, is whitewashed so as not to cause any controversy or offend any people. This method is used to try to avoid any “nightmare readers” and compose tweets based on the lowest common denominator of followers. In this case, Swift’s lowest common denominator is her younger fans and anyone that perceives her negatively.

The problem with this is that Taylor hardly gets the chance to act like a normal 22 year old. She is always hiding behind the facade of her celebrity. This is not to say that she isn’t a legitimately sweet person that loves her fans, but we all know that no one is that perfect. 22 year-olds do party, cuss, make mistakes, and serial date their way through their peers. So far, the only thing Swift has publicly done which is normal for her age is date an impressive roster of guys, but then she is criticized for having “too many” relationships. Girl can’t win.

As was previously stated, Swift tries very hard to convey an authentic taste statement which, as described by Hugo Liu in “Social Network Profiles as Taste Performance,”  is “associated with a relaxed style and the display of slight imperfection.” To Swift, these imperfections come in the form of some more personal and humorous information including self-deprecating humor, details about gorging on junk food, and being judged by her cat.

These tweets are included to show that Taylor is just a “normal” girl and, compared to other tweets about her album and interactions with celebrity friends, make up her best and most normal tweets. There is no doubt, though, that including these tweets are a calculated move which points back to Erving Goffman’s theory of the performance–as described by Zizi Papacharissi in “Without You, I’m Nothing: Performances of the Self on Twitter,”–where “in everyday cycles of self-presentation and impression formation, individuals perform on multiple stages, creating a face for each interaction.” In this situation, Twitter is one of those stages and she is creating the face of the innocent, sweet as honey, good country girl that loves her fans. Those extra tweets are gems to provide a slightly more in-depth look into her life. Again, this is all certainly not a lie but it definitely stems from a performance to maximize her pristine image.

So where does all that leave us? Is Taylor Swift fake? (No!) But we all know that she has an identity to maintain and one little slip-up can cause a media firestorm and countless criticism. While I definitely understand the need for self-monitoring on a highly public platform like Twitter, I also think there is some wiggle room for more self-expression. I want to see Taylor drop the f-bomb at least once, I want to know who she’s voting for, let’s see some pictures of Taylor and whatever beau she’s dating shoving ice cream in their faces. All of these may actually have a more positive effect and forays into her more personal life would make fans love her even more.

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One comment

  1. I love this post and think the social media performance of Taylor Swift is an interesting account to look at. You write, “There are also many RTs from her fans and other celebrity friends congratulating her and quoting lyrics of her songs.” While Swift does have an “appearance” to keep up with, her dedication to her fans is what makes her so personable. She also seems to really understand the affordances of Twitter. Retweeting her fans and thanking them is so important as a celebrity because it makes fans feel close to her. Twitter breaks down the boundary between celebrity and fans. Also, if fans know that Swift often RT shout outs, then people are more likely to tweet @ her (with hopes of getting a shout out) and this in turn increases fan loyalty and engagement. Understanding these affordances is crucial for Swift.

    However, I do agree with you when you write that you think Swift has “some wiggle room for self expression.” After all, she’s young and shouldn’t be criticized for including more personal aspects of her life. I wonder though – if we were “celebrities” how much information would we feel comfortable sharing?

    Also, I wonder how many celebrities have “public” and “private accounts.” I’m sure some celebrities have a Facebook page to promote events, products, movies, etc (while also slipping in “personal aspects” to keep it “authentic”), but also have another Facebook account with a fake name that is completely private with less than 500 friends and that is used for private use only.
    For celebrities, I wonder how authentic “authentic” profiles described by Liu are?

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