Taylor Swift academic research
Photo: Jana Beamer, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

Swift rise

March 29, 2024


Taylor Swift’s recent arrival on the 2024 Forbes World's Billionaires List has only increased the public’s fascination with the influential pop star and mogul, including within academia. Several UR faculty have produced research on Swift or offered insights from their areas of expertise about her impact on society.

Jessica Flanigan, a leadership studies professor, was one of two guests on a recent episode of Open for Debate, nationally broadcast discussions on a wide array of topics. On the question of, “Does Taylor Swift deserve her billion-dollar fortune?” Flanigan argued “yes.”

Flanigan, the Richard L. Morrill Chair in Ethics and Democratic Values in the Jepson School of Leadership Studies, has researched the ethics of extreme wealth and is coauthoring a book about Taylor Swift. Success from Swift’s record sales, Eras Tour — which brought in over $1 billion in ticket sales in 2023 — and merchandise have bumped the American singer-songwriter to billionaire status.

“You can’t put a price tag on how influential and important her work has been to so many people,” said Flanigan, a self-proclaimed Swiftie. “A society that produces billionaires like Taylor Swift is good for everybody.” 

According to Flanigan, Swift has been a great steward of allocating her work and resources and is highly productive and innovative in building wealth.

The debate, which is available to watch online, was covered by Fast Company.

Music professor Joanna Love connects Swift to her research on how pop music informs and engages with politics, especially relating to a book she’s working on about music and the Super Bowl. This year’s Super Bowl received more attention than usual because of Swift’s relationship with Kansas City Chiefs player Travis Kelce, which attracted new audiences to the game.

“The increased prominence and convergence of popular music and branding that frames the Super Bowl has been well documented over the past 57 years,” Love said. “There is no doubt that the league and its sponsors benefited from Swift’s attendance at this year’s Super Bowl, which garnered the largest telecast audience ever recorded.”

Janelle Peifer, a psychology professor, has been quoted by media about celebrity obsession and parasocial relationships — one-sided connections or personal bonds with someone in the public eye. Peifer discussed this concept in a piece for the HuffPost site focusing on why Taylor Swift fans are so deeply invested in her romantic relationships.

“Social media, in particular, has increased the level of identification that people have with celebrities,” Peifer said. “People can open up their apps and see what Swift’s up to, so it can legitimately feel to some as if she’s a close friend. It can feel like we’re owed something in return.”