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Are Taylor Swift-related courses in PH important? Lecturers explain

by Joanna Deala

PRESTIGIOUS universities across the United States will no longer be the only ones studying about Taylor Swift and the impact she has, as courses related to the American singer-songwriter are now being offered in the Philippines.

The University of the Philippines-Diliman and De La Salle University–Dasmariñas announced that they would incorporate courses about the pop star in their students’ curriculum titled “Celebrity Studies: Taylor Swift in Focus” and “Speak Now: Swifties Unleashed,” respectively.

The “Celebrity Studies: Taylor Swift in Focus” elective is under UP-D’s BA Broadcast Media Arts and Studies program, while the “Speak Now: Swifties Unleashed” course is offered under DLSU-D’s senior high school (SHS) department.

These courses have evidently stirred excitement among young individuals, especially fans of Swift a.k.a Swifties, but it couldn’t be denied that they also earned an eyebrow raise from others who are questioning the importance of teaching such subjects to Filipino students when there are more pressing matters to give attention to.

Perhaps there are individuals who assumed that these classes would just center on the 12-time Grammy winner and her songs alone–but that’s not solely the reason why these electives were proposed.

Why Taylor?

The Philippines has a roster of diverse celebrities from different generations–ranging from rising stars to seasoned actors–that have huge influences among several Filipinos. Thanks to the rise of social media, there have also been content creators who have a big platform and impact.

But why, of all these local celebrities, it must be Swift? UP-D Broadcast Media Associate Professor Cherish Aileen Brillon has two answers for that: one, it’s because she is a Swiftie, and two, it’s primarily because of the change she noticed during the Philippine national elections in 2022.

It is not a secret that celebrities are being paid by politicians to endorse them or do advertisements with them. But this wasn’t the case in the 2022 elections.

The last elections saw a lot of celebrities lending their star power to express support for a certain politician and many fans became active in the polls, according to Brillon.

She recalled that most of them were Gen Zs and late millennials who are fans of either K-pop and Swift.

“Doon ako parang nagsimulang mag-isip na something is really very different about the past election, and it was driven by these two very important ideas for me—the celebrities and the fans,” Brillon told republicasia.

“What was very interesting for me was that there are fandoms [na] yung kanilang mga paborito ay wala namang kinalaman sa politika ng Pilipinas pero nag-mobilize sila sa atin gamit yung idea ng kanilang pagiging fans,” she added.

Some people may have been wondering about the importance of teaching a celebrity-inspired course to students, but such a subject is, in fact, not new in the field of media studies. There were scholars who already analyzed big names in the entertainment scene and their impact on society in their papers, stressed Brillon.

One thing that is unique in UP-D’s upcoming celebrity elective is that it will now use an international celebrity, a pop icon of today’s generation in particular, to discuss Philippine media and other issues in the country.

“I don’t want it to be parang ang dating ay Taylor Swift lamang ang focus, but rather, siya unang gagamitin na lente sa pag-aaral ng celebrity,” the UP-D professor said.

This would be a huge contribution to Filipinos’ knowledge about pop culture and media, and not about Swift per se, she added.

“Very interesting sa akin [kasi] usually when people study Taylor Swift or when universities offer a Taylor Swift course, it’s always coming from a Western perspective. Ngayon, parang sisilipin siya gamit yung mga lente from a country in the global south,” Brillon said.

It is also not the first time that DLSU-D offered a celebrity-inspired elective. In the past years, the school has already offered courses related to K-pop, fan culture, and other musical artists, according to DLSU-D faculty member Ricabelle Rupido. 

Rupido said that the school offers a Swit-inspired course to its students not only because it sparks excitement among the students, but because it will help in bringing up more relevant exchanges among the youth.

“I noticed that the excitement of most of the students is very prominent whenever they hear Taylor’s songs. So, I thought, why not use her music, her influence [on] the students to spark their engagement, especially since, ‘yun nga, her work doesn’t only revolve around music,” the faculty member told republicasia. 

She continued, “It can also be interdisciplinary. It can also touch various fields like literature, pop culture, contemporary issues, among others.”

Goal

Celebrities and fans may just be two of the most interesting topics for some, but for other people—particularly those in the media field—these are something that would help them in their careers and grow as a person.

These students are media consumers and maybe one day become media creators and producers, which is why it’s crucial for them to know how to read text, interpret it, and make it more empowering. 

“Napaka-importante ng usapin ng celebrity. Hindi mo yan matatanggal sa ating kultura. Hindi mo rin matatanggal sa ating kultura yung idea ng fans or fandom, fanaticism. Kitang-kita mo yan sa religion, kitang-kita mo yan sa lahat ng aspeto,” Brillon noted.

“If they are the next creators, dapat kaya nilang basahin yung teksto, kaya nila ‘tong baliin, kaya nilang gumawa ng bago,” she added.

But more than their careers, the elective will help them become critical and literate, and navigate a more global platform which is the internet and a large audience which is netizens, Brillon said.

“Just by the idea of us being literate and being critical would be very, very helpful for our society because we are mired in disinformation,” she said.

“We tend to dismiss pop culture, especially na hindi siya relevant sa ating buhay, hindi natin alam na it’s actually pop culture that can move people into action, and understanding how pop culture works is very, very important in mobilizing people to action and to change,” she emphasized.

