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The V&A enters its Swiftie era

1 March 2024

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

‘True hope is swift,’ says the Earl of Richmond towards the end of Shakespeare’s Richard III. No doubt this is a sentiment shared by the legion of ‘Swifties’ who swamped the Victoria and Albert Museum’s HR department with job applications after the institution announced a vacancy for a ‘Superfan Advisor’ – a person to be consulted on matters pertaining to all things Taylor Swift.

The V&A isn’t the only august institution to succumb to the billionaire popstar’s appeal. Earlier this week, the Guardian launched its ‘Swift Notes’ newsletter, taylored (if you will) to fans of the musician – though the paper had to make an apology when it transpired that the missive had landed in the inboxes of non-subscribers who wanted immediately to shake it off.

It’s hardly the first time pop culture has informed the agenda of organisations that Rakewell presumed were meant to be shaping discourse rather than following it. In 2010, Durham University, one of the country’s leading institutions for English Literature, began offering a course named ‘Harry Potter and the Age of Illusion’, one of the aims of which was to consider the novels’ relevance to the education system of today. The V&A is also no stranger to pop phenomena: its ‘David Bowie Is…’ exhibition in 2013 was a blockbuster success.

Though Rakewell admires Swift’s pop smarts, your correspondent is not yet convinced she will leave quite the same cultural legacy as Bowie. This reporter is more concerned, however, that the zero-hours contract associated with this position – which is one of five ‘Superfan Advisor’ roles; the others cover Crocs, Drag, Emojis and Tufting – amounts to a ‘passion tax’. Is the V&A heeding the advice of Lord Stanley, another character from Richard III: ‘Take all the swift advantage of the hours’?

If so, it hasn’t dented the enthusiasm of applicants. All five roles were to accept applications until 7 March, but unsurprisingly, the ‘Superfan Advisor – Taylor Swift’ vacancy has closed early. There is a striking mismatch between the amount of money Swift makes for herself and her associates, and the V&A’s remuneration for a job that is surely intended to boost the institution’s coffers. Whether the successful applicant will realise this, and come to experience any bad blood as a result, remains to be seen.