The Bear, The Summer I Turned Pretty, and Heartstopper all have an invisible string tying them together: Taylor Swift.
These disparate shows all feature at least one Taylor Swift song in their respective sophomore seasons — The Summer I Turned Pretty Season 2 contains a whopping nine — making the singer television’s hottest accessory of the summer. And that’s not even counting Swift’s inclusion in this season of Love Island UK.
Yes, a workplace dramedy about a struggling restaurant in Chicago, a soapy teen drama, and a heartwarming queer love story all pay homage to a certain blonde pop star. No matter what kind of television you watch, from prestige TV to teen dramas to reality TV, you’ve probably encountered a Swift song.
Between the ever-buzzy Eras Tour, the release of Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), and her domination over Peak TV, Swift is virtually inescapable. But do these pivotal needle drops simply capitalize on her fandom and popularity, or do they serve the narrative?
Richie’s “Love Story” in The Bear
The best Taylor Swift needle drop came from the most unlikely character on The Bear. Richie’s job at the restaurant is unclear and for all of Season 1 — he’s loud, crass, and annoying, but in Season 2 he finally gets some much-earned character growth, and Swift weaves seamlessly into his arc.
In episode 3 he tells his daughter, “I love Taylor Swift, too. I just needed a break,” when dropping her off at her mom’s. Later in episode 5 Richie asks Uncle Jimmy to hook him with Eras Tour tickets. The next episode is a flashback to a harrowing and traumatic Christmas nearly five years prior. At the time, Richie and his ex-wife Tiffany are still married, and Tiffany is pregnant wearing a1989 shirt.
These small details all lead up to the episode in which Richie is the central focus. Carmy sends Richie to stage at “the best restaurant in the world” where he is in charge of…shining forks. He is characteristically difficult about the whole thing, but after a pep talk from his minder Garrett, he commits himself to finding his purpose. During his journey, Tiffany calls him and Richie tells her he scored three (!) Eras Tour tickets and invites her to the show. She tells him that she’s getting remarried.
Despite the setback, we finally see Richie apply himself and feel a sense of purpose. This leads to an incredible scene in which he blasts “Love Story” in his car. It’s so quintessentially Richie and a truly euphoric moment where you can’t help but root for him. The use of Swift sheds light on his strained relationship with his ex-wife and his love for his daughter while also making Richie more human.
“Love Story” is a departure from the show’s typical soundtrack of dad rock, which makes the moment all the more effective.
The Summer I Turned Pretty‘s musical excess
Unlike The Bear, The Summer I Turned Pretty is saturated with trendy music by the likes of The 1975, Frank Ocean, and Olivia Rodrigo. The teen show connects to its Gen Z audience through its soundtrack. Yet, the soap suffers from its own excessiveness.
So far, the show averages 11 songs per episode. It feels like the TikTokification of teen television — the assumption that young people’s attention spans are so short that if a snippet of a notable song doesn’t play every few minutes audiences will zone out. The sheer volume of recognizable tracks distracts from the plot, especially when it goes into full Swiftie mode.
In the six released episodes of Season 2 so far, there are seven Swift songs; six out of Swift’s 10 albums are represented. And that doesn’t include the two songs — “August” and “Back To December” — featured in the trailers for the season. Sometimes, too much of a good thing is simply too much.
The first season showed some semblance of restraint. In total, five Swift songs appeared throughout its run: “Cruel Summer,” “Lover,” “False God,” “The Way I Loved You,” and “This Love.” Aside from “Cruel Summer,” each song played at a squeal-worthy moment between Belly, the protagonist, and Conrad, the brooding eldest brother. It was a lot, but it worked!
This season, the needle drops are less precise. “Last Kiss,” a song about being broken up with by Joe Jonas, starts when Belly is looking through photos of Suzanna, Conrad’s mother and Belly’s mom’s best friend, after her death; “Invisible String” frustratingly plays while Belly and Conrad are in the snow on the beach (“Snow On The Beach” is saved for a very heavy-handed callback to Belly and Conrad’s breakup); and “Sweet Nothing,” arguably Swift’s most tender love song, plays while Belly remembers Conrad being mean to her when she was 13. It’s madness.
Jenny Han, who wrote The Summer I Turned Pretty books, is a vocal Swiftie, and by osmosis the show, too, has become a Swiftie. Star Lola Tung is also a huge fan of the pop star. On TikTok, clips of the cast being asked about their favorite Swift songs circulate. But the show’s fixation on Swift and the sheer number of her songs makes each lose their magic.
“Seven” soundtracks a key scene in Heartstopper
In the final episode of Heartstopper, lesbian couple Tara and Darcy have a heart-to-heart about Darcy’s homophobic mom who kicked her out the night before. The season built to this emotional climax between the pair, and at the end of the conversation they happily and excitedly swap “I love you’s.” It’s then, at this crucial scene, that “Seven” kicks in.
It’s a song that meets the emotional needs of the moment on screen. The Folklore track grapples with similar themes in its lyrics. “I think your house is haunted / Your dad is always mad,” Swift sings, followed with, “You should come live with me / And we can be pirates / Then you won’t have to cry / Or hide in the closet.” It’s a beautiful song for a beautiful moment in the show.
The song continues to play through a montage of the friend group’s post-prom afterglow at Nick’s house. And the song doesn’t appear randomly: In a previous episode, there’s a Folklore poster in Tara’s room.
Music supervisor Matt Biffa replied to a tweet that stated, “Heartstopper got Taylor Swift they got the big bucks,” saying, “No, she just thought the scene was beautiful and we were then able to make it work 🙂 x”
If The Bear and Heartstopper prove anything it’s that Swift’s gifts as a storyteller can add emotional weight to a singular moment. When well-placed, it not only draws her fans into a show, but elevates the whole story.