Apparently Taylor Swift can’t even attend a friend’s wedding without bringing hundreds of guests with her.
Well, that’s only half true. The singer-songwriter was actually attending her producer, Jack Antonoff’s, wedding rehearsal dinner, but the part about hundreds of fans swarming the restaurant she was at is the full truth. And it is also true that police were involved and attempted to quell the crowd.
Weirdly enough, Swift has been silent about this moment. There hasn’t been any publicly-released statement by the artist or her team condemning the behavior or even just asking fans to refrain from being this obsessive.
Now, obviously, not every Swiftie is so obsessed to the point of traveling to a random restaurant in New Jersey to maybe catch a glimpse of their idol. But, this sort of behavior — and the normalization of it by a lack of response — is cultivated by the parasocial relationship integral to the Taylor Swift brand.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Taylor Swift as much as anybody. I think she’s a fantastic artist who has released some of the best contemporary popular music. I support her reclamation of her art through the release of the “Taylor’s Version” of each of her classic albums. And I can undoubtedly say I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve listened to her album “folklore.”
All that’s to say I’m not trying to criticize the artist for any reason beyond her control; I’m not trying to be the pretentious hipster with a “well, actually” attitude who pretends to only listen to obscure indie artists (that is, I’m not trying to be a Jake Gyllenhaal). And it’s true the idea of this parasocial relationship — that is, a relationship where one side exerts tremendous energy while the other isn’t even aware of their existence – isn’t unique to Swift in the slightest.
But, man, she really is the poster girl for it, huh? And, at any rate, her name in the lede will grab a lot of attention.
Parasocial relationships between celebrities and fans are nothing new. If we’re sticking primarily to the music business, we can trace this sort of behavior all the way back to Beatlemania in the 1960s. I guarantee, if The Beatles saw their heyday today instead of 1964, they’d be an integral part of stan culture.
A portmanteau of “stalker” and “fan,” the word “stan” technically comes from the 2000 Eminem song of the same name, though today it’s less about being a violent stalker and more about being an obsessive and loyal fan. As with all online communities — because it is, primarily, online — stan culture can broadly range from inoffensive and harmless fun to seriously toxic behavior.
But, central to the stan culture experience is that parasocial relationship. X (formerly known as Twitter) accounts that are created entirely to stan Beyoncé or BTS or Lana Del Rey are fundamentally one-sided experiences. It’s doubtful the artists themselves know of their existence, and on the off-chance they do, it’s doubtful they’ll ever interact with them.
Enter, then, Doja Cat.
Of all places, this controversy started on Threads, Meta’s new X alternative. Doja Cat’s online stanbase, whom refer to themselves as “kittenz,” apparently have settled on the app and irked Doja Cat to the point she told the fans who refer to themselves as such to “get off your phone and get a job and help your parents with the house.”
A back-and-forth between her and her fans ensued, which came to a head as one fan asked Doja Cat to tell them she loved them and she responded with, “i don’t though cuz i don’t even know yall.”
Is there a debate to be had about the ethics of making yourself as unlikable as possible to your fanbase? Sure. But is it understandable an artist would be uncomfortable with the obsessive, parasocial relationship her fans have cultivated with them, to the point of calling themselves her “kittenz”? Absolutely.
But, then again, Doja Cat hasn’t purposely bred a parasocial relationship with her fans, it was entirely incidental. On the other hand, Taylor Swift has.
Celebrities are not your friend on the very basis they create art you like. Swift’s music can mean whatever it means to you, and all of those meanings are totally valid. You can have an entire bedroom decked out in Swiftie merch or operate an X account dedicated solely to reposting Billie Eilish photos or travel from concert to concert to see Harry Styles perform all across the United States.
These things are fine. Like I’ve said before, it’s not like the majority of people who’ve bought pre-sale tickets to the Eras Tour film are going to find Swift at a restaurant across the country. But, again, this sort of behavior is a natural, though extreme, endpoint of the sort of parasocial relationship integral to certain artists’ brands.
At the end of the day, celebrities are not divine beings sent from heaven for you to worship. They’re humans, just like the rest of us. And they do not owe you anything — not even love.
Joey Sills (he/him) is a junior studying journalism, political science and film production.