Taylor Swift stopped by Lawrence, Kansas, to write this very opinion column! (Not really.)
Pop music megastar Taylor Swift did not visit Lawrence on Monday afternoon.
She did not walk down Massachusetts Street with rumored beau Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs tight end.
The couple did not then eat at Free State Brewery, as throngs of adoring fans assembled outside.
Rewind to when Taylor Swift attended class at the University of Kansas — at least for one day. Read the column here.
Swift did not drop by Love Garden Sounds downtown to buy several vinyl records and sign autographs for surprised shoppers.
Finally, she did not visit a coffee shop where I was working and pen this very column for Kansas Reflector readers.
None of these things happened. Yet for a few magnificent hours, at least a few of them seemed possible, even plausible. Swift megafans believed the singer-songwriter icon was within driving distance of Lawrence, given that she had attended a Chiefs game the day before. She had also, more than a decade ago, made her love for Lawrence ever-so public.
“My perfect day off would be going to visit my best friend Abigail in Lawrence, Kansas,” Swift said in a 2009 Oprah interview.
In other words, the stars were aligned for Swift’s return to the college town. Her fans certainly thought so, and rumors started flying Monday afternoon that she and Kelce were eating at the brewery. Free State acknowledged the excitement via Twitter (yes, yes, I know that a certain peculiar billionaire wants me to call it “X”).
When there’s a *rumor* that Taylor Swift is in her Free State Brewery era pic.twitter.com/z4XjQlePk3
— Free State Brewery (@FreeStateBeer) September 25, 2023
“The strange thing is, the thought occurred to me midday before I turned my phone back on that Taylor might visit Lawrence,” she told me. “Around 4 p.m. I nervously asked my mom if maybe Taylor would be at the sociology of Taylor Swift course (of which I am a seminar assistant), and I would have missed it.”
The Lawrence Journal-World and Kansas City Star both chased the story, but both news outlets came to the same disappointing conclusion. Swift wasn’t there. Kelce couldn’t be seen either. Perhaps fans’ desire for something to be true had outpaced the facts.
The city of Lawrence, however, eagerly jumped on the bandwagon.
It’s swiftly becoming an interesting day here in Lawrence, Kansas.
— City of Lawrence KS (@lawrenceks) September 25, 2023
So did the iconic Granada Theater, three blocks south of the brewery.
Fingers crossed some Sparks Fly in LFK tonightpic.twitter.com/1OxWYC5vOb
— The Granada Theater (@theGranada) September 25, 2023
I suspect this happened for a handful of reasons. First, Swift enjoys a legion of perfervid fans, dubbed “Swifties.” If you doubt their engagement with the woman and her life and work, I encourage you to spend time browsing through your social media platform of choice. You will find them. And you will be alternately impressed and unnerved.
Secondly, downtown Lawrence usually spends Mondays sleeping off the weekend. Stores and restaurants close for the day to recuperate. The businesses that do open apparently have extra time for social media posting.
Finally, who doesn’t enjoy a dose of whimsy amid socio-political turbulence?
— Rudy's Pizzeria (@RudysPizzeria) September 25, 2023
Whimsy predominated as the day continued and it became ever clearer that Swift not only hadn’t visited, but that one person’s tall tales were as good as another’s.
This leads to my favorite Tweet from the afternoon. I’m not sure why Swift decided to stalk past an abandoned Wescoe Hall in full concert regalia, but surely the camera never lies.
Taylor Swift is in Lawrence, Kansas!!! She left Mass Street and is now on campus!!! pic.twitter.com/Y0EtdlguWp
— Daniel Moser (@DanielMoser1221) September 25, 2023
Thus, a few folks in Lawrence spread silliness for an afternoon.
“It’s sometimes easy to lose sight of the fact that Taylor Swift is a real person, so I think we should respect her privacy,” he told me via email. “We have to be careful not to engage in stalking behavior, even if it just seems like innocent fun. That said, I completely understand why people would give up part of their afternoon to catch a glimpse of her. Taylor’s celebrity status right now is unsurpassed. She’s the closest we have to American royalty.”
Donovan added: “Another interesting aspect of yesterday’s event is the extent to which people really thought that she was at the brewery. I think for a lot of people, it was simply an occasion to be around other swifties and to revel in the excitement of their shared love of Taylor.”
Greenberg saw Lawrence fans’ reaction in a similar light.
“Looking back after the fact (and a couple hours of processing, catching up with the group chat, and evaluating the claims, I think it was a fun way for Swifties at KU and around Lawrence to connect with one another and build community, but if Taylor was in fact in Lawrence, I’m sure some privacy and safety would be appreciated by her and her team!” she said.
I can think of worse ways to spend an afternoon. Swift’s chimeric visit to Lawrence struck me as analogous to buying a lottery ticket. The fun comes from imagining yourself in different circumstances. In one alternate reality, you won a million dollars. In another, you’re standing outside Free State Brewery as the singer and the football player emerge, all smiles and giggles and waves to the adoring crowd.
Let’s not dwell on the more difficult questions.
How did an entire city became enraptured by a fallacious rumor? Are we so in need of positivity and good vibes in our lives that we must generate them from whole cloth? Do we find more meaning in relationships with people we don’t know than with our actual family and friends?
Even now, even with this column, writing about fictional fun and excitement engages this author more than the arduous, essential work of debunking. Just because we know the truth doesn’t make it pleasurable to promote. Once the adrenalin rush fades, we might take a few moments to mull that over.
That’s why I, the one and only and totally real Taylor Swift, felt it important to write today.
Clay Wirestone is Kansas Reflector opinion editor. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.