Belgium students’ Taylor Swift-inspired love story amidst the global surge in Swift-themed courses as the pop titan continues to dominate the charts.
Belgium Students’ Taylor Swift Love Story
A hubbub envelops the class in the Belgian city of Ghent as university students eagerly debate whether US pop star Taylor Swift can be considered a “literary genius.” The question triggers passionate responses from students, and it’s an exercise their professor hopes will enhance their engagement with more traditional figures in the English Literature canon.
The course is among a few that have emerged at universities worldwide as pop icon Swift has amassed hits and awards. Her Eras Tour is anticipated to set a record as the first billion-dollar tour.
“To read her lyrics without the context of the song, it can feel like poetry,” one student says, after the teacher opens the floor to discussion.
Another student joins the conversation, suggesting that it might be premature to claim that Taylor Swift, at the age of 33, has had an equivalent cultural impact to William Shakespeare, who is renowned worldwide and whose work has endured for many centuries. Shakespeare, known for his extensive body of work, authored at least 38 plays, whereas Swift has released 10 albums.
Some may question what Shakespeare and his contemporaries have in common with today’s most prominent American singer-songwriter. However, they all serve as the focal points of Elly McCausland’s course titled “Literature (Taylor’s Version),” designed for Master’s degree students at Ghent University. This course is scheduled to run until the end of the year.
During the initial class on Monday, assistant professor McCausland sparked the students’ curiosity by presenting controversial questions. These questions included why some authors and their works are deemed timeless, while others do not enjoy the same level of recognition.
McCausland’s objective is to render literature more approachable. She expressed her goal by stating, “I’d like to ignite people’s enthusiasm for literature, encourage them to approach literature from a fresh perspective, and help them realize that even literature from centuries ago still contributes valuable insights to our ongoing discussions.” She shared these thoughts with AFP during the class.
Swift is a true poet.
The 10-session course will utilize Taylor Swift’s songs as reference points for various themes and will center on a series of historical texts, including Charlotte Bronte’s “Villette,” which is less renowned than her famous work “Jane Eyre.”
This course has garnered significant popularity, with 61 students enrolled, double the usual number. It has even attracted students from other parts of Belgium. Zina Ringoot, a 20-year-old English literature Master’s student, decided to attend the course just hours before and made a 90-minute journey from Antwerp in the northeast to Ghent.
“I’m a huge Taylor Swift fan,” Ringoot exclaimed, revealing her enthusiasm. “I’m hoping to write my thesis on Taylor Swift’s album ‘folklore’ and how it connects to romanticism. So I thought I would get a lot out of this class.”
Not everyone in the class is a dedicated Swiftie, as her fans refer to themselves. Joris Verschelde, a 21-year-old student, admitted that he’s “not that big of a fan” but was interested in “seeing the connection between the songs and what we’ve already learned” from the older texts.
Despite addressing serious themes such as feminism, sexism, and misogyny, the windowless auditorium often resonates with laughter. When Professor McCausland poses the question, “Who are the gatekeepers of English literature?” one student humorously quips, “A bunch of old men!”
While critics may reject comparisons with the canonical greats, Swift has garnered fans even among Shakespeare experts, including British academic Sir Jonathan Bate. Following his attendance at one of Swift’s record-breaking Eras tour concerts, Bate wrote in the Sunday Times in April: “I came away with confirmation of a thought I first had 15 years ago: this isn’t just high-class showbiz, Taylor Swift is a real poet.”
In addition to Belgium
University courses focused on Taylor Swift have been cropping up worldwide. New York University’s Clive Davis Institute introduced its inaugural course on Swift last year, while Queen Mary University of London offered a summer school this year that examined Swift from a literary perspective.
In Arizona, PhD student Alexandra Wormley is organizing a course on the social psychology of Swift at Arizona State University this autumn. Both online critics and some media pundits have pondered the elements of Swift’s appeal.
According to Clio Doyle, an academic who conducted the summer course at Queen Mary, “Swift is a truly captivating songwriter.” As a lecturer in early modern literature, Doyle was also drawn to Swift due to her widespread popularity and the ongoing discussions about her work. She explained, “A course centered on Swift provides students with an opportunity to delve deeper into the analysis of Swift’s lyrics and to contemplate what it means to study something as literature.” Doyle, who also runs a podcast focused on Swift, shared these insights with AFP.
The summer course is scheduled to be offered again next year, and interest extends beyond the United States and Europe. The University of Melbourne will host a three-day event called “Swiftposium” in February 2024, examining Swift’s cultural, economic, and global impact—coinciding with the arrival of her tour in Australia during the same month.