Can a college course in Taylor fandom really turn our man into a mid-life Swiftie?

It begins like an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting – except there is a curious tone of denial among the attendees. ‘My name is Kim and I am not a Swiftie,’ says one. ‘I’m Judith and I’m not a Swiftie,’ says another. ‘I don’t know the names of any of her albums.’

After introducing himself, a silver-haired gent called John goes still further: ‘I don’t know anything about Taylor Swift.’

Wilma admits that she is aware of a song called Shake It Off but, apart from that, she is a complete abstainer.

Several members of the class politely aver that they are ‘here to learn’.

Taylor Swift on night two of the Eras tour in July in Kansas City

As, indeed, am I. The largest gap in my knowledge is an understanding of my classmates’ motives for attending a Glasgow college’s crash course on the hottest pop star on the planet. So they are not fans. No shame there. Appreciation of her oeuvre is not compulsory.

Yet here they are, giving up a weekday evening for an education on a cultural phenomenon to which they were ­hitherto content to pay no mind. What has ­happened to them?

The answer for most is they have become holders of some of the most precious briefs in the history of live music in Scotland. They will number among the estimated 215,000 watching Swift perform hits spanning a near two-decade career during a three-night residence at Edinburgh’s Murrayfield Stadium next month.

If they only know Shake It Off, it could be a long evening. Performances on her Eras tour have been clocking in at three hours. And she might not even play that one.

Besides, there are Swifties out there who you fear would lop off limbs for the chance to catch their heroine at Murrayfield. Alas, they missed out in the scramble for tickets – which vanished in a heartbeat – and they have been inconsolable ever since.

The least those who succeeded in bagging briefs could do in the circumstances, perhaps, is learn a lyric or two and achieve a passing knowledge of the exes they may or may not be aimed at.

Can a college course in Taylor fandom REALLY turn our man into a mid-life  Swiftie? | Daily Mail Online

Then there is the question of the outlay. Some of these agnostics shelled out up to £500 per ticket and did so out of love for the true believers (teenage daughters in most cases) they will accompany to the show.

What are they going to do? Sit there and mutter that she’s no Madonna or get their money’s worth by wearing one of Swift’s signature looks, learning the crowd chants and throwing themselves into the occasion?

Can a college course in Taylor fandom REALLY turn our man into a mid-life  Swiftie? | Daily Mail Online

On the evidence of this week’s Taylor Swift workshop at Glasgow Clyde College, it appears many have convinced themselves it must be the latter.

And here, perhaps, I should declare my own position. My name is Jonathan and, while not a Swiftie exactly, I enjoy her music. I’ll also be attending one of her shows. I’ll be honest: I hadn’t given any thought to what to wear. I’d no idea that it was practically mandatory to make a heart with my hands during the song Fearless and that I’d look clueless if I didn’t.

Taylor Swift classes are popping up at US universities from Harvard to  Arizona State | CNN

Course tutor Carla McCormack, 38, class style consultant Andrew Jack, 21, and hairdresser and make-up artist Angela McConnachie could all help me with that.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For the benefit of those living under rocks since 2006, our lesson begins with the inquiry ‘Who is Taylor Swift?’

Well, says superfan Ms McCormack, she’s a self-taught guitarist and singer who grew up on a Christmas tree farm in Pennsylvania. She was born on December 13, 1989, and… now, does anyone in the class know why her parents named her Taylor?

‘Ooh! Ooh! I know!’ I almost said, my hand shooting up. Teacher chose someone else.

‘It’s after the singer James Taylor.’

Excellent, and did you also know that her parents Scott and Andrea were indulgent enough to move to Nashville when their budding songstress daughter was just 14 to help her get a foothold in country music?

The factoids were coming thick and fast. She was a mere 16 when she released her debut album and, by 19, had already fallen out with Kanye West after he stormed the stage during her acceptance speech for an award to tell her Beyoncé should have won.

Little could the ungentlemanly rapper have guessed back then at Swift’s capacity for holding grudges. Lyrical digs at him featured in her songs thereafter and, in her 30s, still do.

Next we were into the boyfriends section of the course – key, we were told, to understanding Taylor.

An early beau, Joe Jonas, dumped her in a phone call lasting 27 seconds. The song she wrote about it, Forever & Always, helped her feel better. There was rocker John Mayer, a BF from 2009, about whom she wrote Dear John when it was over. He said it ‘humiliated’ him. Swift was only just getting started.

Next up was the actor Jake ­Gyllenhaal, the verdict on whom, I learn, is shared in much of her Red album. She writes in All Too Well that he never gave her back her scarf. Nor did it help that he was a no-show at her 21st birthday party.

The song Style was a reflection on her time with English singer Harry Styles, while Scottish DJ Calvin Harris – whom she dated for more than a year – is reckoned to be the unfortunate subject of I Forgot That You Existed.

It is arguably worse for actor Tom Hiddleston, with whom she had a brief fling in 2016. Our course expert couldn’t name a single song he had inspired – ­positive or negative.

