Long ago, a girl with golden locks and cowboy boots beneath her princess dress declared: “there’s more to life / than dating the boy on the football team.” And so there was. The little girl went on to grant the gifts of a fairy godmother ($55 million in bonuses to her Eras Tour crew), make the earth (Seattle) tremble beneath her feet, and prance across the globe in a bedazzled cape. This is the fairytale of Taylor Swift.
And so, fifteen years later, when rumors began to swirl about our golden girl with yes, a boy on the football team, it all felt a little too fantastic. Could real life really sustain such a fairytale ending—this full circle progression from wanting more, to getting more, to finally fulfilling that initial desire? Yet here he is, Mr. Friday Night Lights (or “Mr. Perfectly Fine”) hand in hand with her, opening the door to her coach (a gray Chevy Suburban) in the city. But is Travis Kelce “the 1,” or just another character in the narrative?
The two are never far apart for Taylor Swift. This is a woman who is as much material as myth. To track all of the Swiftian characters and stories present in both her songs and her life requires one to question the boundaries between fact and fiction so often that it seems not even worth asking anymore. Her first album, Taylor Swift, was an inherent presentation of self as a story.
While it is not entirely uncommon for a celebrity to live for the narrative, Swift takes it a step further and lives in it: there’s Holiday House, her Rhode Island property that is home to the autobiographical tale “The Last Great American Dynasty”; there’s Cornelia Street, her Greenwich Village loft that is the centerpiece of the song of that title (it’s a small wonder she doesn’t have more stalkers). Whether you’re standing barefoot in the kitchen or tracing the creaks in the floor, to live with Taylor is to live inside her narrative, as close as possible to the literal sense. Indeed, this is a woman who writes her own “Karma”—so how much of a surprise is it really that the soaring prophecy from all those years ago finally materialized?
And still, the question remains: what is this story of Taylor and Travis about?
First, it is a story of growing. If what it takes to reach the boy on the football team is doing greater things, I’m sure she has qualified; for what else is this tour, if not superlative? After all, we’re talking not years, not decades, not centuries, but Eras. And after the popstar (Harry Styles), the country star (John Mayer), and the movie star (Jake Gyllenhall), Taylor’s finally found her happy ending not with a man who makes hits, but a man who hits—leaving the magic of making supremely hers.
And indeed, Taylor is making herself grow superlatively. She’s growing tour dates, growing stamina, growing muscle (in case you somehow missed it, she reminds you with a bicep kiss in the first five minutes of the show). In the grand morass of Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce TikToks, there is one in particular that sticks with me: it shows Taylor growing, over the course of several slides, from her eating disorder, to her recovery, to her training for the tour. It culminates with a picture of Taylor and Travis, tied in an embrace, basking in their bigness. It’s physical growth, yes, but more than that, this is the growth of her cultural stature: Taylor Swift as a figure has never been larger on the global stage. This is a woman whose characters always match her scenes; as she grows everything from her arms to the GDP, of course she would wind up with a man of such heft. Indeed, to look at these two is to behold what it is to be big and growing and strong: Taylor and Travis: even the compounded consonants sound strong. Taylor and Travis: our two All-Americans.
After a big, pink-caped, and ribbon-waving reveal, the first thing Swift says upon stepping on stage at the Eras tour is “Oh hi!” a short and sweet morsel of an introduction. But there’s something a little disingenuous—or maybe even cunning—about this greeting. If nothing else, Taylor Swift knows how long we’ve been waiting for her—she even projects a massive timer on the jumbotron, counting the seconds before her grand entry—and even if she didn’t, the seismic audience reaction alone is enough to communicate how long we’ve been pent up, itching, waiting. And yet: we only truly begin with “Oh hi!” her faux modest, girl-caught-doing-something-naughtily-excellent intro, which seems to say: I know I’m a spectacle. But the show only begins when I see you.
And perhaps that’s what she’s been doing with this entire tour. Whether she’s looking out at all of you Swifties in the crowd, looking back on her teenage years during the Fearless era, or facing a museum of old Taylors, encased in glass, during Reputation, she’s the one who is looking now—at her narrative arc, at her world of constituents, and yes, at her hunky football man. She’s gone from the frantic adolescent plea of “hoping that one day / you’ll wake up and find / that what you’re looking for / has been here the whole time,” (“You Belong With Me”) to the cool and collected stare of “that’s my man” (“Willow”).
