Taylor Swift’s girl squad isn’t elitist or a cult – it’s actually aspirational

Few do a girl’s night out better than Taylor Swift. The mega-bucks pop star, now said to be worth $1.1bn (£888m), might be globally renowned for her music catalogue but she’s arguably just as known for having some really, really famous friends. Specifically, her female friends, or her “girl squad”, as they’ve been referred to.

Recent weeks have seen Swift making headlines for going out for dinner in New York with Selena Gomez, Blake Lively, all three Haim sisters, models Gigi Hadid and Cara Delevingne, and a lesser-known newcomer to her friendship circle, Brittany Mahomes. She’s the wife of NFL player Patrick Mahomes, who plays for the Kansas City Chiefs alongside Swift’s rumoured new boyfriend, Travis Kelce.

Most famously, Swift has been regularly seen hitting the town with Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner, giving way to numerous memes about the timing of their newfound friendship: she and Turner seemed to befriend one another shortly after Turner announced her divorce from Joe Jonas, who once dated Swift.

Swift has form when it comes to going out with her girls. In fact, it’s something she has made a point of doing throughout her career; there was a time when you couldn’t have a single conversation about Swift without also referencing her wolfpack. Dedicated Swifties will recall when the musician went through a phase of bringing her famous female friends on stage with her, even casting some of them in her music videos. Nine of the gang, including Hadid, Gomez, and Hailee Steinfeld, attended the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards as her dates.

It’s a powerful group, too. Just think of some of the names who’ve been seen in her entourage over the years. Beyoncé. Lorde. Karlie Kloss. Lena Dunham. Kendall Jenner. Katy Perry. Serena Williams. Just about every mega-famous woman is, or at least has been, friends with Swift. And every time she hangs out with any of them, it makes headlines. Where all this gets a little more complicated, though, is that these friendships have become a source of contention over the years.

In 2015, when the Swift girl squad was arguably at its peak, some labelled her display of female friendship “performative feminism”, while others called it “exclusive”. The phrase “#SquadGoals” became derogatory slang, with people claiming that Swift was presenting a homogenised view of female friendship. The New York Post once even called it a “cult”.

Swift herself has spent the last few years addressing all this. In a prologue written for her new re-recording of her feted 2014 album 1989, Swift recalled how during the making of the record, she “swore off hanging out with guys” to avoid sparking romance rumours. “It became clear to me that, for me, there was no such thing as casual dating, or even having a male friend who you platonically hang out with,” she wrote. “If I was seen with him, it was assumed I was sleeping with him.”

But, she continues, only hanging out with women didn’t stop the speculation, either. “If I only hung out with my female friends, people couldn’t sensationalise or sexualise that – right? I would learn later on that people could and people would.” It was her way of alluding to long-standing rumours about the nature of her platonic relationships with both Kloss and Glee star Dianna Agron.

Even earlier, back in 2019, Swift reflected on the lessons she’d learnt in the run-up to her 30th birthday. “Never being popular as a kid was always an insecurity for me,” she wrote. “Even as an adult, I still have recurring flashbacks of sitting at lunch tables alone or hiding in a bathroom stall, or trying to make a new friend and being laughed at. In my twenties I found myself surrounded by girls who wanted to be my friend. So I shouted it from the rooftops, posted pictures, and celebrated my newfound acceptance into a sisterhood, without realising that other people might still feel the way I did when I felt so alone. It’s important to address our long-standing issues before we turn into the living embodiment of them.”

It was a strange and unexpected moment of self-awareness, in which Swift acknowledged how she might have gone a little overboard with publicising her newfound friendships, while also sort of apologising for having friends in the first place. Hearing about Swift’s very public friendships was maybe a little irritating at times, but it’s hardly something she should have been made to feel guilty for. Is the suggestion that, by talking about her own friendships and bringing those friends on stage with her, Swift was making lonely people feel more lonely? Or reminding them of what they don’t have? Because – let me tell you – the things Swift has that you don’t aren’t just confined to a throng of famous friends.

Perhaps this was just a case of fandom going too far. But Swift’s comments also suggested something else: that her demonstration of her A-list friendships was some sort of trauma response to her own unpopularity as a child. She was finally drinking the Kool-Aid with the popular kids and she wanted to tell everyone about it. But by doing so she started to perpetuate the same ideologies that had isolated her at school: here we are, the cool kids, and you can’t sit with us because you’re not in our gang.

It was a poignant, and unusually self-aware, piece of writing, one that illustrated how we project so many of our own insecurities and issues onto celebrities, whether it’s regarding their love lives or, in this case, their friendships. For many of us, the fact we know so little about famous people turns them into ciphers – a set of tropes and ideas we can attach our own life experiences to in order to feel better or worse about ourselves. Unfortunately, Swift has borne the brunt of this by sheer dint of the stratospheric level of her fame.

Maybe this is also why, for so many years, Swift and her girl squad went quiet. It’s only this summer that we’ve seen her out and about with friends, often linking arms and holding hands as if they’re playground pals.

But after everything she’s been put through by the media, can we blame her? Swift’s romantic life has long been such an unfairly centralised part of her public persona that it’s no wonder she wanted to shift the narrative to focus on her friendships. And yet, even now, there is still some sort of strange fetishisation around them.

Why shouldn’t Swift be proud of her friends? Plenty of people won’t ever have a circle like hers – but that doesn’t mean she should have to hide it away in fear of making anyone else feel left out. After all, with the amount of internalised misogyny we see playing out in the media over and over again, it’s heartening to see this degree of female solidarity, particularly between successful women historically pitted against one another. Famous or not, powerful women befriending one another doesn’t have to mean they’re secretly in love, or that they’re trying to be elitist, or – as has been the focus of memes surrounding Swift and Turner – that they’re conspiring to kill a Jonas brother.

So maybe it’s time we made space for more celebration of female friendship in public life. Because Swift’s girl squad is back – and while we might not be in it, we could still learn a thing or two by being on the outside of it looking in.

Big lols: Swift attends an American football game with new BFF Brittany Mahomes in October


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