Let's hear it for the girls — or, more appropriately, the savvy, trailblazing, powerhouse businesswomen who have dominated the entertainment world this summer.
It's #BillionGirlSummer, according to NPR. The outlet credits Taylor Swift, Beyoncé and Barbie director Greta Gerwig for leading a "billion-dollar pop culture revival," thanks to the mega tour success of the two singers and box office domination for the filmmaker. The three have transcended "their own previous triumphs" and reached "unprecedented new heights."
It goes beyond individual bottom lines, which are impressive in each case, to how the tours and the film boosted local economies across the United States. People — largely women — are spending money to go to these events and soak in the empowering messages each one puts out. They are also dropping big bucks on new outfits, hotel rooms, meals and flights, among other things, to make it an experience — one enjoyed with female-powered friend groups or multiple generations of families.
A Barbie bonanza
Gerwig's comedy, starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, has broken all kinds of records since its July 21 release. It's officially the highest-grossing film of the year, with over $1.3 billion worldwide so far. It had the biggest opening day of 2023, the biggest weekend of the year and the biggest opening weekend for a film directed by a woman. Gerwig, who also wrote the film (with life partner Noah Baumbach), is the first solo female director with a billion-dollar movie. And females are showing up in support. (According to the New York Times, 65% of Barbie viewers are women.)
A Yahoo Entertainment/YouGov poll revealed that nearly 90% of Americans have heard of the Barbie movie. It has inspired Barbiecore, an entire fashion trend that has women, men and children donning pink accessories and clothes for screenings — or everyday life. It's also pink all over social media due to the life-size doll boxes placed in theaters for photo ops by the "genius" Barbie marketing team. Not to mention the Corvette-shaped popcorn buckets and pink drinks.
And the film continues to perform — with some estimates projecting it could total $1.5 billion to $1.6 billion by the end of its run. It will get an extra boost beginning Sept. 22 when Warner Bros. will give it a one-week Imax run, which will include new post-credits footage, selected by Gerwig — a potential lure even for those who have previously seen it.
The "Barbie boost" has been a real thing just in terms of box office. In July, the global box office had its highest-grossing month ($4.54 billion) since before the pandemic, also thanks to Oppenheimer. It's a matter of keeping the momentum of the pink storm — tricky with so few female directors being given the reins, along with the Hollywood strikes.
Taylor made ... a lot of money for people
The "Eras Tour" didn't start out great with the Ticketmaster/LiveNation debacle, resulting in a congressional inquiry and a lawsuit. But Swifties are loyal. When Taylor Swift kicked off her tour in March, she delivered a three-hour-plus show, including more than 40 songs spanning her whole career, each night.
Now the world tour — which completed its first U.S. leg — is projected to become the first to gross $1 billion in ticket sales. That's been called a "conservative" estimate, as CNN says it could be $2.2 billion, especially if Swift keeps adding shows to the tour, which runs into 2024. The current record holder for top-grossing tour is Elton John. His "Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour" earned $939 million over a five-year period between 2018 and 2023.
According to Northeastern University, a secret of Swift's success — in addition to her relatable songs about heartbreak — has been in tapping into "the spending power of women who have experienced increased wages coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic and are eager to splurge on travel and seeing their idol live." David Herlihy, who oversees the college's music industry program, says the singer-songwriter, who hasn't toured since 2018, will make more than 100% face value of the ticket, due to her sponsorships and merchandise she sells at the show.
While that's great for her bottom line, Swift — the second-wealthiest self-made woman in the music industry, according to Forbes — actually helped pump millions into the U.S. economy in what has been called "Swiftonomics" or "Taylornomics." Fans are spending more than $1,300 on average on tickets, travel, hotels and new outfits for her concerts. The Federal Reserve credited Swift for boosting tourism in Philadelphia as people flocked there for her shows. Cities saw hotel occupancy soar, and in June, $39 million was generated in hotel revenue for Chicago alone. Airbnb reported that Cincinnati was its top trending destination over the July 4 weekend — when Swift was in town — beating out places like Mykonos, Greece, and Italy's Amalfi Coast. According to the Common Sense Institute in Colorado, Swift's Denver concerts were expected to generate $140 million toward the state's economy.
All told, it's been estimated that Swift has had a $5 billion impact on the economy, from ticket sales to everything else spent on going to her shows, according to research from QuestionPro. That includes the outfits that attendees wear and the friendship bracelets traded at shows. One Etsy shop owner told CNN that she sold over 5,000 bracelets this summer, with sales totaling $16,000. Swift ticket resellers have also made a pretty penny.
Swift has been doling out cash as well. In each city she performs in, she donates to the food bank. Her donation to the Arizona Food Bank Network in March was enough for 40,000 pounds of fresh produce to be delivered. She's also given bonuses, reported to be upwards of $55 million, to crew members. She gave her truck drivers "life-changing" checks for $100,000 each.
The tour continues — to South America, Asia, Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia and elsewhere — well into next year, keeping this machine pumping. Additionally, there's the boom that will come from the release of her version of 1989 in October. Swift already has people buying multiple copies of the album by releasing it in different colors.
