When Taylor Swift debuted her new single, “Look What You Made Me Do,” it came with an intriguing link to “ticket info.” And so while I was listening to the single, I started digging around on Swift’s website looking for information about a tour that logically won’t be starting until sometime next year. And then I stumbled across this video, which explained why there was such an early mention of tickets.
At first, I presumed the video was simply a way for Taylor to announce that she was following the lead of other artists and using Ticketmaster Verified Fan, a new service designed to help combat ticket bots that keep real human beings from seeing shows at face value. But as the video continued beyond the explanation about the evils of ticket bots, the video takes a turn.
A “new way of buying tickets?” Perfect!
A “better way of buying tickets?” Wonderful!
A “fun way of buying tickets?” Uhhhh…what?
And then it’s made clear that “Taylor Swift Tix” is not just about making sure that bots don’t buy all of the tickets: instead, it allows you to login and “have the opportunity to participate in unique activities that advance your spot in line.” And these activities are not just fun games that help you kill the time: as evidenced in the video, they are inherently commercial ativities, including pre-ordering her album, buying merchandise from the record, and streaming the single’s lyric video.
These are all things that the most devoted Taylor Swift fans would likely do anyway. But by “game-ifying” the concert ticket purchasing process by way of the transactional economies of the music industry, Swift is doing something she was fundamentally not “made” to do: while the move to a Verified system is a positive one, the other choices create clear incentives for her wealthiest fans, and sacrifice any type of egalitarian system in favor of a shrewd financial gambit that is 100% gross and 1000% genius.
The genius here is that Swift is linking together the four pillars of the music industry. Tours are where Swift would make the vast majority of her money, and there’s really no “risk” involved: even if the record follows the pattern of “Look What You Made Me Do” toward a darker, edgier sound, Swift will sell out every stadium she plays in, so her best interest is in finding a way to use that demand in order to solidify the rest of her interests. And so the largest boost for your position “in line” to purchase tickets is pre-ordering the album, pushing fans to do something they probably would have done anyway, but will help Swift’s first week sales if more people make that choice. Similarly, fans would have probably purchased merchandise at shows, but incentivizing earlier purchases only helps Swift financially (and even lets her gauge demand when it comes to stocking the merch booths at the shows). Similarly, fans were going to watch her lyric video and boost her streaming stats regardless of whether there was an incentive, but the added push will only help her retain strong chart positions.
The way Taylor Swift Tix maps out the commercial ecosystem of the contemporary music industry is an impressive piece of work, and if it offered a finite “boost” for each of these actions then I would say it was a smart way to leverage fan interest in her concerts in order to protect against any natural decline that emerges with a delayed album cycle or any “backlash” to a musical departure. But not all of these boosts are limited. While you can only watch the lyric video five times per day, and it only asks you to share your referral link to Taylor Swift Tix once per day per platform, the two most expensive and lucrative boosts—pre-ordering the album and buying merchandise—do not face the same type of restriction.
There is technically a limit on how many albums you can “boost” for, but that limit is a bizarre 13, and the copy on the website specifically reminds fans that each version of the album will likely come with exclusive content—Target has a zine!—so as to push them to pre-order multiple copies. And there’s no limit at all on merchandise: you’ll get a boost for each $45 t-shirt or $60 snake ring that you purchase.
And it’s here where Taylor Swift Tix goes off the rails. Essentially, the people who will be furthest in line for tickets for Taylor Swift’s Reputation tour are going to be the people who are wealthy enough to pre-order 13 copies (for party favors?) and buy every piece of merchandise. Although the “unique activities” could change dramatically between now and the end of November, the system is built to prioritize those fans with means, and functionally punishes those who may not be able to afford anything but their time spend sharing content or watching videos. Swift is not valuing “fandom” writ large with this approach: she is valuing consumptive fandom, actively creating a hierarchy between her fans that “buy into” her music and those who simply invest their time and energy.
The “Taylor Swift Tix” page has the headline “Participate,” echoing the intimacies of her previous album launches that I wrote about yesterday, but the question is in what: if it is in being part of the community of Taylor Swift fans, then the project represents a chance to reward her loyal fans with easier access to tickets and fun experiences to support that community. But in its current iteration, Taylor Swift Tix is not rewarding loyalty: it is rewarding financial investment, a shrewd business maneuver rather cruelly masquerading as a gift to her fans. While giving fans easier access to tickets in an environment where on-sales are ravaged by bots is an act of generosity, the choices made in building around that go too far into making the “ultimate Taylor Swift fan” into the fans who have unlimited discretionary income. This is not a “scam”—although technically it doesn’t guarantee anyone tickets, just a place in line, so people would be buying an opportunity to buy things—but it pushes the boundaries of how artists can leverage hierarchies within their fanbase in order to improve their own position within music industry hierarchies.
And no one made Taylor Swift do that.