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Friday, April 12, 2024
The Observer

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Panel discusses the national influence of Taylor Swift and Beyoncé

Students packed into the Carey Auditorium to hear about two women in the music industry, Beyoncé and Taylor Swift. The panel named “Who Run the World?” was hosted by the Gender Relations Center in honor of women’s history month. 

The panel consisted of Daniel Graff, professor of the practice in the department of history, Kristen Collett-Schmitt, associate dean for innovation and inclusion at Mendoza College of Business, Anna Wald, director of graduate studies for the gender studies program and Alyssa Ngo, assistant director of student leadership at Multicultural Student Programs and Services.

Senior Maddi Felts, a fellow for gender equity and intersectionality, and sophomore Emi Kartsonas, the program assistant for the gender equity and intersectionality, moderated the panel. 

The discussion kicked off with an exploration of the summer 2023, hailed as a season of "feminine extravagance." Delving into the historical and cultural underpinnings, the panel examined what propelled Beyoncé and Swift to prominence during this time period.

“I have more of an economic explanation for summer 2023, more than maybe a cultural phenomenon, but I would argue that part of this was definitely post-COVID kind of release from the seclusion and the isolation many people that end up having from the pandemic era and, you know, excited to be able to spend it and really use it on experiences,” Collett-Schmitt said. 

Swift has won 14 Grammys and has over 47 million monthly listeners on Spotify. Her recent Eras Tour became the highest grossing music tour in history surpassing $1 billion dollars in revenue. 

Beyoncé, dubbed “Queen Bey”, has the most Grammy victories in the world with 32 Grammys to her name. She is the first woman to have 20 top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 as a solo artist and 10 on the chart as a member of a group. She toured with her Renaissance World Tour last year, and will be releasing a country music follow-up album to the “Renaissance” album.

“In terms of highest grossing music tours in 2023, Taylor Swift and Beyoncé [were] the top two. All concerts by men followed that by a large amount of money. So people were flocking to see female artists,” Collett-Schmitt said. 

The Eras Tour grossed $780 million, and the Renaissance World Tour grossed $460 million.  In third place was Ed Sheeran with his Mathematics Tour, grossing $240 million

“To me, 2023 seems less of a breakout year than part of an ongoing process of women gaining ground in pop music. But still, as a fellow panelist already mentioned, if you’re looking at the Billboard charts, men are still over-represented significantly, whether as performers, songwriters and definitely producers,” Graff said. “So women dominated major Grammy Awards this winter, but overall, women haven’t achieved parity of representations.” 

A study done by Billboard found 14.4% of songwriters were women and around 4% of music producers were female. 

Swift and Beyoncé boast immense followings — the Swifties and the Beyhive, respectively — capable of filling the world’s largest stadiums, influencing chart positions and dominating online discussions. Ngo focused on the idea of vulnerability bonding people together to create strong fan bases. 

“Many people are not going to share that with their male friends and gonna have like, listening parties, really, together the way that I think female fans are able to share that vulnerability,” Ngo said. “So maybe it’s not even that women have the power, but that men are restricted from creating a community around music in the same way that women are able to. So I think that’s given them a special power not just the ability to have individual fans but the ability for fans to connect with each other.”

Around one third of all adults in America identify as fans of Swift, and Beyoncé has amassed a following of 314 million Instagram followers. 

Collett-Schmitt further elaborated on how both artists strategically craft personal marketing and brand development strategies, not only to expand their fan bases, but also as deliberate business tactics.

“It seems like there is that level of loyalty and inspiration going on with these two artists right now. And my sense is that there’ll be hundreds of thousands of young women in particular who are listening to this music and will be inspired to become musicians or filmmakers in the case of Greta [Gerwig], so it’s interesting to me as a relative outsider,” Graff said. 

The panel discussed how both artists have leveraged their platforms and music to advocate for social change. 

“With Beyoncé, you know, what intrigues me, as a historian, is what I see as really conscious efforts, especially in recent albums, and performances to affirm that she is indebted to and influenced by a very rich history of African American music. From her celebration of Black marching band traditions to the re-workings of house, disco and now Black country,” Graff said. 

Beyoncé made history at the 2018 Coachella festival by incorporating a marching band into her performance, paying homage to the rich culture of historically Black colleges and universities. This act also marked her as the first Black woman to headline the festival.

“I also was thinking about the ‘Renaissance’ era and what that means in terms of this sort of, like, further evolution of Beyoncé from, you know, previously being ‘Homecoming,’ and before that, being ‘Lemonade.’ There was that SNL skit, being like, ‘Oh, wait, Beyonce is Black, right?’” Wald said. “So it’s like that moment of Black activism has already happened. But I think the ‘Renaissance’ era did something really specific with calling in a Black queer lineage of ballroom culture and disco culture.” 

Swift was named Time's Person of the Year in 2023, becoming the first solo entertainer to receive the award

“It’s undeniable now that Taylor Swift is one of the most powerful people in this country. And I think in terms of political impact, you know, there's an ongoing joke that Taylor Swift could sway the November election is true, like absolutely I think it’s possible,” Wald said. 

In February 2023 at the Grammys, Swift was jokingly asked if she could have the Swifties lower the inclination of eggs. Coincidentally or not, the day after the Grammy Awards, the price of eggs stood at $2.61 per dozen, marking a significant 52 percent decrease from the nationwide average of $5.43 as of December 19th.

“A lot of the social issues that [Swift] has tackled have been by choice, right when she feels comfortable speaking on it, when she wants to dive into that issue. And Beyoncé, as a Black artist, can’t really escape that, right? She doesn’t get to just deny issues. So it’s not necessarily a criticism of Taylor Swift that she hasn’t engaged with these social commentaries, in my opinion, as thoroughly and as intentionally as Beyoncé,” Ngo said. 

The panel discussed the role of gender influence on the artists’ economic decision-making and potentially change or even be the cause of limited success compared to their male counterparts. 

Collett-Schmitt proposed the following idea to her class, asking her students whether or not they thought Swift was underpaid.

“A lot of students ... suggested that she was intentionally keeping prices low because she didn’t want people to hate her, and I don’t know if that’s a gender conclusion or not, to be honest ... if we would make that conclusion about a male artist,” Collett-Schmitt said. 

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect that some quotes from Kristen Collett-Schmitt were improperly transcribed and reported. The Observer sincerely regrets this error.