I believe in original sin: that as fallen humans, everything we do from birth is tainted by the bent desires of our broken hearts. But I also believe in original beauty: that as humans created in God’s image, the inherent goodness God spoke into creation is still reflected in our nature.
This is part of the reason why I love to study culture, youth culture in particular. When something or someone grabs the collective imagination of a generation, I want to discern what it is that so deeply resonates with us as both fallen and image-bearing humans.
And as it’s often said, “It’s Taylor’s world and we’re all just living in it.”
But what is it about Taylor Swift that has utterly captivated Gen Z, a good number of Millennials, Gen X’ers, and even Boomers, too? In an era when so many people distrust authority figures and disdain celebrities, how is it that Taylor Swift has been able to secure the devotion of millions of people?
And what can we, the church — particularly parents within the church — learn from her?
I feel like I should go ahead and admit that I’m a Swiftie. I’m actually wearing my Eras Tour hoodie right now that I paid way too much for, justifying it by saying I’d share it with my 15-year-old daughter, who is also a major Taylor Swift fan.
Despite my fandom, I’m under no impression that Taylor is perfect, nor am I saying she is a role model in every thing. But as I’ve reflected on her popularity, I want to highlight three traits that I believe we would do well to learn from and emulate as parents as we raise oft authority-allergic Gen Z kids. I think we’ll find that they aren’t so much allergic to authority and influence as much as they rightly distain its abuse and more toxic manifestations.
1. Taylor Displays Remarkable Humility
Despite her beauty, fame, power, and wealth, Taylor Swift regularly displays moments of genuine humility. And people are drawn to these moments.
There’s a video circulating online that I think sums up why fans (myself included) are drawn to Taylor Swift. In this video, Taylor is sitting at a piano during one of her Eras Tour concerts. She then informs the fans that there won’t be a special guest that night.
The crowd begins to cheer.
Taylor looks confused. She assumes people misunderstood her, so she tells the crowd again that there would not be a special guest that night, emphasizing that they’re “stuck” with her.
The crowd then begins to roar much louder.
Finally, it dawns on her: “Oh, were you clapping for me?” and then she covers her face with her hands in a genuine moment of embarrassment before starting her song, “Everything Has Changed.”
This, during one of her completely sold out shows that literally broke Ticketmaster. And still, she seemed genuinely surprised that people would be content to only hear her at the show. Her lack of ego in that moment is admirable.
In a time when many in the world and in the church are clamoring for a stage, clinging to a bully pulpit, and looking to grow their influence and number of admirers, Taylor’s humility stands out to me.
Based on how much that clip has been shared, it seems to be standing out to others, too.
As parents, let’s look for, call out, and celebrate moments of humility we see in people with authority. And on the flip side, when we see toxic displays of pride and power-grabbing, let’s also name that and pay attention to the ways that pride leads to distortion of truths and ruin of relationships. Moreover, let’s seek to cultivate humility in ourselves. We have authority over our children, but we need to be careful not to become authoritarian. Let’s acknowledge our faults, with wisdom confess our failures, and seek to learn from others, even our children.
2. Taylor is Relatable and Relevant
Go to YouTube and type in “Taylor Swift being herself” and see what you get. When fans think of Taylor being Taylor, it’s almost entirely made up of her being goofy, clumsy, and remarkably like all of the rest of us.
She may be one of the most successful artists of our time (if not all time), but she has consistently refused to take herself too seriously thus far, all while generating song after song that resonates with her listeners and speaks into their lives.
If we as parents want to be winsome and win influence over our kids and today’s youth, we’re going to have to learn from Taylor Swift. Whether she knows it or not, whether through common grace or saving grace (I don’t know her relationship with Jesus), she has grasped something of the mind of Christ as presented in Philippians 2.
While the world would like to make her a god, she doesn’t appear to consider godship a thing to grasp or take hold of for herself. She is very aware she is human, and, so far, doesn’t seem to have let it go to her head. Not only does she seem to be resisting an overblown ego, she sees herself as a servant, as Jesus does.
How often do we take on a persona to try and make people like us and try to be popular? How often do we resist vulnerability in fear of losing respect or an aura of having it all together? What would it look like for the church and us as parents to actually get more comfortable and open about our messes, insecurities, and failures? We are not gods, so maybe we can try less to get people to praise us.
It’s important for parents to take Paul’s teaching, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some,” seriously with our children and their friends (1 Cor 9:22). Listen to what they’re listen to. Read what they read. Watch what they watch. Learn their vocabulary and interests. Paul did this, so “that I may share with them in its blessings” (1 Cor 9:23). Let’s also engage the world our children inhabit so that we can discern inroads for meaningful conversations about the things in life that really matter. Let’s seek to bless them where they are at, praying we will see them move closer to Jesus.
This leads to the third trait I think we can learn from Taylor’s example.
3. Taylor Cares About Her Fans
Taylor is aware of the significant influence of her fame. But rather than exploit this to control her fans, she seems to genuinely want to use her influence to bring joy to other people. Again, just go to YouTube and search, “Taylor Swift interacting with fans.”
Rather than serve her ego, she uses her role as an entertainer to care for her fans. There’s a story I came across that illustrates this point well.
Some five years ago there was a 8-year-old girl named Isabelle that had tickets for Taylor’s Reputation Tour but wasn’t able to go because of a burn accident that left her hospitalized.
At that time, Taylor wrote her a note while in the hospital saying, “Isabella, I hope you feel better soon. I’m so honored you’ve been listening to my music. You’re so awesome and I can’t wait to have you at a show. Stay strong, gorgeous. Love, Taylor.”
The note itself is pretty amazing, but what’s truly remarkable is that five years later, Isabelle was given four tickets to Taylor’s first Era Tours show. Taylor remembered and put action behind her words.
The people in our orbit as leaders or in our family as parents want to feel seen and heard. Being dependable matters to people.
Reflecting on Taylor has caused me to ask myself: in my role as a parent and pastor – do I expect people to serve and defer to me in all things, or do I see my role as a servant? Do I follow through on my commitments and care for people – even when there is little to no benefit to me? Or have I gotten to a place where I need to read James chapter 2 again and be reminded of the sin of partiality?
Orienting our hearts towards Jesus as parents and leaders is not a one time thing, it’s something we will have to do over and over again. It’s clear that Taylor has surrounded herself with a team of people that nurture this dynamic of care for her friends. Let’s us also seek to surround ourselves with people that will help us care about and care for our kids and their friends in ways that help them know they are loved.
But We Don’t Worship Taylor, We Follow Jesus
Now, I’m aware I just wrote an article not too long ago on the Rooted blog where I said we should never make anyone but Jesus the hero of our stories, and I really am not trying to make Taylor the hero of this story.
I don’t want us to worship Taylor. She’s not perfect, and I’m sure someone could write a blog highlighting faults as easily as I’ve written one drawing attention to her strengths.
But I am trying to highlight that how Taylor behaves reflects something of the heart and mind of Jesus that we as humans are drawn to. And that would be good for us to emulate as we seek to draw others to Jesus.
Jesus is always the hero of every good story. And to the extent that Taylor is reflecting God’s goodness as an image-bearer through her humility, relatability, relevance, and care in these moments, she is someone we can learn from for how we, too, might capture the imagination of a generation with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Interested in more gospel-centered parenting resources? Check out our Family Discipleship Curriculum on Rooted Reservoir.