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Five stages of fangirling: Confessions of a Swiftie

Two images from a Taylor Swift listening party show plates of cheese and crackers with a chalkboard sign that reads "Meet Me at Midnight" and a big-screen television with Swift's face and a progress bar for the music playing.
Salam Fatayer

I am a full-time fangirl. Always have been. I could never have a modest, ordinary love; it always veers too close to insanity.

If this is an entirely foreign concept, don’t worry. Allow me to serve as your personal guide with this introduction on how to be a verified fangirl — a case study using myself and my hate-love-LOVE relationship with Taylor Swift.

If you’re also a fangirl — an extreme and overly encaustic fan of something or someone — then you’ve probably already gone through the five stages I’m about to explain.

If you’re my therapist, please stop reading.

Stage 1: Discovery

I used to be a certified, eye-rolling hater of Taylor Swift. Some might say I was a victim of internalized misogyny. Honestly, I never found her music relatable. She wrote songs about first loves, and — as a Middle Eastern girl who had her first kiss at 18 — I couldn’t relate to that girl-next-door, small-town charm.

Taylor Swift Official Store
Folklore album cover.

No, Taylor, no one romantically told me they loved me at the age of 15; way to bring up some middle-school trauma. So I wrote off “Miss Americana” as music for a White Feminist.

Then Folklore came out.

Listening to the album was a completely surreal experience. I felt deeply immersed in it. By digesting and processing her songs, it felt like my own therapy session. Her 16-track, eighth album somehow reflected the experience of my first-generation brown immigrant experience. I was a changed woman.

Stage 2: Obsession

I couldn’t hear Folklore one time and be done with it. No, that simply wouldn’t be good enough. Ideally, I would have that entire album inserted into my bloodstream. But the next-best and only realistic option was listening to it daily while I walked around the city of Milwaukee — so much so that Folklore took over my “Spotify Wrapped” … for 2022.

The sound was a complete departure from her pop style and instead offered something delicate and confessional. In my opinion, the entire album has zero skips, but “Seven” was the one track that caught me by surprise. It took me a second to get into it, then one day I played that track nonstop for six hours straight, which is something I frequently do.

The song is about Taylor’s childhood friends, recalling a time of innocence and desperately wishing you could remember the clarity of their faces. I started thinking about my own childhood — my life in Palestine and how the reality is that I would never see some of my family and friends again.

I imagined them all living healthy, ordinary, happy lives. I walked with this song playing in the background or did mundane tasks and thought about how unfair the world can be at times. I thought about how, because of some fluke, I get to live here while they still have to deal with the burns of war — in occupation, confiscation of property and deprivation of human dignity.

Selfishly, I would end my thought process mourning that, in the grand scheme of things, I am not a top priority for remembrance. A line from the song’s second verse really resonated in which Taylor makes a simple request:

Please picture me in the weeds
Before I learned civility
I used to scream ferociously

Stage 3: ‘Research’

I will be the first to admit that this stage is a bit mortifying to put out in the open. I spend a lot of time on the Internet, which has led to me getting tangled in a spiderweb of content for hours — days even. Don’t make that face; I know you’ve been there on some level.

There was a time when I had a mini-fangirl episode for actor and comedian Ben Schwartz. I spent an entire weekend watching YouTube interviews that featured him as a guest. There should be no reason to know that he wore a Super Nintendo controller over his gown during graduation, but I do.

Unraveling the universe of Taylor Swift and becoming a self-proclaimed Swiftie took a lot longer than a weekend, mainly because of her endless Easter eggs. Taylor is known for teasing fans that way, and in return they try to decode them. It’s hard work and could qualify as a full-time job, one that I will not do. I will, however, reap the benefit of others’ hard work and unsolicitedly share their findings with friends and family.

One of Taylor’s primary tactics involves hiding messages in liner notes. For example, on albums Fearless and Red, almost all of her lyrics were lowercase so she could speak through capitalized letters. In 2021, she continued her word games with a social video of a vault that included random letters and referred to a compilation of unreleased songs from past albums.

The devil may work hard but still can’t compete with a Swiftie. Fans demolished the mission and decoded the titles of six new vault tracks.

Stage 4: (Over)sharing

All in all, being a fangirl is harmless fun. Constantly bringing up my new discovery every chance I get, however, can lead to some uncomfortable silences and maybe get me in trouble from my loved ones. But come on! I just spent hours listening to this one song on repeat! Or watching YouTube interviews! I need to talk about this!!!

Fortunately, I had friends who were already Taylor old-timers — to the point where they have an anonymous fan page. With them, I found collective acceptance. That doesn’t mean I didn’t face criticism. After abusing my aux cord privileges, I can no longer play music by Taylor Swift if my sister is in the car. And one of my best friends presented me with a personalized (and facetious ... I'm pretty sure) PowerPoint on how Taylor Swift is a cult leader.

The cover of a PowerPoint presentation has the title "Swifties are a cult serving their Illuminati leader Taylor Swift" with a photo of Taylor Swift standing in front of a group of dancers.
The cover of my PowerPoint "gift."

Was I offended? Yes. Was it during my birthday weekend? Yes. Did I retaliate by forcing her (nicely) to co-host a listening party for Taylor Swift’s latest album, Midnights, even though she wasn’t a fan? Also yes.

Stage 5: Transition

All good things must come to an end. The initial impulse to constantly immerse yourself in a different universe fizzles out, and you find a new discovery. You begin again.

I moved on from Ben Schwartz (not before forcing my PowerPoint friend to see him perform improv … she truly deserves an award for dealing with me). I moved on from One Tree Hill, Marvel, Harry Potter, Aubrey Plaza and, most recently, Jennifer Coolidge.

It still hasn’t happened with Taylor Swift. I refuse to even think about this step until I see her in concert this summer, when I can hyperventilate and — with my loudest fangirl squeal — scream ferociously.

Audio Storyteller / 88Nine On-Air Talent | Radio Milwaukee