We’ve spent a lot of time and energy over the last few years trying to parse the evolution (or whatever you want to call it) of fandom, as passions, parasocial relationships, and good-old-fashioned “being a dick” have all collided in the constantly mutating cauldron that is the internet, often with wholly unpredictable results. But while we’ve often been able to measure the knock-on effects that these kinds of heightened attachments can have on performers, projects, and just people caught in the crossfire, it’s been rare to gauge the full firepower that a fully mobilized fandom of sufficiently active followers can have on a target, especially one normally divorced from all but the most bloodless of concerns.
Which is why it’s fascinating—in a Bikini Atoll kind of way—to see musical superstar Taylor Swift turn the full power of her legions of Swifties upon her enemies tonight. Unsurprisingly, Swift has pointed her hordes toward record executives Scooter Braun and Scott Borchetta, who she’s been feuding with for months now, ever since Braun bought Big Machine Records—and, thus, the rights to her first six albums’ worth of work—from her former mentor, Borchetta. What’s more unconventional about this post, though, is that Swift’s pleas have also been aimed at The Carlyle Group, the private equity firm that backed Braun’s sale, and also an absolutely enormous amount of other things, from Dunkin’ Donuts’ culinary monstrosities, to actual weapons of war being used to bomb people in Yemen.
The Carlyle Group is big, is the point, in that sort of way that is usually insulated fully from the invective of social media rampages (and public opinion generally, and sometimes also international courts). But also, most people angry at them are not Taylor Swift, who turned to her fans earlier tonight to ask for a little good-natured mobilization, due to Braun and Borchetta’s alleged decision not to allow her to perform her music at the American Music Awards when they recognize her as Artist Of The Decade later this year. Similarly, she’s being banned from using any of her old songs for an upcoming Netflix documentary about her career, with both of these decisions positioned as retaliation for her decision to record new versions of all of her own songs to get them out of Braun’s control. Now she’s exerting pressure on Carlyle—who, again, make (or at least own people who make) bombers and the like—in order to possibly pull their support for the deal as well. It’s rare to see a performer go this hard against The Money, even if Swift positions her namecheck as a request for aid from benevolent benefactors, rather than a call-out of the people who bankrolled the transfer of her life’s work into the hands of a man she hates.
Whether this works or not, it’s going to be a fascinating measure of just how much impact social media might can actually have in the tangible world. This is, after all, a company that gets at best huffy when folks like Hasan Minhaj openly accuse them of being war profiteers on streaming TV. Then again, Swift has literally hundreds of millions of followers—and that’s a whole heck of a lot of donuts that might or might not be sold.