Swift commands a huge and powerful fan base in China, where her albums have topped the charts and raked in millions on streaming services.
Last year, she was the top-selling foreign artist on the Chinese charts. Her 2022 album, “Midnights,” sold nearly a quarter of a million copies in China in its first day of sales.
The rerecorded “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” sold as many in just five minutes, making Swift the best-selling artist on major Chinese streaming platforms during the first part of 2021, even beating megastars like Jay Chou, the Taiwanese king of “Mando-pop.”
News of the movie’s imminent release has been met with jubilation and frenzied planning — as thousands of fans have mobilized across the country.
Swift is one of few foreign celebrities who have gained more than 10 million followers on Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter, and reaction online has been breathless.
Since the announcement the film would come to China, social messaging platform WeChat has been flooded with groups in different cities devoted to strategizing about how to band together to buy tickets before they sell out.
Klyn Zhu, a 23-year-old who works for her family’s business in Jinan, the capital of the smoggy northeastern province of Shandong, told friends that she’d plan a viewing party at a local theater. Word got out, and her phone lit up — more than 1,500 people have been in touch, wanting to be part of the group.
She’s now organizing nothing short of an extravaganza: three viewing groups and a short play about the infamous drama between Swift, Kanye West and his ex-wife, Kim Kardashian.
Zhu dreams that videos of her group might one day show Swift herself just how much she means to Chinese fans. “I want her to see the power of fans here,” she said. “China is a big market, but she has never planned a tour here.”
Many of the Jinan Swifties are in their early 20s and confronting an adulthood in China that looks a little less bright than the one they were promised, as the country grapples with its first economic slowdown of their lifetime. They got hooked on Swift when she released “1989” during their high school years, and they find meaning and solace in her lyrics.
“Every one of her songs fits a moment of my different experiences,” Zhu said. Her current favorite lyrics come from the song “New Romantics,” where Swift sings about building a castle from bricks thrown at her.
“No matter what setbacks or difficulties I encounter, I just have to keep thinking that everything will turn out all right,” she said.
In Beijing, people have scoured Imax theaters to secure commemorative popcorn cups and drinkware printed with Swift’s face even ahead of the movie’s release. In Chengdu, fans are planning coordinated outfits with references to favorite albums.
Sebastian Han, a 23-year-old translator in Jinan, has been preparing for this moment for years, rehearsing Swift songs at regular karaoke nights with friends.
Han credits Swift with immersing him in the English language through her music. Song by song, he learned the lyrics. Now he works full-time as a translator.
Swift’s music means more to people in China than pop songs about love and romance — it’s about deeper issues such as how society values women and views on success, ambition and betrayal, Han said.
“Songs are not just for listening to the melody,” he said. “They’re also for exploring the profound social issues behind them.”
There’s a stringent vetting process for foreign films released in China, and not all American blockbusters make the cut. In recent years, authorities have focused on promoting Chinese films, making it even more of a rarity to be one of the few foreign films allowed into China.
Although other American celebrities have been dropped in China over political comments, Swift has managed to steer clear of scrutiny — despite merchandise that seemed made to court controversy.
With the release of her “1989” album in 2014, she sold merchandise reading “T.S. 1989” — her initials and birth year.
The arrangement of letters and numbers could also be interpreted as a reference to a historical event that China’s censors have worked for decades to scrub from public consciousness: Beijing’s violent crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.
Even oblique references to this date have landed Chinese celebrities in hot water. But for Swift, censors appeared to turn a blind eye.
In fact, Chinese state media seems to have nothing but praise for Swift. Articles in the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, and the nationalist tabloid Global Times call her “Meimei,” adopting fans’ nickname for her. In Mandarin, it sounds like the word for beauty but can be written as “unlucky,” which some say describes her track record with romantic relationships and, previously, the Billboard charts.
“We sincerely hope that Meimei can enjoy her stay in China and present a wonderful performance for her followers to enjoy,” said the Global Times in 2019, before Swift performed at a shopping event for e-commerce giant Alibaba.
In 2021, the People’s Daily headlined a story about Swift’s chart-topping album sales in China: “Taylor Swift’s Fearless hits the right note in China, again.”
“Meimei is forever and always shining among her Chinese fans, never appearing to run out of luck,” it said.
Vic Chiang contributed to this report.