Why are Swifties and Charli xcx fans at war? I blame Big Tech

Author: Editors Desk, Arwa Mahdawi Source: The Guardian
June 26, 2024 at 07:38
Taylor Swift and Charli xcx. Composite: Getty, Harley Weir
Taylor Swift and Charli xcx. Composite: Getty, Harley Weir

Our digital ecosystem thrives on division in everything from politics to pop. Devoted fanbases are one result - ready to unleash hell on haters

Being a geriatric millennial means I was born too late to take advantage of cheap house prices and too early to become an influencer. I was, however, born at the perfect time to be a fan. The late 90s were the halcyon days of teenage fan culture: technology was advanced enough to let you connect with other devotees through online discussion forums and pour your heart into fan sites (I had a GeoCities site devoted to the grunge band Bush). But it also wasn’t easy to spend unhealthy amounts of time obsessing online: dial-up connections meant regularly getting booted off the internet so your parents could use the phone.

Now, of course, there’s nothing preventing people spending every waking minute cultivating unhealthy parasocial relationships. Superstars like Taylor Swift have armies of fans that span the globe, ready to unleash hell on haters. Earlier this year, for example, Paste magazine published a (negative) review of Taylor Swift’s album The Tortured Poet’s Department without a byline, to keep the writer safe. The outlet explained that “in 2019 when Paste reviewed Lover, the writer was sent threats of violence”.

The threats go both ways, however. The singer Charli xcx’s fans (known as angels) are now at war with Swifties because they think Taylor has been sabotaging the singer’s chart success through the strategic release of variant albums. The beef has escalated to the point that Charli xcx had to go on Instagram on Sunday to condemn fans who were chanting “A Taylor morreu” (which in Portuguese means “Taylor is dead”) at a recent concert in Brazil. But it doesn’t seem to have been a death threat, rather a play on a common chant in Ultimate Fighting Championship shows in Brazil, which equates to “you’re going down”. Still, you can see why it would be disturbing. “Can the people who do this please stop,” Charli implored.

While it’s great that Charli xcx has asked her fans to knock it off, they’re not solely to blame. The bigger issue is a digital ecosystem that thrives on division and drives polarisation in everything from politics to pop culture. And, as has become depressingly obvious, you can’t just ask Big Tech to “please stop”.

 Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist

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