A few days ago, after months of wanting a Nintendo Switch but taking care of other financial priorities first (car repairs, loan payments, putting aside half a grand for an autographed copy of Eminem’s Revival), I finally got my Switch. I excitedly set up my Super Mario Odyssey machine and managed to not completely screw up putting a screen protector on it, and there was much glee.
This weekend, though, instead of spending every conscious hour enjoying what is arguably the best game of the year (Yes, I hear you, Zelda fans), I only spent most conscious hours on it. The rest of the time? I tried making some one-pan mac and cheese from scratch for the first time (it turned out fantastic), did some Christmas shopping (I bought myself purple sneakers, on sale for $19), and dove headfirst into the ultimate Taylor Swift lifestyle thanks to the new “The Swift Life” app.
The app was announced back in October, but what is it?
“We’ve worked closely with Taylor and her team to bring her creative vision to life,” Glu Mobile President and CEO Nick Earl said of the new Swift-centric social network app. “The result is a deeply social environment where Taylor and her fans are able to better connect with one another while expressing themselves in an interactive community.”
Functionally, it’s Instagram meets a cheap, scatterbrained mobile game that has too many different types of currencies and rewards systems to make sense of. I decided the best way to figure out what’s even going on here, though, would be to spend three days as a devoted Swiftie and really engage with the app, so that’s what I did.
After I downloaded it and signed up for an account, I was greeted by a brief video from Swift herself: “Hey guys, it’s Taylor. Welcome to The Swift Life,” she said. Once you’re all signed up, you can start exploring the app, which looks like an Instagram knock-off and has five primary screens:
- My Feed: As you’d expect, this is a feed of posts from Swift herself and other users that you follow.
- Taylor’s Feed: This is a direct link to Swift’s personal The Swift Life page and all her posts and reposts.
- Scrapbook: This is where you create posts with photos, text, stickers, and Taymoji (more on that in a minute).
- Swiftsend Feed: Users have a limited amount of “Swiftsends,” which they can use to boost posts they like so they’re more likely to catch Swift’s eye. This is where the most Swiftsent posts show up.
- News Feed: You’ll find your notifications here.
There’s nothing here that breaks the mold: It’s Instagram if all the pages you followed only discussed which Taylor Swift era is the best and how much they want to hang out with her. However, The Swift Life is different in that it’s very gamified: When you like posts, you work towards filling a Taymoji pack, and when you fill it, you get Taymoji, an in-app currency and collectible that you can leave on other users’ posts. The first Taymoji I collected looks like a medical textbook illustration of a human heart, and since then, I’ve collected 27 of the 292 different Taymoji, which include photos of Swift and other her-referencing imagery.
There are also picks (as in guitar picks) that you can get (I honestly forget how, though), and that unlocks other stuff (I honestly forget what, though). The primary social media feed features are pretty straightforward, but beyond that, it can get a little convoluted. It also took me about 45 minutes too long to realize that I could mute my phone and shut off the repeating 45-second loops of “Ready For It” and “Look What You Made Me Do” snippets that automatically play.
For the record, you can connect your Spotify account to hear the full songs.
Oh, and there are a lot of cats. 3D cartoon cats will randomly walk across your screen sometimes. One of the most followed users, MrMeow, has over 31,000 followers and seems to be a cat, which I guess makes sense because cats are getting pretty good at using phones.
So that’s the form, but what’s the function? It seems to me that among users, there are two main motivations for using the app: It’s a great way to connect with other people who are obsessed with Swift, and there’s a strong hope among fans that by using the service effectively, you’ll get some honest-to-goodness recognition from Taylor herself, whether it’s a comment, like, or repost. Across the network, there’s an intense desire to get even the slightest bit of attention from Swift, and to put it as non-disparagingly as I can, I can’t relate to it and it seems odd. The intricacies and effects of celebrity idolization is a whole other can of worms to open, so I won’t get into that here.
“Thinking about Taylor being hurt or upset by something we can’t fix is too much to bear,” one Swift Life post reads. Another user wrote, “IT’S 3 AM HERE I’M STUDYING AND CRYING NOW,” after Swift liked one of her posts.
To counter the seemingly close-minded view I just presented, though, I know I’m not this app’s target audience: I’m a 25-year old man, whereas most of the other users I’ve come across are primarily female and in their teens or early 20s, it seems. Also, although I generally like her music at a casual level, I’m not a particularly huge Swift fan: My favorite Swift songs are Screaming Females’ cover of “Shake It Off“, Ryan Adams’ version of “Out Of The Woods,” and “Style” (that one just bangs as is). Given my context, I may as well be reviewing what it’s like to be too muscular and have too much money.
That said, The Swift Life is essentially an online fan forum in app form, and as somebody who frequented multiple U2 forums back in middle and high school, I know I would have immersed myself in a U2 version of an app like this. I would have engaged with a level of excitement that would raise the eyebrows of people who, like me in relation to The Swift Life, aren’t in my position and can’t identify with my fervor. I’m no stranger to fandom, and I understand the intensity of the feelings it stirs up. Replace “Taylor” with “Bono” in the following post, and teenage me would probably relate to it more:
“I want to watch the movie Clueless with Taylor. Bake some cookies. Paint our nails. Look at pictures of dogs and cats. Talk about our childhoods. Play card games. Drink too much wine and get emotional, then get giggly. Dance our pants off to NSYNC and the Spice Girls. Talk about which magical powers are the coolest. Have a Harry Potter marathon. Build a fort. Grow old together. Ya know.”
I may not quite get it, but it’s not for me specifically to get. Everybody in the world isn’t supposed to be like me and they aren’t, which is good because if they were, everybody would be too squeamish to donate blood and lives would be a stake. It’s important to note too that The Swift Life is unquestionably more positive than it is negative. In fact, it may be the most positive online space I’ve ever come across, on par with the comments section of a sick kid’s GoFundMe page.
Users connect with each other over their shared interest. They tell moving and personally significant stories about how Swift and her music help them deal with confidence issues and make it through the trials of their lives. They share tips to help each other gain followers and have the best possible experience on the app. Unlike any other social network, after browsing the app for hours, I haven’t come across a single negative sentiment. This is all possible in an ultra-specialized social network like this, but in a more general online space, it’s not as easy to have these types of specific conversations and have them connect with an audience that understands.
As one user put it, “I tried to explain to my mom what exactly the app is, saying, ‘It’s just a happy place with cats, Taymojis, music, and love.’ Her response? ‘Oh, you’re basically in Taylor’s house.'”
The foremost potential issue I see with the app is that the incentivizing of doing almost every in-app action can make real conversation between Swift fans seem fake or interrupted by too much noise. A lot of posts, likes, and Taymoji in my feed seemed like empty filler in order to achieve some sort of quota to unlock some sort of achievement. But, if Swift fans are able to get past that and have a positive experience anyway, and feel like they really are in Taylor’s house, then it’s wonderful that they have a new place to connect with something they really care about in a way that’s healthy and happy, even if I don’t relate.
So, there’s no bad blood here, but I will be returning to my Switch now, even if Nintendo hasn’t rolled out Taymoji support yet.