A Friday the 13th Appreciation of Taylor Swift

Stuart Vyse

I don’t have any Taylor Swift albums, and I’ve never been to one of her concerts. I recognize that she is very talented and successful, but my musical tastes go in a different direction. I think my children were fans, but now that they are grown, even they have probably moved on to different tunes.

So, OK. Why is this boomer writing an appreciation of Taylor Swift? Because today, Friday the 13th, 2019, is Taylor Swift’s thirtieth birthday, and she has claimed thirteen as her lucky number. Her fan page (there is actually something called “Swiftipedia”) includes a listing of all of her strange thirteen-related beliefs and activities. Here is a brief sample:

  • “The Lucky One” is the thirteenth track on her album Red. It has a thirteen-second intro and the word lucky is said thirteen times in the song.
  • Her debut album went platinum in thirteen weeks.
  • Swift says whenever she is seated in row thirteen or row M (the thirteenth letter) at an award show, she always wins.
  • Her Twitter handle is @taylorswift13.

The number thirteen has been described as the most famous of all superstitions, and it is likely that Taylor Swift has done much to counteract the fear of this number, sometimes given the faux-clinical name, triskaidekaphobia. Swift has 85 million followers on Twitter and is a media darling. By promoting her belief in “lucky 13,” she has undoubtedly set a fearless example for many people who needlessly worry about a silly superstition.

“But wait!” you may say. “Swift has just replaced one superstition with another. Why is that a good thing?” This is a valid point. In reality, sitting in the thirteenth row cannot have any effect on winning awards, and the number thirteen cannot really be lucky for anyone. So why am I appreciative of Taylor Swift? Because a little progress is better than none at all.

There is a distinct difference between the positive, luck-enhancing superstitions and the negative or taboo superstitions. Although they have no magical force, luck-enhancing superstitions make us feel better, not worse. They provide an illusion of control, and, in situations where there is actual skill involved (such as performing in front of thousands of fans), they may help us do better.

In contrast, there is no upside to a negative superstition. Once we have adopted the fear of the number thirteen, we have to deal with it each time it appears. Negative superstitions bring their own anxiety—like we needed any more than we already have. Today some people will cancel doctors’ appointments or call in sick to work, and that can’t be a good thing. We would all be better off if no one had ever taught us these things.

But given that everyone already knows about the thirteen superstition, I see turning it on its head as a good thing. A step in the right direction. So, if Taylor Swift has convinced any young people not to fear this number, I think that is worthy of praise. So, thank you, Taylor Swift, and happy birthday!

Stuart Vyse

Stuart Vyse is a psychologist and author of Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition, which won the William James Book Award of the American Psychological Association. He is also author of Going Broke: Why American’s Can’t Hold on to Their Money. As an expert on irrational behavior, he is frequently quoted in the press and has made appearances on CNN International, the PBS NewsHour, and NPR’s Science Friday. He can be found on Twitter at @stuartvyse.