A combo Taylor Swift-Halloween dance party at Underground Arts on Oct. 20 was just one of several Swift-themed events this month in Philadelphia. (Asha Prihar/Billy Penn)
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It was Halloween (Taylor’s Version). 

Dressed respectively as a “sexy baby” and a “monster on the hill,” Philadelphians Kiri Tamte-Horan and Katie Oxman headed to Underground Arts in Callowhill last weekend to shake it off at a combined Taylor Swift and spooky season party.

Their outfits were a reference to lyrics from Swift’s hit song “Anti-Hero,” which came out 10 days before Halloween 2022. The friends had actually worn the same costumes to a party around this time last year — but not a Swift-themed one.

“No one got it,” Oxman told Billy Penn. “So like, we came to this thinking, ‘People will get it.’”

And people did. Underground Arts was filled with Swifties that night, dancing to hits, fan favorites, and deep cuts, from “Teardrops on my Guitar” to “Marjorie” to, yes, “Anti-Hero.” At midnight, the two friends were greeted with rounds of applause during the costume contest (though not enough to win).

The Friday night party wasn’t unique in playing only Taylor Swift music for five hours straight. In October alone, Philly Swifties had four opportunities to dance the night away to the pop star’s discography.

Dance parties are obviously not a new thing, nor are themed ones. Local venues frequently host parties centering different genres or eras of music — or other popular artists like Harry Styles, Beyonce, Rihanna, and Olivia Rodrigo.

The Swift theme has become particularly common in the past year or so, as her popularity has surged amid several album releases, her crazy in-demand Eras Tour, and the record-breaking movie version. Philly dance venues, DJs, and local and touring party promoters have managed to tap into her success — and her enthusiastic fan base.

The events are “just so much fun,” said many-time Taylor party attendee Ellie Grannan of New Jersey, who went to the Halloween event at Underground Arts. “It’s like she’s here, but she’s not.”

Taylor parties are good business

Last Friday’s Underground Arts party was presented by Riot Nerd, a Philly-based promoter that specializes in pop culture events.

Pre-pandemic, Riot Nerd didn’t hold as many parties with specific themes, said company founder Megan Hawkey. But there’s recently been a strong appetite for events focused on specific artists, she said. Parties inspired by Barbie and Stranger Things have also been big hits, per Hawkey.

“There’s a vibe at these parties that I just don’t feel anywhere else,” Hawkey said. “Everyone’s there because they love this specific artist.”

Depending on size, the events can take up to a month of planning. They feature music, dancing, drag impersonations, themed cocktails, and photo booths. There’s usually a prepared playlist, but attendees often make requests — people love deep cuts, Hawkey said, even if they don’t match a typical party vibe.

The Taylor Swift parties, which Riot Nerd started putting on in early 2019, are by far the most popular, Hawkey said. The company has held nine at various venues across southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey so far this year, plus numerous drag brunches and NYC events.

Riot Nerd isn’t the only group in town organizing events for specific fandoms. DJs at venues like Ortlieb’s in Northern Liberties host nights dedicated to spinning solely Swift tracks, and national party promoters also drop through town from time to time.

Inspired by parties they’d seen on TikTok, Courtney Gibson and Caitie Phillips, who live in Florida, started a whole business out of throwing Taylor parties.

Called Le Petite Fete, it taps into other pop culture phenoms, but overwhelmingly throws Swiftie soirées. The company, which CEO Gibson said employs around 13 people, has been to Philly twice in the past few months: once in August for a “Cruel Summer” themed party, and again earlier this month for a “folklore”/“evermore”-themed bash. They’ll return next month for a “Swemo” (Taylor Swift + emo music) event.

Gibson estimated around 80,000 or 90,000 people across the country have attended their parties over the past two years, which have been held in 75 cities across the nation.

Phillips, the company’s chief marketing officer, attributed the success in part to timing relative to the COVID pandemic, and in part to Swift’s resurgence in popularity as she’s released her re-recorded albums.

“We all in the U.S. were stuck inside for a very long time and I think there was a big demand to be able to go out and do things,” Phillips said. “I think we’re finally giving people a space to celebrate something that maybe once was made fun of … it’s like everyone woke up one day and collectively decided, like okay, Taylor Swift is cool.”

Spaces that ‘embrace and empower women’

For some Swifties who attend Taylor parties, part of the appeal is the chance to connect with people who share a common interest.

Grannan, the Swift party regular, was there Friday night with her friend Danielle DiAmico, who’s from Northeast Philly.

After going the first time at Grannan’s urging, DiAmico has been to three Taylor nights. They’ve made friends there, she said, who they then reconnect with at subsequent parties. Grannan added that she’s also become close with Jenny Henny, a local drag queen who often impersonates Taylor at the events.

Drag queen Jenny Henny, who often impersonates Taylor Swift, performs at Underground Arts on Oct. 20, 2023. (Asha Prihar/Billy Penn)

“I’m very to myself and very shy, I’m very introverted, and this kind of helped me be more outgoing and talk to more people and have more friends,” DiAmico told Billy Penn.

Some Swifties even show up solo to parties and end up leaving with a bevy of new friends, Le Petite Fete’s Phillips said.

Another draw for attendees is the chance to experience a concert-like atmosphere, especially given the difficulty of getting tickets to Swift’s Eras Tour — or to relive moments from Swifts’ performance.

Attendee Sneha Kadiyala did see Swift live on tour, but she wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to recreate the energy: “I’ve always wanted to be able to scream-sing her songs somewhere.”

For some, there’s also an appeal to the kind of woman-centric space you can find at a Taylor Swift party. Underground Arts’ event last weekend was largely attended by young women.

“We all, or maybe even just me, really enjoy being in spaces that embrace and empower women and femininity — whatever that looks like for any specific person — and just the camaraderie of being together and being happy about the same thing,” said Maria, a 31-year-old attendee from Philly who was there with two of her friends.

Hawkey, of Riot Nerd, finds it “super fun” as a woman to be able to throw parties that celebrate female artists, Swift and beyond, whom she thinks weren’t “being celebrated in the same way as male artists” until recently.

“I think that for some reason — and I’m so glad that it has — culture has kind of shifted to really being able to celebrate these artists,” Hawkey said. “And it’s just really great to be able to do that in a room full of people [where] we all kind of feel similarly about them.”

Asha Prihar is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She has previously written for several daily newspapers across the Midwest, and she covered Pennsylvania state government and politics for The...