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Stars and Stardom in the Creative Economy: Lessons from Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce

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By: David Sutherland, Senior Lecturer, University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business

In the Creative Economy a key metric of success is the rise to “Stardom”, or an individual becoming a “Star”. Essentially this is a stratification of celebrity, and the calculus of Stardom is not straight forward, being dependent on the intent of the various players helping an individual achieve this status: agents and producers want sales, investors want returns, public relations consultants want identification, the stars want recognition and additional contracts.

Becoming a Star starts with an individual exhibiting some kind of creative talent. Great actors can “nail it” when they take on a role, great musicians “kill it” when they perform a song, and great gamers “dominate” when they take on their competition. But this exhibition of talent is only the starting point. For a Star to maintain their status something generally happens along the way. Along the way that star develops a “personal voice”, and they are no longer only identified with their talent, and over time talent gives way to personality, point of view and higher influence.

It is understood to researchers of the Creative Economy that this critical shift from talent to personality is known as the “Demotic Turn” (Graeme Turner, 2006). This turn is often a hockey stick effect in a star’s popularity leading to a significant increase in their financial and social capital, and generally there is some event that bends that curve.

Taylor Swift at age 14 was recognized as a serious talent. By age 16, in 2006, her net worth was already valued at $10 million. Over the next 12 years her Net Worth continued to increase at a healthy but steady pace to $320 million in 2019. Then Swift experienced the Demotic Turn when she sued to own her music catalog, skyrocketing her net worth 4 years later to $1.2 billion in 2023 with a correlated social capital increase witnessed by her social media followers, today measured at 534 million followers, making her a “Mega Influencer”.

Enter Travis Kelce, Swift’s Kansas City Chiefs boyfriend. Kelce was drafted by the Chiefs in 2013, and his social media following was modest, just under one million, but skyrocketed by 276% after his Demotic Turn moment, the confirmation of his relationship with Swift. And his social capital continues to grow as the Chiefs vie for the National Championship, showing the influencing power of Stardom. And then there is Travis’ brother Jason, but that’s a story for another time!

As a researcher, I take an objective numbers-based view of things. But then there is my ever-present orientation to humanity and the human condition. So, I think when a singer from Pennsylvania meets a football player from Ohio and their stars literally collide, it should be cause for celebration. And to many it is, but unfortunately, such stardom can become a channel for anger, vitriol, and misogyny. When popularity collides with alternate points of view, less influential individuals pile on, using influencer platforms to channel their cause, often through hate and misinformation.

In my research for this article, I ran across many images of Taylor’s and Travis’ smiling faces, their friends’ smiling faces, their fans’ smiling faces. I wish them all the best.

David Sutherland has been an entrepreneur, a corporate executive (formerly Vice President of Innovation, Computer Sciences Corporation) and a trusted innovation advisor to a set of companies including CIRT Tech, Blink Interactive, NASA, BMW, Siemens, and Bank of America. David is an active participant in several startup ecosystems, including Austin, Texas, Boulder, Colorado, as well as Palo Alto, California.

As a Senior Lecturer at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business, David teaches courses in Entrepreneurship, Design Thinking, and runs seminars on the topic of Creative Economies. In addition to the Terry Executive Education Program. David has lectured at Universidad de los Andes in Bogota, Colombia, CEDIM Design Institute in Monterrey, Mexico and GISMA Business School in Hamburg, Germany.

David received a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia and he resides on a farm in Athens, Georgia, with his wife Sarah, dog Norah and a variety of horses.

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