‘Taylor Town’: how Liverpool transformed itself for Taylor Swift

The name of music royalty hangs from Liverpool’s historic buildings. Art installations mark the biggest pop hits. An army of loyal fans is about to invade. But this isn’t Beatlemania. This is Taylor Town.

For one fortnight only, Liverpool will be transformed into a Taylor Swift “playground” to give the US megastar a “proper scouse welcome” as her history-making world tour lands in the UK.

More than 150,000 Swifties will descend on the city for her three sold-out shows at Anfield football stadium next month, while thousands more “Taylor-gaters” are expected to arrive without tickets.

Buoyed by its Eurovision 2023 success – and eyeing a slice of the £1bn riches surrounding Swift’s UK shows – Liverpool is rolling out the red carpet. A dedicated council taskforce, codenamed Taylor Town, has been drawing up its plans for more than nine months.

Eleven Instagram-friendly art installations will be placed across the city from 8 to 16 June, each symbolising one of her 11 albums. There is a baby grand piano, bought for £300 from Facebook Marketplace by Make CIC, a local social enterprise, decorated with living moss to represent Swift’s Evermore “era”.

Fans will be able to pose for selfies on a supersized gold throne – a £400 online purchase – wrapped in snakes and skulls to mark her Game of Thrones-inspired Reputation album.

The University of Liverpool is also getting in on the act with a free Tay Day of lectures about Swift, ending with a “critical karaoke” session in which academics will perform their research to some of the star’s biggest hits.

If that sounds a little mad – well, Swift has that effect. All 600 tickets to the session were snapped up within hours (a similar level of demand to a lecture last week by chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty).

The idea, said Claire McColgan, Liverpool’s director of culture, is to “turn the whole city into an experience”.

“What we found with Eurovision is that people came who didn’t have tickets – and you’ve got the city which is like a playground for people who are going to a concert,” she said.

“We did it for Eurovision, so why not do it for Taylor?”

‘It’s the equivalent of Beatlemania’: Kirsten Little, Make CIC co-founder, with a piano decorated with moss to represent Swift’s Evermore ‘era’. Photograph: Richard Saker/the Observer

The council has been watching the seismic impact of Swift’s global tour as it moves from country to country. And it really is seismic: in Seattle and Los Angeles, the crowds’ reaction to Shake It Off registered on the Richter scale.

Officials in Liverpool said they would be closely monitoring her gigs for any small-scale earthquakes at Anfield, a stadium accustomed to exuberant fans. The cheering this time “will be slightly higher-pitched”, said McColgan.

With Swift only playing 15 nights across four UK cities – Liverpool, Edinburgh, Cardiff and London – tickets are swapping hands online for as much as £3,600 each for a child’s ticket, while a non-VIP seat at one of Swift’s eight Wembley shows ranged from £562 to £4,723.

Research by Barclays earlier this month estimated the 34-year-old singer will bring a £1bn boost to the UK economy, with the average fan expected to splurge £848 on restaurants, hotels, new outfits and merchandise.

For a city where roughly one in five jobs rely on tourism, it’s a no-brainer. But the vision for Liverpool is longer-term too: “These young women will soon be choosing where they want to go to university,” said McColgan.

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St George’s Hall decked out as part of Liverpool’s Taylor Town initiative around Swift’s UK tour, which will also take in London, Edinburgh and Cardiff. Photograph: Richard Saker/the Observer

Harry Doyle, the council’s cabinet member for tourism, said the city-wide exhibition – which will be free – would cost only £65,000 to produce but could bring in millions of pounds. “It’s the cheapest PR campaign we’ve ever done,” he said.

Searches for hotels in Liverpool soared by almost 6,000% when the tour dates were announced last year, according to data from Booking.com, with almost every room and Airbnb rental now booked.

Officials are warning fans not to pitch tents in the 111-acre Stanley Park, right next to Anfield, given the safety risks. In Argentina, some people reportedly camped outside the stadium for five months to get the best spot.

More than 150,000 Swifties will descend on Liverpool for Taylor Swift’s three sold-out shows at Anfield. Photograph: Andre Dias Nobre/AFP/Getty Images

“It’s the equivalent of Beatlemania,” said Kirsten Little, the co-founder of Make CIC, which is crafting the 11 Swift-inspired installations.

Rachel Smith-Evans, a decorative artist, had the daunting task last year of painting the official Eurovision handover key that was passed to this year’s host city, Malmö. Decorating the town for the arrival of Swifties, she said, came with “the same pressure but on a bigger scale”.

Fans will be able to book workshops hosted by Make CIC’s resident artists on everything from making Swift-themed cupcakes and friendship bracelets to upcycling denim – a key fashion trend among her eco-conscious fans.

Designer Bethan Flanagan is ­upcycling “Tay” denim jackets for fans going to the gigs, who pay her to decorate them with images of the singer’s face alongside her lyrics. “This has been huge for me,” she said.

Local artist Pamela Hanlon is making hundreds of Eras tour friendship bracelets and hosting classes to show people how to create their own. Hanlon’s usual customer base is a ­relatively small circle of family, friends and the local Brownies group, which she leads.

“This is on a totally different scale,” she said, surrounded by beads and bands in her workshop on the banks of the River Mersey. “A few Brownies around the table is a bit different from doing something for Taylor Swift [fans].”

The Guardian