27 million people. That’s larger than the population of the state of New York. That’s also how many people watched a regular Sunday night football game of the Kansas City Chiefs against the New York Jets in East Rutherford, N.J. on Oct. 1. Fans went out in droves to watch the game in person and at home, with viewership among teenage girls rising by 53%. It was the largest viewing of a Sunday show on live television since Super Bowl LVII, and it was all thanks to Taylor Swift.
While the rise of Swifties in the National Football League sphere is mildly amusing, it’s hard not to find it a little odd. After all, the main reason behind the increase in viewership was Taylor Swift’s budding romance with the Chiefs’ tight end Travis Kelce.
The problem here doesn’t lie in Swifties’ interest in football; rather, it’s about the lengths fans are willing to go for their celebrity idol. Even if the results in this case are seemingly harmless, the scale of Swift’s boost in NFL viewership showcases the potential dangers of celebrity attachment and idolization.
Crowds trending toward “the cool thing” has predated the social media world we now live in. The clearest issue of such strong celebrity adoration shines greatest with the age-old, toxic fanbases. Take, for example, Chris Brown and his domestic assault arrest in 2009, where he violently assaulted then-girlfriend Rihanna. “Team Breezy,” which included many teenage girls, came to his defense to minimize the harm of the act committed.
Undying support like this is a clear issue, especially when it comes to younger fans. As massive groups develop strong emotional attachments to their idol, they connect their social identity to it; thus, an attack on who or what they follow becomes an attack on them. That’s why the actions of Brown were diminished. His fans’ total adoration of him directly insulated his reputation from the backlash of his assault, instead becoming a dark joke for pop culture.
Now, this extreme doesn’t necessarily compare to Swifties buying up seats in MetLife Stadium. But what both scenarios display is how far fans are willing to go, and how they lose their identity to an allegiance to someone they see in a divine-like manner.
That attachment manifests itself in another way than just defense. Fans also go on the offense, attacking individuals who stand in the way of their favorite celebrity’s happiness. Following Olivia Rodrigo’s release of the 2021 hit song “drivers license,” fans went to war against ex-boyfriend Joshua Bassett for her. The hate was so intense that Bassett, who was speculated to be the subject of Rodrigo’s track, ended up going into septic shock from the stress.
Succumbing to bizzare emotional attachments, these overly close relationships between fans and celebreties leads to individuals centering their lives and actions around celebrities and away from their personal lives.
Going back to the recent Swift situation, anyone can get into football at any time. It’s important to ask, however, why they’re getting into football. Is it because they’re actually interested, or is it because they love Swift? If the reason is related to her, then this new trend is because of her personal life vis-à-vis Kelce, not because of a fan’s personal interest. Fan’s identities, which should consist of interests and hobbies that bring personal enjoyment — which may well include their relationship to their favorite artists’ music — are instead filled by pastimes connected to their favorite celebrity in response to fans’ adoration. No longer does the individual maintain uniqueness; instead, their identity revolves around their favorite celebrity.
This turns into a more severe issue as the results of the adoration can have an impact on matters of greater importance.
Swift has avoided politics for most of her career, and that’s a good thing. Case in point, this past National Voter Registration Day, Vote.org saw a 1,226% increase in participation following Swift posting a link to the site on her Instagram story. Considering this, it’s not difficult to say that she could sway many of her fans when it comes to any political matter if she chose to do so. People should be making decisions that impact them based on their own lives, not based on celebrity influences whose politics may not even be in fans’ individual interests.
There needs to be a line drawn between enjoying your favorite celebrity and establishing your identity around them. To push unacceptable behavior to the wayside, get involved in something personal to the celebrity’s life which is unrelated to yours and grant them huge influence over important matters is to eliminate the wall that separates the idol and the fan.
Being a fan, a supporter or even a follower can be fun, so long as the necessary balance for individuality is maintained.