diamond geezer

 Saturday, June 22, 2024

The most important event of the summer, if publicity is to be believed, is the arrival of Taylor Swift to play eight gigs at Wembley Stadium. Taylor, as you'll be aware, is a billionaire singer from West Pennsylvania whose hit canon includes Shake It Off and several lesser known works. It's been estimated 700,000 people will watch her perform, a phenomenal total which is almost 10% of the population of London but only if you do a very dodgy calculation. According to Laura Citron of London & Partners "We've never had an artist this big for this long in town", which is exactly the kind of exaggeration chief executives are paid to make.

More predictably TfL have done what they always do when they need to make a PR splash and that's to make a special tube map. It's cheap because they already own the branding rights, it's easy because usually only the station names need changing and it's a sure-fire winner because the media always go wild for a marginally special tube map. This one replaces the stations along 11 tube lines with songs from her 11 albums, although swapping the Waterloo & City line for Crossrail because otherwise that would be silly. Chesham becomes Sparks Fly, Blackhorse Road becomes Blank Space and Canning Town becomes This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things. It may not be the world's best rejigged tube map but we'll get to that.

I wanted a good look at the map, better than the Mayor's original low-res tweet, so obviously I went to Wembley Park station to see if anyone had bothered to put one up there and hurrah they had.

Even better none of the arriving Swifties were looking at it so I got a free run. A few stopped to look at the @allontheboard whiteboard alongside, because a 36 line stanza packed with tiny song titles is quite clever, but the vast majority headed straight past because they had pre-gig activities to enjoy. Part of the reason for their obliviousness is that the map wasn't obviously Taylor-related, the title was quite small, but mainly I think it's that the overlap between Swift fans and tube map nerds is very small.

They streamed on towards Wembley Way past a thin curtain of crowd control staff and the odd unofficial merch stall. The tat here included scarves and tassled bags but mostly 'flashing cowboy hats' in a choice of five pastel colours - blues, black, white and the inevitable pink. Reassuringly these cowboys were getting even less attention than the tube map. The official merchandise stalls had proper queues, even many hours before the gates opened, where a very limited range of merchandise was flying off the shelves. £40 for a t-shirt and £70 for a hoodie strikes me as a bit steep, especially in those colours, but it's merely a drop in the ocean on top of ticket costs, travel and accommodation.

Taylor's fans are mostly under 30, often sparkly and 90-something percent female. Of the males I saw milling about some were dads doing chaperoning, some were glitterier than the girls and one was wearing a homemade t-shirt saying 'The Supportive Boyfriend Department'. The one common clothing choice is the friendship bracelet, often several around the same wrist, each with little beads and tiny cubes bearing letters that spell out words and phrases. A common activity is to swap bracelets with a friendly stranger, an activity I saw taking place with enthusiasm just outside the security cordon, as a key part of the worldwide communion of the Eras tour.

In its modern incarnation as a buzzy highrise hospitality hub, Wembley offers Swifties multiple ways to fill the hours before Taylor steps on stage. Boxpark, for example, has been transformed into a honeytrap fanzone with DJs, glitter stations and drinks specials. The Designer Outlet, where Claire's and Lindt are doing a roaring trade, is attempting to attract punters with a bracelet-making table. Chain restaurants like TGI Fridays are a perfect match for the more mature fan, settling in on the terrace with a prosecco and a salad. Or alternatively you can stand around for hours taking giggly selfies, perhaps in front of the Taylor Steps where the singer's face has been sliced and stuck colourfully to the risers. I'd recommend arriving nearer six than noon.

As for the new tube map it's simultaneously viral and a design abomination. It's not easy to weave a tube diagram out of 11 spangly bracelets, especially when every line is a different album so you can't have any interchanges. Several connections like Mile End, Edgware Road and Baker Street have conveniently vanished, while the Wimbledon branch of the District line has been drawn as a cop-out straight line terminating at Cold As You (sorry, Kensington Olympia). Obviously there are far more stations than Taylor songs so several stations have been left out, indeed considerable liabilities have been taken as here to the northwest of London.

See how the designer has felt the need to add a fictional station on the Metropolitan line to the south of Wembley Park, whilst simultaneously deleting three stations to the west. Also this map includes four Bakerloo line stations to the north of the Metropolitan line when in reality there are only two. A similar superfluous station has been added on Crossrail's Abbey Wood branch, perhaps in an attempt to fill the space where the DLR isn't. As for the red heart numbered '1', that's the first of 11 jewels representing locations Taylor likes to visit or sing about. In this case it's Wembley Park but the collection also features places like Highgate, Camden Market, Notting Hill and Brixton. Number 8 is the duff one.

Number 8 is supposed to represent Soho but as any fule know that's not where Soho is, that's more Bloomsbury, maybe Clerkenwell. Soho should be in a very specific segment to the southwest, roughly where jewel 10 for the West End is, but that's what happens when you prioritise looks over functionality. Swifties won't care, indeed those who rushed out to collect the centrefold in yesterday's Evening Standard will never use their map for travelling purposes, only as a lovely poster. Or ignore it altogether because, like I said, they're far more interested in the music and there is a limit to how many times a redesigned tube map can stir the soul.

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