Taylor Swift, Travis Kelce, and the return of the love story

Advertisement
Taylor Swift, Travis Kelce, and the return of the love story
Sony; Patrick Smith/Getty Images; Amazon; Alyssa Powell/BI

Golden ringlets brush against her brow as she scans the crowd. She spots him, her champion in steel gray, his eyes searching for hers. Before she can utter anything, he envelops her, his muscular arms secure around her waist as they rock side to side. "I've never seen anything like that in my life," she breathes into his ear. Her eyes are peacefully shut, as if he and she are swaying in their living room. He stamps a kiss on her scarlet lips, then her forehead, her nose, her rosy cheeks — any landing suitable for him. "You're so freakin' gorgeous," he says as he pulls away to gaze at her.

Advertisement

Or wait, no — maybe he says, "That was crazy, wasn't it?" No, no, he definitely whispers, "I love you. So much it's not even funny."

These details are based on the many fan accounts attempting (with mixed success) to confirm exactly what happened when Taylor Swift embraced Travis Kelce after the Kansas City Chiefs qualified for the Super Bowl. Whether it's a lip-reading of the couple's whispers or a movielike montage of tender moments, every second of the few minutes Swift and Kelce spent together on the field has been analyzed and romanticized.

If you feel like we, as a society, have eyes only for Taylor and Travis right now, you're not alone. But this love story is part of a much bigger trend. There's a collective thirst for pure, uncomplicated, vulnerable love.

For one, rom-coms are coming back. In recent weeks, the modern-day "Much Ado About Nothing" adaptation "Anyone but You" was transformed from a box-office flop to a resounding hit, seemingly thanks to TikTok; one clip from the movie has racked up 15 million views and counting. In 2023, Amazon found success with the film adaptation of "Red, White & Royal Blue," based on a novel about the son of the US president falling in love with the "spare" prince of England. And when the "Harry Potter" star Daniel Radcliffe recently joked about shooting a rom-com with Quinta Brunson of "Abbott Elementary," people on the internet got to casting them in their dream book adaptations.

Advertisement

Taylor Swift, Travis Kelce, and the return of the love story
Sydney Sweeney at the Sydney, Australia premiere of "Anyone But You."Don Arnold/Getty Images

The publishing world is experiencing the same phenomenon. Fantasy-romance (or "romantasy") books such as "A Court of Thorns and Roses" and "Fourth Wing" dominate both BookTok and Amazon bestseller lists. They focus on passionate love stories and are known for spicy sex scenes against the backdrops of faerie cities or dragon-riding colleges.

Love is so lucrative that romance-only bookstores have opened in cities like New York and Los Angeles, stacked with enemies-to-lovers cult favorites and corset-ripping historical fiction.

But Swift and Kelce's relationship seems to dominate all other mainstream love stories right now, particularly because it's unscripted. While romance movies and books evolve and draw inspiration from unlikely sources, even the dreamiest, most outlandish plotlines don't involve two star-crossed superstars getting together — and actually having a good time.

"This is an unambiguously happy couple that people can cling to as kind of cultural comfort food," Brian Donovan, a professor at the University of Kansas who teaches a class called The Sociology of Taylor Swift, told Business Insider.

Donovan believes the resurgence of fluffy, gooey love stories isn't coincidental. "I think a lot of the cultural forces that explain the recent popularity of romance novels can help explain why people are so enthusiastic about Taylor and Travis," he said.

Advertisement

It speaks to people's longing for love — not just in their dating lives, but as a way to feel more optimistic about the world.

Uncertain times call for comfort

While TikTok may be full of "The Notebook" compilations and romance-novel fan casts, the world outside smartphones feels particularly precarious.

Taylor Swift, Travis Kelce, and the return of the love story
Travis Kelce kissing Taylor Swift after the Chiefs qualified for the Super Bowl.Patrick Smith/Getty Images

"A lot of the world right now is in chaos," Donovan said. "We're coming out of a pandemic. There are two major wars going on. There's deepening political polarization and violence."

The desire for romance, comedy, and overall lightness in entertainment can be linked to times of crisis and strife. Donovan pointed out that many movies made during the Great Depression were romantic in nature, offering a sense of escape and hope for the future, while the 2008 recession brought on the trend of straightforward superhero movies.