If you don’t believe me, watch that viral clip from the finale of a show in Argentina, where Taylor changes the final verse of her song “Karma” to “Karma is that guy on the Chiefs, coming straight home to me.” As she delivers the lines that echoed around the globe (by which I mean TikTok), notice her posture: for the briefest moment, it’s almost as if she’s sinking into a cat-calling pose. It’s the knees carefully staggered, torso reclining back of a well-refined lemme holla at you real quick—the subtle summoning of that single outstretched finger, reeling through the crowd, pulling him in. In this one precious moment, the sequins and streamers dissolve into swagger. Her money, her man, her karma: all coming home to me.
All of this is to say: this is not the Taylor who once asked us to “Look What You Made Me Do” (notice the slim presence of this particular era on her setlist) but the Taylor who is looking wherever and at whomever she likes. It’s the power she recognizes when she looks from section to section, igniting each time a roar, gathering it all into a resounding you’re making me feel powerful. And what a reversal this is for the popstar, one who reigns supreme in an economy of being looked at. Our girl has outgrown supervision; she is grown now, and looking at you.
That’s what happened to Travis Kelce (even his mom knows it—when asked about the relationship, she exclaimed, “God bless him, he shot for the stars!”). And if Taylor Swift likes to look at a muscly tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs, best believe us Swifties are looking too.
For an American appetite starved of the power couple, it’s tempting to read Taylor and Travis as Posh and Becks, as seen in their recent docu-series. But Taylor Swift’s influence is more vast than the entire spice cabinet; and, more importantly, this meaty mustachioed Midwesterner—the kind who says that’s a helluva line about his billionaire girlfriend’s Grammy-awarded song while talking to the Wall Street Journal in his Rolls Royce–is no Becks. And that’s entirely the point.
We Americans are less royal and more family. Yes, Taylor and Travis are American made. But just as important as their roots is their reach—as the two travel the world, step by step, from town to town, they grow from American examples to American exports, dance as diplomacy.
Perhaps it’s a little too perfect for Miss Americana to finally find her heart in the heartlands—for “The Last Great American Dynasty” to be a blonde-haired, red-lipped girl, raised on a Christmas tree farm in Pennsylvania, walking hand in hand with her big Missouri man. But what else is Taylor Swift if not exactly that: a little too perfect, a little too grand, her show even a little too long (don’t kill me, but nobody needed that much Midnights in hour three). Even as old-fashioned as Americana sounds, Taylor is (and always will be) one with the zeitgeist—and, in 2023, the zeitgeist is a rootsy man with a touch of Americana. It’s Noah Kahan, with a little weight (okay: a lot) put on him. And what could be rootsier, while still “Bejeweled,” than midwestern chic? Than a Kansas City man who is as comfortable on the cover of Vogue as on the gridiron? What position could possibly be more fitting for Taylor than a flashy tight end?
And Travis Kelce is exactly that—the flashiest of tight ends. In the purest pirouette of Swiftian wordplay, Travis Kelce is a flashy tight end to her “Love Story:” each end zone “Archer” celebration, aimed tenderly at her box, your marry me, Juliet of Sunday Night football.
Taylor Swift’s happy endings often, if not always, come at the end of her songs. They come in big puffs of synth and smoke (“Love Story”), or in small turns of phrase (“How You Get the Girl” ends with “that’s how you got the girl”). More often than not, the true Swiftian happy ending is achieved in the bridge. Maybe, after a long and storied career, we’ve finally reached the end with Travis. Maybe, after a tumbling twenty year discography of romantic tribulations, Travis Kelce is the one.
Or maybe, this storybook ending wrapped up in a mustachioed beau could be just that: a bridge. And for Taylor Swift, the hero of our American epic—New York Times critic Wesley Morris even called her a “conscientious steward of her own Odyssey”—it is safe to assume there are endless episodes ahead, waiting on the other side. Indeed, whether or not Travis is the one, Taylor’s adventures (and maybe even her Eras) will always be as big and epic, as far and wide, as she wants them to be.