The Messenger is the Message
How the audience perceives you is the most critical aspect of your expertise in terms of credibility and, therefore, also your authority.
During her monologue on last week’s Saturday Night Live, host Dakota Johnson talked about the last time she was on the show. The camera cut to a clip of her in the SNL audience back in 2015.
"Look at this collection of people: Sarah Palin, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg – and look who's sitting right behind me," Johnson said as the camera zoomed in on Donald Trump’s face.
"It's just crazy to be standing so close to someone who would become the most powerful person in America," Johnson continued as the camera panned to Taylor Swift, who was sitting in front of her.
It’s funny because it’s true.
Taylor’s reign of world domination reached all-new heights in 2023 with her Eras Tour. And now it’s somehow escalated beyond that dizzying pinnacle thanks to the media spotlight on her relationship with Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs, the team returning to the Super Bowl with a new high-profile fan cheering them on.
Now, let me make this clear up front (meaning, don’t come at me, Swifties!). I’m a fan of Taylor in that I appreciate her immense talent, savvy, and work ethic. I also appreciate her ability to write extremely catchy pop songs.
But that's the thing. Taylor’s music is good but not necessarily innovative. She’s not a groundbreaking artist like Madonna, Prince, or even her contemporary Beyoncé.
And yet Taylor has inspired a cult-like following that has impacted culture in a way that we thought was now impossible thanks to the modern fragmentation of media. Something’s going on here beyond her “content.”
The answer is she has a unifying bond with her fans that other artists do not. Taylor understands her audience, speaks their language, and makes it clear that they’re on the same team.
Taylor’s relationship with her fans allows her to extend her influence by association to almost anything she sees fit to endorse — an Instagram post from her encouraging them to register to vote led to massive spike in registrations. And Kansas City Chiefs’ gear has been flying off the shelves thanks to an unlikely demographic — teen and pre-teen girls.
The point is, it’s not the content. It’s the leadership. More than a few pundits have rightly likened the T. Swift phenomenon to a movement.