Subsequent romances with Joe Alwyn and Matt Healy are believed to be chronicled in multiple tracks on recent albums – and current partner American football player Travis Kelce is the supposed male presence in some of the chirpier of her latest songs.

All this felt a lot for a student to take in – especially when it’s so easy to confuse swipes at Kanye with takedowns of Matt or Jake or Calvin.

And how do Swifties arrive at these lyrical insights anyway? By close – some might say obsessive – analysis of the source material. Our course tutor tells us she already knows the lyrics in full to all 31 songs on Swift’s double album The Tortured Poets Department less than a month after its release.

While I process the effort involved (Swift, I find, is among the wordier of love poets) we are offered some superlatives on next month’s shows.

The Eras tour is expected to be the highest grossing by anyone anywhere, spanning 152 ­performances across five continents. It covers all ten of her albums – or eras, as the star may prefer to put it – and each one has its own sound, dress code and, in many cases, hair and make-up too.

Which one will you choose? Will it be the look from Fearless when our Taylor was just starting to move from country into pop? You’ll need cowboy boots and curly hair. And gold everything. And sequins. Heaven help you if you forget the sequins!

Or how about the ethereal style of the more recent album Evermore? That’s floaty dresses and skirts in pastoral greens and yellows, says Mr Jack, as he whips some examples he’s found at his favourite haunt – Glasgow’s Barras market – off a clothes rail to show us. And make sure you bring a green cape. A hooded one, of course.

Perhaps the album 1989 is more your scene. That’s sparkly crop tops and skater skirts accessorised with sunglasses. Or, if Reputation is the record you’re rocking on the big night, you’ll need clothes featuring snakes. You can’t have too many. Oh, and leather, and newspaper print and more snakes and undertaker eyeliner and the reddest lipstick you can score.

We watch as Ms McConnachie applies some on a model who now looks beautiful and terrifying in equal measure.

And what about the chaps, I wanted to ask Mr Jack. Will the usual jeans and lumberjack shirt be fine for me? But something about his tone suggested he was already addressing both the females and the males in the room.

There’s a dizzying number of things to remember to chant during songs. It’s ‘Take me to church, Taylor’ at a particular point in Don’t Blame Me and ‘One, two, three, let’s go b***h’ at the appropriate juncture in Delicate.

To help us master these audience participation moments and avoid making complete fools of ourselves, snippets of several such songs were played and we were cued up for our interjections.

I mistimed all of mine. I felt people’s stare.

There’s a song called Bejewelled where we’re meant to show the singer our ‘shimmer hands’. We practised that too. Bottom of the class again.

Attending a Taylor Swift concert, it turns out, is a lot like participating in a religious movement. You must wear the right garb, be aware of the motifs (snakes, friendship bracelets, the number 13), know the hand actions and be word perfect on the call and response passages of worship.

And here was I thinking it might be fun to go along because her Covid album Folklore sounded swell.

Some parting words from our tutor. ‘Plan your toilet breaks. You’ll probably be in that stadium for five hours so it’s best to know which songs you can live without hearing.’

All of which presupposes detailed knowledge of her back catalogue, of course – albeit we received pointers on which songs from which albums she was most likely to play.

And so, class was dismissed, but with much homework to do.

On the way out I asked Judith Singleton, who had admitted to knowing much less than I did about Swift, if she was as daunted as I was by the workload.

‘Oh, I’ve taken screenshots of everything,’ she said. ‘I thought it was fantastic. The thing that sold it to me was the fact they said it would enhance the overall experience. Of all the concerts I’ve ever been to, I don’t think I’ve been to one that is so prescriptive. There is a formula and there are things going on there which the audience anticipates.’

It turns out Edinburgh GP Ms Singleton and her partner Grant Jaffrey-Smith, who works in finance, have six tickets and they’re going along with two of her daughters, one of his sons and his son’s friend.

Their tickets, which include hospitality, cost them £2,520 in total and, at 53, Mr Jaffrey-Smith is among the most excited of the six at finally seeing Swift perform.

He said: ‘My son is a huge fan but mainly because I’ve been listening to Taylor Swift for 14 years – not right from the beginning, but not far off. I love the music.

‘I don’t follow all the boyfriends, her whole personal life goes past me, but the music I think is fantastic. She is genuinely important.’

His partner, also 53, told me the younger members of their party started ordering their outfits online weeks ago.

And have you chosen your outfit yet, I asked, again hoping the newbie would be as clueless as I.

‘Yes, I’ve got my outfit – secret dress, cowboy boots and cowboy hat.’

‘You’ve got to make an effort, right?’ said Mr Jaffrey-Smith. ‘Do you?’ I answered, disappointed.

‘Look, if you’re going to pay a lot of money for tickets, you want to extract maximum enjoyment and value out of it rather than just ­sitting there. This is not to be endured, it’s to be enjoyed and have loads of fun and share it with the kids.’

OK. So what will you be wearing, then? He told me he thought he’d go for jeans and a lumberjack shirt as a nod to the video for All Too Well off the album Red.

And so, by complete accident, it seems my costume is sorted.

Taylor, you’re way more special than Madonna. But just as hard work.

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