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Taylor Swift is having an un-’cruel summer,’ and here’s why

<i>Kevin Mazur/TAS23/Getty Images</i><br/>Taylor Swift gives her hat to a young fan during a New Jersey
Kevin Mazur/TAS23/Getty Images
Taylor Swift gives her hat to a young fan during a New Jersey "Eras Tour" concert in May.

By Alli Rosenbloom, CNN

(CNN) — Last month, Taylor Swift told a Pittsburgh audience at a stop on her groundbreaking “Eras Tour” that “Cruel Summer” – her self-professed “favorite song” off of her 2019 “Lover” album – was finally becoming a single because so many people keep streaming it, leading to the track charting in the top 20 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart this week.

And on Friday, the throwback Swift love continues, when the beloved singer-songwriter releases her hotly-anticipated “Speak Now (Taylor’s Version)” album, a re-record of her 2010 hit album.

It’s that kind of fluidity and rapid response she has with her fans that has helped Swift thrive, and maintain her unparalleled place in popular music.

“(I’m) impressed with the fact that she’s able to sustain that sense of herself,” Alan Light, a music journalist, author and former Rolling Stone critic who has covered Swift since the early days of her burgeoning career, told CNN in an interview. “That sense of her relationship to her audience as her audience changes, as she changes, while the music just stays as stellar as it has.”

The “Speak Now” re-release comes amid Swift’s record-breaking “Eras Tour,” the extended culmination of a musically prolific five-year period for Swift after not touring since 2018 – despite releasing six albums since then. The tour has created a social media-worthy breeding ground for feel-good moments, while the singer has hit some major milestones – both on and off the stage – along the way.

Full disclosure: this CNN writer is a Swiftie. While I haven’t yet seen the “Eras Tour,” I managed to secure tickets to an upcoming August show in Los Angeles. To bide my time, I’ve become quite attuned to “SwiftTok” and have regularly covered Swift for CNN Entertainment.

The singer’s release of “Speak Now (Taylor’s Version)” on Friday further illustrates her laser-focused vision. “I am putting this album out because I want to own my music and I believe that any artist who has the desire to own their music should be able to,” she told her Minneapolis audience last month.

While artists re-recording their older music isn’t that uncommon, Swift has tapped into and harnessed the fanfare by pairing her “Taylor’s Version” albums with never-before-heard “from the vault” tracks, framing these older albums into something new.

“Nobody’s done anything remotely like that before,” says Light.

And nobody is more aware of her connection to her fans than Swift herself, who has strategically used her stage on tour to announce and debut key releases – and spread positive messages on timely issues.

In anticipation of the release of “Speak Now (Taylor’s Version),” Swift performed “Dear John” – a song that Swifties have long speculated is about her prior relationship with singer-songwriter John Mayer – at her Minneapolis concert last month. She recognized the continued speculation and urged her listeners to be kind online, saying they should not “feel the need to defend me on the internet against someone you think I might have written a song about 14 billion years ago.”

Similarly, Swift used her concert at Chicago’s Soldier Field last month to show her support for the LGBTQ+ community amid Pride Month, telling her audience that “this is a safe space for you, this is a celebratory space for you.” She went on to say how “prideful” she feels when she gets to sing her equality anthem “You Need to Calm Down” with them “in such solidarity, in such support of one another, in such encouraging, beautiful acceptance and peace and safety.”

She’s also the Swifties’ fiercest defender. During a May concert in Philadelphia, she interrupted her hit “Bad Blood” to defend a person in the crowd from an incident she observed while on stage.

The environment she’s created at “Eras Tour” concerts has been fruitful for friendships and camaraderie, and Swifties exchanging friendship bracelets at her shows is evidence of this. After all, it’s Swift herself who sings, “So make the friendship bracelets, take the moment and taste it” in the song “You’re On Your Own, Kid” from her 2022 hit album “Midnights.”

In one of the more unlikely achievements that none of us had on our bingo cards, Swift’s tour is said to have helped boost public transit systems in the cities her tour has swept through.

As transit agencies scrambled to recover from the pandemic, transit experts have said that all those Swifties taking mass transit offer lessons for policymakers on how to adapt to the post-pandemic world. Some agencies added extra service routes to meet demand – and it was worth it, with tour stops in Chicago, Atlanta, New Jersey and Philadelphia seeing a significant boost.

Swift even broke an attendance record at Pittsburgh’s Acrisure Stadium in June, drawing in 73,117 Swifties.

Droves of Swifties not only broke the internet in an attempt to get tickets, but those who didn’t score tickets have found a way to attend anyway by turning up in “Eras Tour” venue parking lots to sing along with echoes of the show in what’s been coined “Taylor-gating.”

Other Swifties have gotten more creative with their attempt at getting to an “Eras Tour” show, like Nashville resident David Perrigo who applied for a job as a security guard at Nissan Stadium after failing to secure tickets online. “I knew I’d find a way to get in,” Perrigo told CNN in an interview.

Or this anonymous Swiftie who called in sick to work to line up early to buy merch days before the Saturday concert she was attending, and disguised herself in a costume akin to the ghosts seen in the “Anti-Hero” music video to conceal her identity.

The fandom around the singer is so distinct that in May, Swifties helped make a book on Amazon a bestseller after they were convinced that Swift was the secret author. The speculation was solely based on the disclaimer that the book’s author will be revealed on June 13, because 13 is Swift’s lucky number. (Turns out, it’s a book about BTS and had nothing to do with Swift at all.)

The “Eras Tour” is an impressive feat for any artist who has the stamina to perform for over three hours in over 100 cities in the US and abroad, with a setlist that includes a total of 44 songs – many of which are being performed in front of a live audience for the first time.

And yet, Swift’s unabashedly authentic star power continues to thrive, and her committed fanbase continues to embrace it.

“She has the sense of exactly what it is that they are looking for,” Light says, adding that Swift speaks to her fans “in such an immediate way, such a direct way, and that was there was from the beginning.”

As she marches through her un-cruel summer, it seems like all that good “Karma” is paying off.

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