Women singing feminist lyrics that denounce gender inequality. Teenagers in sparkly dresses dancing to songs celebrating LGBTQ freedoms. The number 1989, the most sensitive year in modern Chinese politics, is displayed in large letters on the cinema screen.
This was the scene at a recent screening of the tour concert film Erase the Taylor Swift and Beijingwhile the American pop giant fills theaters throughout the Asian nation with a young female audience.
The values celebrated in the program contrast sharply with President Xi Jinping's increasingly conservative vision on women, providing a rare outlet for young women who reject increasingly strict social controls and the rigid expectations of the Communist Party.
Faced with a shrinking population, China's most powerful leader since Mao Tse Tung has urged women to cultivate a “culture” of childbirth and take on a more domestic role. His administration crushed the country's nascent #MeToo movement and in 2022 removed women from the Politburo for the first time in decades.
Shuo Tao, 22, watched the movie twice. “She felt great,” she said, kissing his bicep like Swift does when she introduces her song The Man, about society's double standards for men and women. “She gave me the courage and strength to say no to the things that hold me back.Tao added.
Taylor Swift at the Tokyo Dome. AP Photo
Alice Evans, a senior lecturer at King's College London who researches gender equality, said Swift is “extremely emotionally expressive”, which resonates with a younger, more gender-aware generation.
“China is a traditionally patriarchal society, where women were expected to obey their fathers and husbands”Evans said. Many educated Chinese women are increasingly critical of sexual harassment, male violence and discrimination in the labor market, she added.
Swift, an American billionaire in her 30s, bypassed the world's second-largest economy on the highest-grossing music tour in history, one that gave a $5.4 billion boost to the US economy. Its absence comes as China last month recorded the deepest rate of deflation since the global financial crisis amid a drop in consumer confidence.
A typical Swiftie spends $1,500 to watch a live show, including the cost of tickets, hotels, flights and food. Hong Kong leader John Lee has vowed to “work hard” to attract superstars after the American singer opted to perform in Tokyo and Singapore instead of the financial hub. Instead, the tour has been unleashed in China across some 7,000 screens that grossed 95 million yuan ($13.2 million) at the box office, a boon for the industry even though it does not top the list.
“Members of the China Film Bureau are under tremendous pressure to fill theaters, due to over-construction in the sector and the slowdown in the overall economy,” said Chris Fenton, a former film executive who wrote Feeding the Dragon, of the Hollywood's relationship with China.
“Although she is not very political, she has her own ideas on important issues”said Juzi, a 20-year-old woman who asked not to give her real name for fear of repercussions, explaining why the film had been so popular. . She also highlighted Swift's public support for the LGBTQ community, another group that has faced government repression in recent years.
The Barbie Movie of 2023 was similarly seen as a rare outlet for Chinese feminists, in a nation where the ruling party has stepped up censorship of concerts, movies and streaming content. The blockbuster earned critical acclaim in China during its limited release, as audiences flocked to see a film that highlighted gender inequality.
Even though Swift comes from Beijing's biggest political rival and is a symbol of an American society that is often ridiculed in Chinese state media, she has been welcomed in China in the past. The Shanghai stop of his 2024 tour sold out in a minutemaking it the fastest ticket sales in Chinese history.
China's push is fading after decades of supercharged growth. The long-awaited post-pandemic recovery appears to have failed, with data showing warning signs across the economy. Traditional government tools for boosting growth may not provide such obvious options this time. China's slowdown could have repercussions around the world.
Swift followed that tour with the release of her fifth studio album, 1989.. The title, along with her initials, TS, sparked speculation that Swift could run afoul of censors who might interpret the album's name as a reference to the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy protests that took place. place in 1989.
That controversy failed to materialize and the American star has continued to find new audiences. Yangyang Zhou, 29, who attended Swift's Reputation tour in the UK when she was a student there, has seen the film three times. “It's this feeling that I deserve it,” Zhou said, about why she had embraced the star's music.
As the movie Eras extends its run through March 1, Swift fans across the country are gearing up to attend shows during the Lunar New Year holiday that begins Saturday. A weekly state media magazine summed up in a review last month why the program had been a huge success.
“She talks about love, she openly and bravely exposes her fragility, and then she moves on, she keeps loving,” the author wrote. “This makes me feel very powerful.”