Taylor Swift wasn’t in town last Friday night, although the sounds echoing from inside Rebel, and the crowd surrounding the entrance dressed in Swift-inspired outfits, may have led passersby to think otherwise.
The noise under the starlight was from a Taylor Swift-themed dance party at the Toronto night club, hosted by “Swifties,” Avish Sood, Miri Makin, Victoria Morton and DJ Lusaka.
Since the very first night they hosted a dance party in November 2021, these Taylor Swift fans have brought 32 events to 17 cities in eight provinces, and raised around $75,000 for organizations such as Planned Parenthood and the Daily Bread Foodbank, and hosted more than 21,000 attendees.
“I don’t usually dress like this,” said Makin, who was wearing a hot-pink furry jacket and a shiny dress, when she met me at the front door.
She led me through a maze of fans, bejeweled in glitter, past cardboard cut-outs of Swift and her ex-beau, singer-songwriter Harry Styles and toward the stage, giving me a birds-eye view of the crowd.
“The kind of energy and love for Taylor these fans have is just so contagious,” Makin said.
“It’s been the most incredible experience of our lives to meet so many of them and receive hundreds of messages saying that they’ve never felt safer, happier, or less judged in a bar.”
I could tell.
As if an invisible string was tying them all together, 3,500 Swifties could be seen belting out, in unison, every word to — and sometimes crying over — her songs they know all too well. Never missing a beat and dramatically reacting to visuals on the screen from “Gilmore Girls,” “Euphoria” and “Stranger Things,” the dancing crowd produced enough steam to waft to the ceiling, as iPhone flashlights shone and red balloons floated over the crowd.
Taylor Swift Dance Party Canada, the name they gave to these events, was born out of COVID fatigue and a viral video from Australia that saw a girl singing and dancing to Swift’s “Mr. Perfectly Fine” in a bar.
“We wanted to bring that kind of joy to our own friends,” said Makin. This eventually led the group to host a small event in the basement of a bar on King Street. It sold out within 30 seconds. They launched two more dates, and again sold out in under a minute. Even though they work full-time jobs, they continue to plan and host the events. Tickets for last week’s sold-out night at Rebel in support of Planned Parenthood Toronto went for $23.
It was nearly midnight — this was fitting, as Taylor Swift had dropped her 10th studio album, “Midnights,” just 24 hours before — when I encountered Olivia Harbin, a second-year student at Toronto Metropolitan University. Harbin was sitting on the back patio chatting about how Swift has been in her life for as long as she can remember and how she couldn’t pass up a night with fellow Swifties.
“It seems like she always has a story to tell about what I’m going through in my life,” said Harbin.
“She’s a vital part of my … everything.”
Swift inspired her to pick up a guitar and learn to play, Harbin recalled. The first song she learned was “Red,” a tune about a young love too hard to forget. “That song has meant a lot to me growing up and becoming kind of a grown woman, and becoming my own, individual self.”
Nearby, Joel Johnson was catching some air before going back into the crowd with his friend Jordan Abraham. Asked how he ended up at a Swift-themed night, Johnson said, “I have a girlfriend here who knows every word to every song, so I’m supporting her. It’s nice to see she’s not double-checking her shoulders, or worried about her drink in the same way (she would at a regular bar).”
(The event’s TikTok following is 93 per cent female, and this is reflected in the event’s attendance.)
Johnson is a fan, himself. He said it used to be “cool” to hate on Swift’s music, but he’s since come around to appreciate it and her songwriting. He worried his choice of his favourite Swift song would disappoint his girlfriend.
“I’m gonna go with ‘Stay Stay Stay.’ It’s an underrated song, but when she threatens to throw the football helmet at him, it just speaks to me,” he laughed. “If this gets printed, she’ll judge me.”
At the end of the night, Sood stood up on stage and gave fans one last thing to scream about. In an effort not to pick sides in the so-called “divorce” between Swift and Styles, the organizers have announced they’re hosting a Harry Styles-themed dance party Nov. 16 at The Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto to help launch the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s “Gifts of Light” campaign, with all ticket proceeds going to improve patients’ experiences at the centre. Two other Styles-themed events are planned, for Ottawa on Nov. 18, and Kingston Nov. 20.
“We love you all. Everybody get home safe!”
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