Beyoncé's reign continues
A lot of the same goes for fellow hot ticket Beyoncé on her "Renaissance World Tour." Queen Bey always draws crowds, but this has been record-breaking as the highest-grossing tour for an R&B artist as well as for a Black artist. Her tour has a shorter run than Swift's, beginning in May and going into October, but Forbes estimates it could gross $2.4 billion in revenue.
The "Lemonade" singer's ticket prices are higher than Swift's, according to the outlet. She also outsells Swift on merchandise (because Swift offers more on her website, while Beyoncé sells it on site and at premium cost). It’s also been longer since Beyoncé toured — her last was in 2016, making people more eager.
When the tour kicked off in Stockholm in May, Visit Stockholm described the boom in tourism — for hotels, restaurants and recreation — as the "Beyoncé effect." However, she was later blamed for boosting Sweden's inflation rate.
It's been estimated that Beyoncé's fans spent $1,800 on average to attend a concert. That includes whatever they may drop on clothes and accessories, including to fulfill Bey's request that fans wear "silver fashions" from Aug. 23 through Sept. 22 in honor of the singer's birthday.
Yelp analyst Tara Lewis talked about the "Beyoncé bump" and how there were "pops in every city" the singer toured in. That of course meant boosts in restaurants and hotels. But there were also special Bey-themed offerings, from a Circle Line Cruise in New York City that taught passengers Renaissance concert choreography to pop-ups offering Bey-inspired drinks.
And the glam, both official and unofficial, for shows has been big. The New York Times spoke to nail salon owners, who noticed a bump in special manicures that customers got before concerts in Philadelphia, Nashville and East Rutherford, N.J. Others spent extra on makeup and hair to bring a polished show look.
Businesses with party buses reported bigger-than-usual activity, and public transit also got a boost. (Meanwhile, Bey herself dropped $100,000 so Washington, D.C., concertgoers could get home quicker after inclement weather got her show off to a late start.)
Giving back to the community has also long been part of Bey's MO, which was why she founded BeyGood a decade ago. During her tour, the foundation hosts luncheons for 1,000 entrepreneurs to support them and will give grants totaling $1 million. There are also Renaissance scholarships given to colleges and universities in 10 cities along the tour. (Each school will be given $100,000.) Her charity partnered with Women of Tomorrow, which works with at-risk young women, giving a select number of free concert tickets to current and past members of the organization.
Bottom line of this boom
What is it about this trio that has hit such a sweet spot this summer?
"A Venn diagram of Beyoncé's 'Renaissance,' Taylor Swift's 'Eras Tour' and the Barbie movie would overlap with 'feminist reclamation' at the center," Jenna Drenten, associate professor of marketing at the Loyola University Chicago Quinlan School of Business, tells Yahoo. "All three of these pop culture icons have a rich history with fans: They are not new to the entertainment scenes. We've seen each one of them — Barbie, Beyoncé and Taylor — evolve over time. Fans have had a front seat to seeing these celebrities change, grow and adapt throughout the past decades, particularly relative to their representation as feminist icons."
Empowerment is at the heart of it. Sherri Williams, assistant professor in race, media and communication at American University in Washington, D.C., says the artists are "giving women examples of empowerment at a time when patriarchy is showing just how lethal it can be."
Williams continues: "People see that their rights are eroding. Women's reproductive rights are disintegrating. Voting rights are decaying. Affirmative action is dismantling. In real life, marginalized people, including women, queer folks and people of color, see their rights regressing. They want and need to see marginalized people win somewhere, and they're finding that in popular culture. They're finding affirmation and empowerment through popular culture," which has "always been an entry point for identity affirmation and activism. As marginalized groups continue to sustain political and social attacks, artists will produce content that rejects the status quo, and people will support artists, films and shows that affirm and empower them in the entertainment world as they struggle to maintain their rights in the real world."
While women are driving this train, it doesn't seem that more doors will suddenly spring open to more women.
"Hopefully, this will generate more interest in women-led and women-centered entertainment," says Drenten. "But I say this with a few caveats. Historically, when women have success in a space, they become tokenized. This makes it harder for others to follow. So, for example, perhaps Greta Gerwig will get more opportunities to direct blockbuster projects, but does this means other up-and-coming women will see an influx of directorial opportunities? Perhaps not. All of these projects are led by very well-known artists or pop culture icons who have a strong foothold in a fanbase. Beyoncé and Taylor, for example, both have a history of sold-out tours. Investors may be less willing to take chances on women-led projects by those who don't have a proven track record or are not a 'sure thing.'"
She continues, "Women, unfortunately, have to prove themselves over and over and over again."
While that won't suddenly change, how people approach events may continue to. They are looking for more opportunities to make entertainment more of an experience — and one that connects, especially in a post-COVID world.
"Concerts and movies alike were once about being entertained by a celebrity: Show up and sit back," Drenten says. "But now we are seeing a shift where fans are finding ways to create experiential moments with each other."