Problems with Taylor Swift tickets could spur political involvement

(AP) — Some Taylor Swift fans want you to know three things: They’re not yet 16, they have careers and resources, and right now they’re mad. That’s a powerful political motivator, researchers say.

Look what Ticketmaster made them do.

It started on November 15, when millions of people attended a pre-sale for Swift’s highly anticipated Eras Tour that resulted in crashes, lengthy waits, and frenetic buying. On Thursday, Ticketmaster had canceled the general sale, citing insufficient tickets remaining and a firestorm of outrage from fans. Swift herself said the ordeal “really pisses me off.”

Ticketmaster apologized but the bad blood had already been sown. And now fans – and politicians – have started to act on it.

U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez directed Swifties to where they could file complaints from the U.S. Department of Justice. Multiple attorneys general — including in Pennsylvania and Tennessee, key states in Swift’s origin story — have announced investigations.

Stephanie Aly, a New York-based community organizing professional for progressive politics, has for years believed that mobilizing fandoms for social advancement can be beneficial.

“Fandoms are natural organizers,” Swiftie, 33, said. “If you find the right issues and activate and engage them, you can create real change.”

For example, in 2020, K-pop fans organized to support the Black Lives Matter movement and attempted to blow up registration for a Donald Trump rally. Aly and Swifties from various industries – law, public relations, cybersecurity and more – have joined forces to form Vigilante Legal, a group that lobbies to push for policy changes around Ticketmaster and organize the Swifties, while creating email templates to petition the Attorneys General and provide antitrust information . Thousands have expressed an interest in helping or learning more.

“The level of anger you’ve just seen in the country over this issue is astounding,” said Jean Sinzdak, deputy director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. “People really share their feelings about that and build a movement about it online, which I find really fascinating. It is certainly an opportunity to get people involved politically. Whether it will last is hard to say, but it certainly feels like a real opportunity.”

In a way, Sinzdak said, this gives Swift’s large following of younger people a direct line to see how policies take shape. It also targets a demographic rarely courted by politicians during election season.

“Nobody goes out and thinks, ‘Let’s target young women,'” said Gwen Nisbett, a professor at the University of North Texas who studies the intersection of political engagement and pop culture. “Whether it’s abortion or student loans, that age group is super-mobilized and young women are super-mobilized.”

Fan culture and community have reinforced that tendency to mobilize. Nisbett studied parasocial relationships — when fans have strong one-way relationships with celebrities — in 2018, when the formerly apolitical Swift posted an endorsement of Democratic candidates on social media. Nisbett found that while such posts may not determine fan votes, they did lead fans to seek out more information about voting — and actually vote.

For the record: AP VoteCast, a comprehensive survey of the U.S. electorate, found that about a third of Tennessee voters said they had a positive view of Swift in 2018, and among them a large majority supported it — about 7 to the 10 – Democrat Phil Bredesen in the Senate race. That was in stark contrast to about a third of voters who expressed an unfavorable opinion of Swift and overwhelmingly supported Republican Marsha Blackburn.

For Swifties, the anger for Ticketmaster isn’t just about a ticket: “It’s the fact that you can’t participate in your community and your fandom and it’s part of your identity,” Nisbett said.

This isn’t even the first time a fandom or an artist has targeted Ticketmaster. Pearl Jam targeted the company in 1994, though the Justice Department ultimately declined to file a case. More recently, Bruce Springsteen fans have been outraged by the high ticket costs due to the platform’s dynamic pricing system.

“It’s not just about getting revenge on Swifties. It’s not about us getting an extra million Taylor Swift fan tickets, or about us all going to a secret session,” said Jordan Burger, 28, who is using his legal background to help the case. “It’s about fundamental equality. And when you have a monopolist like that, it’s so representative of the class structure of a society where there’s no equality, no fairness anymore.”

The sheer strength and scope of Swift’s fandom has sparked conversations about economic inequality, symbolized only by Ticketmaster.

Aly noted that quite a few members of the group got tickets; the problem is bigger than Ticketmaster, she said.

“We got some feedback: ‘This is too big, let the government handle it.’ Have you seen the US government? The government only functions when the people push it and when the people demand that it function and the people are involved,” she said. “Even if something seems too big to fail or too powerful to to fail, there are always enough of us to make a difference Your involvement may be the thing that pushes it over the edge forcing the government to act.

Aly says many adult Swifties have 10-15 years of experience being bullied for liking the singer, but what fans have in mind might be better than revenge.

“We’re thick-skinned and basically have nothing to lose,” Aly said.

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Associated Press journalist Hannah Fingerhut contributed to this report from Washington. Brooke Schultz is a member of the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania corps for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists on local newsrooms to report on undercover issues.

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