Thanks to Barbie and Taylor Swift, 2023 is the Year of the Girl - And Hollywood Should Take Note

The success of Barbie and Taylor Swift's tour sends the message that women want more from entertainment - and are willing to pay for it.

Over the weekend, the Barbie movie crossed a major milestone. The Greta Gerwig directed film became the first ever live action film with a solo female director to cross the $1 billion mark at the global box office. With the film only in its third week at the box office, it's anyone's guess just how much further the Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling starring film will go in terms of ticket sales, but the movie has already become a cultural phenomenon that continues to surprise analysts and observers. Simultaneously in another pocket of entertainment and culture, Taylor Swift's The Eras Tour is also well underway and breaking record after record, including the most tickets sold by an artist in a single day during the first day of its U.S. presale last year, and is well on track to be the biggest concert in history with a projected gross of $1.4 billion — a number that keeps rising as Swift adds more and more dates.

The similarities between Barbie and The Eras Tour aren't just economic, however. Sure, both the film and the tour are billion-dollar juggernauts, but a glimpse at the audience at a Taylor Swift concert this summer looks an awful lot like the audience at a Barbie movie screening as well: massive crowds decked out in pink and glitter and costumes and, frankly, a sense of joy at being absolutely at home and at ease. It's a place where the compliments and the camaraderie flow — as does the spending — in a way we've never really seen before. It makes 2023 the Year of the Girl and Hollywood needs to be taking notes.

If You Build It, We Will Come

In very broad strokes, popular media and entertainment isn't about, for, or geared towards women. A look at the top 10 lifetime grossing films at the box office reveals a landscape that is generally considered more masculine: Avengers: Endgame, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, etc.  That's not to say that women don't turn up for and enjoy comic book entertainment and Star Wars or even action films because we absolutely do and spend plenty of money on them, but even a glance online at the cultural discourse around these movies will show a landscape that is often lacking in female voice and sometimes, full of outright hostility towards women who try to be part of the conversation.  There is frequent narrative inequity in the popular media Hollywood produces, with women's stories rarely being the stuff of big screen blockbusters or, when it is, it's crafted by male voices and male perspective often to serve male stories.

Barbie is an anomaly in that regard. It's a film drenched in pink, centered around a doll that is synonymous with traditional girlhood, directed by a woman, and presented in a way that unabashedly shows the stereotypically feminine aspect of things without shying away from the darker elements of what presenting as female means in this world (not to mention how gender-based inequality hurts women and men as even Gosling's Ken is not immune to pain and struggle in Barbie.) And because the film, on the surface, seems to come from a very gendered place because it's about Barbie, it opens the door for women – both cisgender and transgender women – in particular. When the film first opened, there were numerous anecdotal accounts online of people going to showings where it was just women and girls in the audience — and nearly all of them dressed in pink or as their favorite Barbie, a pastel and neon-tinged echo of the way comic book fans show up for the latest Marvel film in their superhero t-shirts or, where allowed, cosplays. And men showed up too, something that was reflected in the Barbenheimer phenomenon that saw audiences make an unlikely double feature of Barbie and Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer.

"From Barbie's massive box office opening to Taylor Swift's sold-out Eras tour, 2023 has been a major marketing success to female audiences," Laura Pellegrini, producer and vice president of Rosso Films International, told Newsweek. "In large part, the success stems from the desire to see more films and hear more music that is focused on intelligent and inspiring female stories. When done skillfully, this type of art has the ability to merge both male and female audiences alike, rather than pit them against each other. For example, director Greta Gerwig did not intend Barbie to be an anti-male film; instead, she uses the story to raise thoughtful questions around gender stereotypes. This is why the film has been a success across the board."

The takeaway here is that when given the same space and opportunity as male audiences get regularly, women of every type will show up at the box office in droves and not just once, but for numerous repeated viewings. If you build it — or in this case, if you make the movie and put it on the big screen — women will come and they will bring others with them.

Women Want to Spend Their Money on Things That Serve Them

Barbie hitting a billion at the global box office makes it clear that women are willing to shell out the money to see the movie, but Barbie's financial success is just one piece of evidence that the female presenting population is not only willing but excited to spend their money on things that serve them. According to MarketWatch, Taylor Swift fans — also referred to as Swifties — spent an average of $1327.74 on The Eras Tour. That sum includes tickets, outfits, travel, food and drink, and merchandise. It's spending power that, along with the impact of the Barbie movie and its related merchandising opportunities that fans are snapping up, is even being cited by some analysts as preventing a recession. That impact might even grow with Beyonce's Renaissance tour kicking off in the U.S. in July as well, because this isn't just a "white" phenomenon. It crosses racial demographics as well. In Sweden, Renaissance may have caused an increase in inflation due to spending according to Axios because the spending — for Beyonce in this particular example, but also for Swift in the larger view — goes beyond just the event itself. It's everything that goes with it, creating economic booms in every city impacted by these tours. And, as with Barbie, the primary audience here is female-identifying, coming at a time when a record number of working-age women are employed.

The takeaway? Women across every demographic have the money to spend and if you give them something they want to spend it on, they will and not just on the thing they are targeting — movie tickets, concert tickets, etc. — but all of the things surrounding it. For the female consumer, it's bigger than the event; it's the experience.

Women Are Tired of Blending In

Beyond the money, the biggest note Hollywood and culture writ large needs to take away from the Barbie and Taylor Swift 2023 of it all is that women are tired of blending in. They're ready to stand out — and it's not going to be so easy to put things back in the box at this point. One of the impacts, particularly of the Barbie movie, has been a surge in so-called Barbiecore style: pink, sparkly, anything but subtle. It's an aesthetic shift that has become cultural, starting a movement that is unlikely to stop anytime soon.

"Barbiecore is a fierceness to say, 'I am here, and I'm here for all of these important reasons,'" stylist and author Lauren Rothman told Insider. "I dress a lot of women who are in men's worlds, whether that's in finance or in law, and who are, many times, the only woman in the room, and the woman who holds a lot of power. Traditionally, there's this feeling that you don't always want to be standing out, and that is something that is changing. And I think with Taylor Swift and Barbie, the concept is to say, 'Be you, don't be afraid to stand out. In fact, get creative with glitter, sparkle, have this vibrancy, and use style as an expression to get there.' In the more conservative career paths, we may not see it to that extent, but I do see women saying, 'I don't have to just blend in. I am ready to be seen.'"

Barbie star America Ferrera, however, may have put it a bit better, telling etalk that women in particular are required to grow up too soon and walk away from the things that they love while men are allowed to be children, in a sense, forever — and the Barbie movie asks people to really look at that and reject that double standard.

"Growing up is about leaving behind childish things, particularly for women," Ferrera said. "Men get to have their man caves and play their video games forever. And women, it's like, 'Toys away, do the chores, grow up.'"

She continued: "That's what really touched me about Gloria as a character. This woman somehow made it to adulthood holding on to the value of play and the value of aspiration and imagination. It's, in a way, counterculture — that we can be a lot of things at once, that we can be joyful and playful and imaginative and childlike and be a grown woman professional taken seriously."

So, Hollywood and the larger culture, take note; women have made it clear in 2023 that we're an eager audience. We want movies and entertainment made for us at the same level we're used to seeing (and supporting) for men. We have the money to spend and will do so freely, on tickets, on merchandise, and everything in between. And now that we've had a chance to stand out, we're not going to be easily dismissed again. To partially paraphrase Swift, give us back our girlhood.

You might just be surprised what you get in return.

Both Swift and Beyonce are on tour now. Barbie is now in theaters.