Two dudes from Texas run the best Taylor Swift fan account on the Internet. Don’t believe me? Ask the millions of viewers who've tuned into Darriel Music's TikTok series, "Road to Becoming a Swiftie," since July. The infectious string of videos, hosted by Stephen White and Ashston Guatney, tracks their quest to understand Taylor Swift’s music—and, hopefully at the very end of it all, become certified Swifites.
The premise is simple. Childhood friends White and Gautney select a popular song from Swift’s catalog and record their live reactions on camera. The result? Pure gold. Many have tried to capture Swift’s magic—she’s a bit of a pop anomaly, if you haven't heard, with a record 212 songs on the Billboard Music Charts and an army of awards to match—but few have opted to describe her songs as... “fire.”
It’s White and Gautney's nonchalant—yet witty and observant—style that makes them shine in a sea of buttoned-up critics. In one of their most popular videos, the duo reviews Swift’s post-break up anthem, “Right Where You Left Me.” After two verses, White pauses the song in shock and exclaims, “Can she chill?!” Gautney quickly replies, “She came out swingin’!” Those who’ve heard the song know they’re in for a wild ride, but half the fun, really, is watching White and Gautney experience the drama for the first time.
Their “Right Where You Left Me” review is only one of the 40 (and counting) videos that White and Gautney have created. Luckily, they’re not slowing down anytime soon. Their 300,000-plus fans wouldn’t allow it, anyway. If you check any of their comments sections, you’ll find requests from fans begging for more reviews. "They’ll say, 'Day two thousand of me asking for 'Tolerate It,"" White tells me over Zoom, laughing.
Ultimately, White and Gautney hope to get through all of Swift’s music, but they want to have fun along the way. "At the end of the day," Gautney adds, "this is just me and my best friend hanging out."
ESQUIRE: So, how did the series begin?
STEPHEN WHITE: I had to borrow some dress shoes from Ashton. So, he came over and I was like, “Hey, do you want to react to this Taylor Swift and Ice Spice video?” We recorded that in five minutes and posted it—and it got a lot of love and appreciation. It’s at six million views.
ASHTON GAUTNEY: It happened by luck. Well, not by luck, but it was random how the series got started. We embraced [Taylor Swift’s music] due to our love of music in general.
Did you have any Swifties in your life before you began reviewing her music?
GAUTNEY: The funny thing is, I did. But it wasn't until we started covering her music that they revealed themselves. I don't think it was ever a topic of conversation, and her music wasn't really around in my family setting or in my day-to-day life—aside from the really huge songs. It wasn't until after [they went viral] that people were like, “I love Taylor Swift.”
A lot of secret Swifties came out of the woodwork when she released Folklore.
Earlier, you recalled receiving messages about how your videos have gotten men to appreciate Taylor Swift’s music. How do you feel about that?
WHITE: We had a DM that I showed Ashton the other day, from a mom who said her son likes Taylor Swift’s music. His dad doesn't let him speak about it because he doesn’t think it’s manly to like Taylor Swift, so his mom showed him our videos. She said he thinks we’re super cool, and it lets him know that he can like whatever he wants to like.
That’s the deepest thing that we’ve gotten [from this series]—our ability to show people that being a man isn’t defined by what you listen to. Music isn’t something that you have to directly resonate with. You can also listen to it like it’s a movie. You can step into somebody’s world and read it like it’s a book. You don’t have to be who that person is to listen to it.
GAUTNEY: Absolutely. I've gotten a couple [of comments] from ladies being like, “I’ve been trying to get my husband to like Taylor Swift’s music and I showed him your videos, which brought him around.”
I don't always take into account the impact it has, but like Steven said, what you listen to—or what you enjoy—should always just be free for you to embrace. Steven and I enjoy music, and we will listen to any kind of music, no matter who it’s from, or what they look like. It’s important to be yourself, enjoy what you enjoy, and not be scared. I’m happy that we can help people get their family members on board with the things they like, and show people it’s OK.
That’s such a lovely thing to come out of this. Do you have a favorite Taylor Swift era?
WHITE: We got into this last night. Folklore. there's too many [good songs] on there. [We know] she has the ability to write something off of her pain, but to write something off of fiction and show that you're really just a good writer? So far, we’ve only done “Cardigan,” which hasn’t come out yet, “August,” the trilogy, and “My Tears Ricochet.” I know she probably based some of it off of her life, but it’s not autobiographical.
GAUTNEY: Folklore is definitely becoming one of my favorites. We recorded one last night and I went home and played it for the next hour or two. But I also really liked the production of Reputation.
There’s still so much more to listen to.
WHITE: That’s why it’s called "Road To Becoming a Swiftie." I don’t know what makes you a Swiftie. I don’t know if it’s up to us to decide. We were going to let [the audience] tell us when we’ve done enough.
How do you choose which songs to review?
GAUTNEY: There are a couple of factors. One is definitely the anticipation—what people ask for and want us to see. Over the course of time, we see the same [song] names.
Do you guys ever listen to her music without each other, or is that against the rules?
WHITE: It depends. We’re getting into a place where it helps if one of us knows a bit about the song already, so we’re educated about what we’re talking about. But for the most part, it’s like… don’t. Especially if it just came out.
GAUTNEY: Yeah, [but] there’s songs I’d already heard that I’ve listened to without him. Sorry, buddy.
Over the course of her career, Swift has had a lot of rumors and conspiracy theories spread about her. Do you believe in any of them?
WHITE: Like the witch one?
There’s a witch one?
WHITE: There’s a song where she mentions people calling her a witch when she isn’t one. People think she sings about certain things so that they happen. I don’t believe that though. I think she was referring to the Salem Witch Trials and that went over people's heads, so they ran with it.
What’s your favorite Taylor Swift song?
WHITE: “You’re Losing Me.” You get to see the other side of getting broken up with and know what that person was thinking in those moments.
GAUTNEY I feel like it’s changing day by day for me. I don’t want to say “All Too Well” and be basic.
If that’s your truth, that’s your truth.
WHITE: I like the five-minute version of “All Too Well,” but it’s not my top pick.
GAUTNEY: “Clean” is my favorite.
WHITE: “Clean” is fire.
If you were confronted by a Swift skeptic, what song would you tell them to listen to?
WHITE: And we know they’ll actually listen to it? That’s half the battle.
GAUTNEY: I feel like it’s almost impossible to listen to “All Too Well” and not feel something.
WHITE: “Clean” is good though. If you’re going to pick one and it’s [for] a skeptic, you’d probably have to give them something unexpected that’s very lyrical. You could show them “Cardigan,” too, because you don’t expect her to sound like that and it’s well written.
If you met Swift, what would you ask her?
WHITE: I would ask about the way she chooses the words that she uses. She writes songs in a specific way. She doesn’t say things like, “You’re my everything.” She’ll say, “You’re my sky or you’re my temple,” and find a way to parallel it [with something else]. I want to be able to do that.
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