Fast-forward to the pandemic: People turned to comforting sitcoms like "Friends" and childhood hobbies like tie-dyeing at the height of sheltering in place. It's human nature to crave comfort, such as nostalgia, in difficult times. Rooting for romance can be another way to cope with uncertainty.

Advertisement

This love story comes at the height of dating-app fatigue

Another explanation for the #Traylor enthusiasm is that Swift's new relationship with Kelce may be inspiring at a time when people are frankly losing hope about finding an incredible partner.

Swift's at times tumultuous dating experiences are part of her colossal appeal as an artist. "Her songs about her bad prior relationships resonate with people, and they feel they've gone through similar things," Isabelle Morley, a licensed clinical psychologist, told Business Insider.

One doesn't have to go through an "I Knew You Were Trouble"-level breakup to feel disillusioned by dating culture, particularly when it comes to dating-app fatigue. Morley said the cycle of looking for "icks" or red flags in potential dates can lead to cynicism and insecurity.

"People feel like they're convincing somebody that they're a worthy enough match to be considered, that they have enough of whatever qualities and few enough 'icks' that somebody should settle for them," Morley said. "Nobody wants to feel like that in their romantic relationship."

Taylor Swift, Travis Kelce, and the return of the love story
Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce going on a date.Gotham/Getty Images

Just like in a romance movie, the hero must go through obstacles before they reach their happy ending. Seeing Swift leave her longest relationship only to be pined for by a handsome, charismatic top athlete feels hopeful.

Advertisement

"Taylor and Travis are a kind of aspirational couple that people can look to and think 'someday, this might happen to me,'" Donovan said.

Love stories that blend chivalry and feminism are on trend

Morley said Swift and Kelce's love story is also the right mix of old-school and progressive. Kelce admired Swift from afar and asked her out with a beaded bracelet rather than a DM. But he also pursued her after she reached a career high.

"Along with that is in this really traditional trope, she is a very strong, confident, powerful woman, too," Morley said. "And to have a man not be intimidated by that or try to take that from her is also a part of the story that people are loving."

Similarly, readers are expecting more from their beach reads than a guy-gets-the-girl plotline. LGBTQ+ romance fiction sales have been surging for years, and best-selling fantasy-romance books like "A Court of Thorns and Roses" feature self-sufficient heroines who are loved for their bravery and uniqueness.

How Swift and Kelce appear in public also feels more grounded and relatable than the usual elitist celebrity fare or out-of-reach fantasy. "So far, we haven't seen this couple going to fancy charity events where plates are $5,000 a pop," Morley said. "We've seen someone cheering for her boyfriend at a football game, and a man cheering for his girlfriend at a concert."

Advertisement

We yearn for cultural glue

Taylor Swift, Travis Kelce, and the return of the love story
Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

People looking to criticize the couple have plenty of material. Swift and Kelce are both rich, white, and straight. Kelce's on a football team with a controversial name. And TikTokers might argue that Kelce's affection toward Swift amounts to "love bombing." But most of the focus has been on their happiness. Their love seems to trump scrutiny. Complaints about Swift's airtime at games have been widely mocked, as have far-right theories that the couple is a psyop for President Joe Biden.

Since Swift began attending Chiefs games, NFL viewership has gone up; the AFC Championship in January was the most watched ever. All over social media, dads are watching games with their daughters and girlfriends are cheekily enjoying football with their partners now that Swift is in the bleachers. As the Super Bowl approaches, some Swifties are decking out their game-day snack stations with giant friendship bracelets, marking the event as a fusion of two major cultural moments.

For years critics have described a loss of monoculture and a political divide between popular TV shows' viewership ("Yellowstone," for example, is seen as catering to conservatives, while "Succession" is for liberals). The return of romance, be it through a superstar couple, blockbuster rom-coms, or best-selling romantasy novels, can be a unifying force.

Swift and Kelce are providing a "cultural glue," Donovan said. "This sort of shared excitement about them cuts across different demographic positions that would normally divide us."

He believes that whether we're replaying the couple's kisses or slamming back lush romance novels, it's "unabashedly a good thing that we are experiencing collective joy" — however long this honeymoon period lasts.

Advertisement
{{}}