For DLSU-D students, Rupido said that “Speak Now: Swifties Unleashed” would help them enhance their listening skills, their creative thinking, and their storytelling techniques to effectively convey their ideas on certain matters by analyzing and dissecting the singer-songwriter’s song lyrics.

“I believe that exploring various themes of her music, from love, loss, friendship, self-discovery, vulnerability, and even complex emotions can also provide a safe place for students to explore their identities and experiences,” the lecturer said.

The themes of Swift’s songs that discuss contemporary issues like feminism and mental health awareness could also be used as “entry points” to talk about social matters.

“Here in our school, we also want to emphasize din that they need to be well-rounded individuals. Aside from preparing them [for] college, we also want them to become active in our mission, so that is faith, service, and communion in mission,” Rupido said.

“We try to come up with different electives that will help nurture them into well-rounded individuals so that they can be prepared for any path that they may choose,” she continued.

With this course, Rupido also hoped that her students would be inspired to delve deep into their creative expression whether it is through writing, producing music, or creating visual arts.

Scope

Brillion said she may include activities that would require her students to break down the song lyrics and find easter eggs or clues in the “Celebrity Studies: Taylor Swift in Focus” elective. But more than these, she aims to connect the pop icon to literature written by Filipino authors which, she said, is something that is “rare” in the academe since there are only a few materials made by local authors that can be accessed and used as sources in the studies.

“Number one ‘yon. Paano natin babasahin gamit yung mga local authors na ito ang isang transnational na icon katulad ni Taylor Swift? Important for me, ano siya bilang isang icon? So, titignan natin yung ganong perspective,” she noted.

“Ano siya bilang isang marker ng negosyo? Kasi bahagi ito ng persona niya. Nandun din yung usapin ng gender. I’m also a gender advocate, so very important for me na silipin siya sa ganon,” she continued.

The elective also aims to answer why Taylor Sheesh, a preeminent Swift impersonator, is one of the popular performers in the country. 

Taylor Sheesh gained traction among thousands of Filipinos when she headlined her own version of the “Eras Tour” in a shopping center in Quezon City last year, as Filipino Swifities clamored for a Manila leg of the record-breaking concert tour.

Aside from that, it will also touch on cultural syncretism.

“Ano ‘tong syncretic na kultura? Hindi natin masasabing purely Pilipino siya, pero hindi rin naman natin masasabing tinanggap lang natin ang impluwensya ng mga taga-labas. Meron tayong lumalabas na isa pang katauhan out of that and I’d really want that to be part of the focus,” she explained.

For Brillon, it is important for her as a professor to tackle more about the landscape of the entertainment industry, specifically the changes in it in the previous years.

“I’d want to be able for the course to look at how things that we see, things that we dismiss, can be empowering. Hindi ko sinasabing hindi sila disempowering kasama yon sa magiging discussion, but sa akin, we are in a very changed world and it’s time to harness the things that we dismiss and make it more empowering,” she explained.

To do that, the associate professor said there is a need to bring up discussions about celebrities, fans, the Philippine media, and the entertainment industry.

In the “Speak Now: Swifties Unleashed” course, Rupido said that she would incorporate discussions about the evolution of Swift’s discography and messages within her lyrics to identify defining characteristics of each of her eras, their common themes, and figures of speech.

But the students will not just listen to her music, as the elective intends to connect Swift’s advocacies for social causes, such as mental health awareness and youth empowerment, to similar issues in the Philippines, Brillon said.

“Taylor and her music will just serve as a gateway, [but it will be used] as a tool to introduce and explore broader concepts. I believe that by using her music and experiences as examples, this can lead to a more engaging discussion in the class,” she added.

Students’ reception

The “Celebrity Studies: Taylor Swift in Focus” and “Speak Now: Swifties Unleashed” electives will be offered in UP-D and DLSU-D, respectively, in the second semester.

UP-D students are now in the enlistment period for the upcoming semester, and over 290 of them have already enlisted in the “Celebrity Studies: Taylor Swift in Focus” course.

The class could only accommodate 20 students, but Brillon said that the Broadcast Media department is already in talks of offering another section, as many students from other departments and outside the UP-D have expressed their interest in the class.

“There are talks that maybe I can increase the class size. That’s for the physical one, but nag-re-ready na rin tayo ng syllabus,” she said.

“Siguro kapag tapos na ‘tong encoding namin ng grades, I have more time to think about maybe there might be particular sessions that we can open to the public so that people can maybe come in because I realized that marami naman talagang very supportive doon sa course,” she added.

A lot of DLSU-D students have also approached Rupido and told her that they already enrolled in her class, she shared.

Data on the number of students who have enrolled in “Speak Now: Swifties Unleashed” elective has not been finalized yet since the enrollment is still ongoing.

Currently, the course is only being offered in the upcoming semester because the plan to extend it will depend on the next teacher who will be handling the course in the future.

“We are committed to providing various experiences for the students, so maybe this will be the start na siguro, in the future maybe, there are teachers who will be interested in looking at Taylor in marketing or in the business world,” Rupido said.

While nothing is sure yet, the faculty member assured that DLSU-D is committed to living out its mission to “create possibilities” for its students.

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