“The Swift Life” is like Instagram, but bad
I thought I was ready for it.
Taylor Swift’s new celebrity app, launched earlier this month, is a dizzying fan utopia that’s as addictive as it is confusing and poorly designed. The social network/game hybrid functions as both as a safe space for diehard Swifties to venerate their Dear Leader and a means to actually get noticed by the $280 million net-worth singer herself — but suffers from a lousy user interface and head-spinning incentive system.
It’s like Instagram, but bad.
“The Swift Life,” from “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood” appmaker Glu, features five main components: My Feed is basically a less user-friendly Instagram scroll of fan art, Swift adulation and idle chatter from people you follow. Taylor’s Feed houses the singer’s posts and liked items. Scrapbook is your sandbox to create posts using text, images, stickers and Taymoji, the Swiftian emoji themed after imagery from her singles and music videos. The SwiftSend Feed collects posts buoyed by SwiftSend, a way for users to boost posts’ visibility and increase the likelihood Swift will see them. Then there’s News Feed, which is not an actual news feed but your list of notifications.
The game aspect muddies the waters further. Liking posts releases floaty, bouncing music notes, which accumulate toward unlocking Taymoji packs. Levels range from Rookie to Super Swiftie; virtual guitar picks — acquired by watching video ads or buying them with actual money — help you level up more quickly. You can unlock “achievements” on your profile by getting likes, earning or using Taymoji and leaving SwiftSends.
Exhausted? Good. You’re one step closer to understanding this app.
I played the game sporadically over five days — username KimKardashianWest666, a nod to Swift’s nemesis — and accrued 31 of 310 Taymoji, achieving level-5 Fan status. As a longtime Swiftie myself (and author of a real piece titled “Taylor Swift could hit me with her car and I would still love her”), I actually enjoyed the fangirl blathering and Taylor-inspired confessionals. It was, all in all, a very positive place to be: Young women credited Swift with helping them through anxiety disorders and PTSD, for example, and one gleefully shared a photo from her class presentation, “Taylor Swift is NOT a Snake.”
I also learned to crave the instant gratification built into this app: Following several dozen Swifties in rapid succession yielded multiple follow-backs in mere seconds. The music notes, while irritating, lent a sense of accomplishment for engaging with other fans.
But the multi-tiered, multi-currency incentive system grew draining, bordering on meaningless. (As “The Office” character Stanley explained the ratio of two made-up currencies, Stanley Nickels and Schrute Bucks, it’s “the same as the ratio of unicorns to leprechauns.”) Red, blinking notifications for each screen kept me in perpetual survival mode. The sheer volume and variety of tasks stressed me out. Users even appeared to be sabotaging one another to better their ranks: “It seems posts are being reported by members and then deleted. I am sorry to hear of this news,” one user wrote. “It is disappointing that Swifties are turning into this, allowing jealousy and there (sic) desperate need to meet @taylor cloud their judgement.”
Full disclosure: I also accidentally bought $99.99 in guitar picks when my thumbprint approved the purchase during a screenshot attempt. Apple refunded my money after a tech support employee marked my incident a “one-time accidental purchase by a minor,” which was humiliating and exactly what I deserved.
But aside from a failed attempt at focus grouping — my post asking “Hey! Do you guys like using this app so far?” earned two likes, but no comments — I found Swift junkies seemed to genuinely enjoy the camaraderie. “I’m oddly having the time of my life on this app,” one user wrote. “Right? It’s crazy,” another replied. “I feel like I can just be myself here!” And if they choose to keep living in this flawed, frustrating ecosystem, they really deserve a better app.
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