The Beatles and Taylor Swift

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When we’re in the middle of a cultural swirl, it’s normal to believe that everyone else is too.

That’s part of the magic of a cultural swirl–it’s our friends, our work, our world.

Most of these moments are actually tiny pockets. An episode of the much-talked-about TV show Succession was seen by about 3,000,000 people when it aired, compared to an episode of Gilligan’s Island or the Monkees, which reached fifteen times as many people in the US with each episode.

And the US, of course, is about 5% of the world.

The size of the swirl doesn’t have to change the way it makes us feel if we’re in the middle of it. If you were one of the half a million people at Woodstock, or the 7,000 who saw the Dead play in Binghamton, that moment belongs to you and the people there. But that doesn’t mean it’s universal. It might be important to the people there precisely because it isn’t.

Over time, the Beatles sold more than a billion dollars in albums. They made movies, transformed hairstyles, clothing and attitudes about generational shift. Their work connected people worldwide in a way that few cultural forces before them had and few have since.

And it probably felt just as exciting to see them live as it did to go to a Taylor Swift show.

It’s true that no Taylor Swift album has outsold the hit albums by Hootie & The Blowfish or Metallica. But the long tail has transformed the record business since its peak.

And the long tail keeps getting longer. The singular cultural touchstones of a generation or two ago are unlikely to be repeated. Our experiences with worldwide events or local performances are now much less likely to be uniform.

We all tuned into the same channels. Then we didn’t.



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