Belgium’s Ghent University launches course to study Taylor Swift lyrics

She is a pop superstar winning hearts with her chartbusting songs and performances. But what sets her apart from the rest are her lyrics, their hidden meanings and the relatable storytelling.

A glimpse of a Taylor Swift show in Denver in July 2023. Photo courtesy: Taylor Swift Instagram

Now the academia is invested in her too. Ghent University in Belgium has just announced plans to launch a literature course dedicated to the pop icon.  The unique literature course titled “Literature: Taylor’s Version” will be an ode to Taylor Swift’s re-recorded album titles.

According to media reports, the course beginning this September will be curated by assistant professor Elly McCausland.

According to CNN, McCausland, also known for her blog “Swifterature,” which compares the pop star’s themes, imagery and use of language to writers like Sylvia Plath, Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare, will use Swift’s work to engage with literature “from the Medieval period to the Victorian,” including Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Troilus and Criseyde,” Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” and Charlotte Brontë’s “Villette,” as well as the work of contemporary authors like Margaret Atwood and Simon Armitage.

“Highly prolific and autobiographical in her songwriting, Swift makes frequent allusions to canonical literary texts in her music,” the class syllabus explains, reports CNN.

The relatable storytelling in the lyrics of Taylor Swift songs are key to her success among today's generations. Photo courtesy: Taylor Swift Instagram

“Using Swift’s work as a springboard, we will explore, among other topics, literary feminism, ecocriticism, fan studies, and tropes such as the anti-hero. Swift’s enduring popularity stems, at least in part, from the heavily intertextual aspect of her work, and this course will dig deeper to explore its literary roots,” it says.

McCausland, who holds her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Oxford University, in English Literature and Medieval English Literature respectively, said: “There’s a song on there called ‘The Great War,’ which uses the First World War as an analogy for heartbreak… That made me think of Sylvia Plath’s poem ‘Daddy,’ in which she uses the Holocaust to discuss her troubled relationship with her father.”

“This appropriation of historical pain and war as a metaphor (for love and loss)— I started thinking about other literary parallels and that’s where the course came from,” she said.

According to CNN, the students taking the course will, over the semester, be graded on a “reflection report” — which could even be presented as a song — and a 4,000 word essay assessing the significance of one of the class’s assigned texts in the literary canon.

Known for her songs like "Blank Space" , her latest single "Anti-Hero" talks about depression. As she sings “Midnights become my afternoons / When my depression works the graveyard shift, all of the people / I’ve ghosted stand there in the room,” her fans connect with her words like no other pop star.