Five weeks into winter quarter, I learned from a friend that a Taylor Swift course was being offered. ITALIC 99: All Too Well (Ten Week Version), taught by Nona Hungate ’24, is “an in-depth analysis of Taylor Swift’s ‘All Too Well.’” The course recognizes Swift’s brilliant songwriting skills while giving Stanford students the opportunity to learn how to analyze literature. I do not think I have ever felt so sad about not being enrolled in a course.
The closest I have ever gotten to taking a course about Taylor Swift was my Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR) 1 class, “From Green Cards to Gaming Avatars: Forms of Identity,” with lecturer Nissa Cannon. The only aspect of the class that related to Swift was one line in the course description: “Why does Taylor Swift’s album art present a different version of her than a Vanity Fair profile?” Although none of the actual class content was about Swift, I took that singular line and ran with it — my final research-based argument paper was about Swift’s TikTok marketing skills.
In researching Swift’s marketing skills, I realized that there is much to learn from Swift aside from her genius songwriting abilities. The public relations and marketing actions performed by Swift and her marketing team could produce a fruitful course syllabus that details various tips and tricks for effective advertising.
Stanford should consider offering a course that revolves around Taylor Swift’s entrepreneurship in the entertainment industry. Particularly, a course that analyzes Swift’s clever and creative social media marketing skills could benefit many students in various fields, from public relations to economics.
For example, in advance of her newest album, “Midnights,” Swift took to TikTok to release a “Midnights Mayhem With Me” series; in each episode, she unveiled the name of a new track. This TikTok series created an immense amount of hype around the album, where fans were unintentionally promoting the album by reposting, commenting, and using “Midnights” sounds.
The course could also analyze Swift’s well-known tactic of placing easter eggs to create speculation and conversations about her projects all over social media. When she consistently hints at there being secret messages in her social media posts, music videos, and even red-carpet looks, fans always take to social media to figure out what message Swift is trying to send.
Additionally, the course could examine Taylor Swift’s incredible ability to market and sell tangible products in a world of streaming. Despite the rise and prominence of Apple Music, Spotify, and other streaming platforms, Swift is one of the few artists that is still able to sell substantial quantities of CDs, vinyl records and cassette tapes. In fact, tangible music products are where a majority of her “Midnights” sales came from.
These sales can be attributed in part to a smart marketing strategy: encouraging fans to buy several copies of the same album. For example, for her “Lover” album, Swift released four physical deluxe versions, with each version containing a different journal with pieces from Swift’s old diaries. In this case, it was nearly impossible for fans to only purchase one deluxe version and miss out on three more journals with content from Swift’s diary.
For “Midnights,” Swift took to TikTok to market a (really cool) merchandise piece. She announced a “Midnights” clock, made up of four different versions of the album on vinyl. When the back sides of the four different versions are put together, they form a clock that’s actually functional if fans purchase an additional clock set.
It is strategies like these, where Swift prompts fans to buy several physical copies of the same album, that translate to sales and thus help Swift retain her relevance.
Courses that critically analyze Taylor Swift’s literary skills and cultural influence are already being offered at universities across the country. The University of Texas offered the course “The Taylor Swift Songbook” last year, which focused on “her songs as literary writing and the ways a popular and award-winning writer uses the same literary devices, figures, and tropes of traditional poetry in her work.” The course instructor, English professor Elizabeth Scala, wanted to focus on teaching students about literary analysis through Swift’s clever writing mechanisms, which involve metaphors and the manipulation of words.
However, universities are not only studying Swift’s songwriting abilities. In 2022, adjunct instructor Brittany Spanos taught a course at New York University (NYU) about Taylor Swift that delved into various topics essential to understanding the entertainment industry. It also taught students about Swift’s role in perpetuating the youth and girlhood culture in pop music, social media usage and its impact on the music industry, issues of copyright and ownership, and the prevalence of image and race in contemporary music.
A new Stanford course about Taylor Swift could teach new ideas in addition to those taught at the University of Texas or NYU, such as the current impact of TikTok on Swift’s career. The unique Taylor Swift brand crafted by Swift and her marketing team could be fascinating to anyone wanting to work in the entertainment industry or learn more about her enduring cultural influence that never goes out of style.