Every Sunday, Nikki Gough and her family gathered around the table for breakfast and listened to The Beatles’ “White Album.”
Growing up in a household that celebrated music, especially the offerings from classic rock-era bands, Gough claimed her parent’s passion for music as her own as she stepped into adulthood.
She did not, however, claim their sports teams.
They rooted for the Giants. She loves the Eagles, despite her mom’s repeated efforts to convert her by giving her Giants swag in her Christmas stocking.
But in 2021, Gough’s world changed forever.
That July, her mother Terry died at age 70. She had been diagnosed with cancer and had hopes of beating it, according to Gough. So much so that Terry kept her diagnosis from her kids so they wouldn’t worry. But 13 days into chemotherapy, her heart stopped beating.
As Gough grieved the sudden loss of her mother, even listening to music – the activity that was the center of so many family memories and meals – was not the same.
“After my mom first passed away, if I put on a song and I was listening to a happy song, part of me felt guilt. So I think that’s why I originally stopped,” Gough, 40, told CNN in an interview. “I didn’t want to be blaring music in my house, dancing in my car singing along because my mom just died. I wasn’t supposed to be doing that.”
The sad songs didn’t help, either. In fact, they just made Gough feel worse.
Her mom, she said, “was the reason I loved music so much. After she passed it wasn’t the same for me anymore.”
That lasted until this summer, when two of the most famous brothers in sports started talking about Taylor Swift on their uber-popular podcast.
No, Swift, the most powerful and influential musical figure of a generation, doesn’t need Travis and Jason Kelce to help her find new fans. But they have. And Gough, an Eagles fan turned future Swift-themed cruise passenger, is more grateful for it than they may ever know.
Born in New York, Terry was a teacher. In her free time, she loved spending time with her daughters, whether that meant taking them on girls trips to Knicks games or listening to music by the Beatles, George Michael or Alanis Morissette around the house.
She was an active and attentive mom, Gough said. Her best friend.
Growing up in a loving home with parents that were together for over 50 years, Gough recalls a happy upbringing in Delaware, where she currently resides.
“She loved being a mom to my sister and me, and was a total lioness. She always had our back, and protecting us was her priority. She also taught us how to be strong and independent women, who led with kindness,” Gough said. “She was selfless, gave the best advice, introduced me to most of the musicians I listen to today, and sparked my love and appreciation of sports.”
While Terry was a dedicated supporter of her beloved New York-based sports teams, Gough cemented herself as a supporter of the Eagles while at college in Philadelphia. And as a devout follower of Eagles’ superstar Jason Kelce, she is a regular listener of his “New Heights” podcast.
She was still in the depths of her grief – and self-imposed music sabbatical – when last summer, Jason Kelce and his brother, Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, started talking about Swift on their podcast.
It was inconceivable to think an artist could do that, Gough thought at the time. Over 40 songs in one show? As a casual Swift fan up until that point, she wanted to find out more. So, she went where most Swifties, as the Grammy-winner’s fans are known, go to regale their fearless leader: TikTok.
“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” she said when she came upon footage on the app of Swift performing an “Eras Tour” concert in Nashville. “It’s funny because I remember in that moment, I found myself getting really choked up from joy within just a few seconds of watching it and I wasn’t even a fan. And then after that I just kind of dove in.”
She did her homework and watched Swift’s 2020 documentary “Miss Americana.” And when she listened to Swift’s hauntingly emotional “Folklore” and “Evermore” albums, something clicked.
“I didn’t realize how down I was until I started coming out of it from the music,” Gough said, adding that at the time she recalled thinking, “now I’ll be a Swiftie forever.”
It was Swift’s lyrics that helped Gough connect the dots.
“One of the weirdest parts about grief is that when you’re in it, you forget that other people understand and you just feel very alone,” she said.
Songs like “Marjorie” and “Ronan” helped her remember that “grief is something that unfortunately everybody has to deal with in their life and you’re not alone in that.”
“There were the sad songs that I could listen to to remind myself that I wasn’t alone, that my feelings are valid, that my pain was valid. And then there were other songs that were exactly what I needed when I needed joy,” she said.
Songs like “Bejeweled” helped spark the joy and excitement Gough had been missing.
Soon enough, she was dancing around her house with her dog – who is aptly named Ringo Starr – to some of Swift’s more celebratory songs from her 2023 album “Midnights.”
Gough thinks that her mother would’ve not only loved her daughter’s Swiftie journey, but that she’d have become one, too.
“I think she would be a huge fan of the ‘Red’ album,” Gough said.
The thing about being a Swiftie is that there are many layers of the fandom. There is, of course, the music and lyrics. But there’s also the game, a marketing genius comprised of Easter Eggs and puzzles for Swifties to figure out as the singer rolls out each new musical release. Gough is all in.
“It definitely goes beyond the music,” she said. “I am at the point in Swift-hood where I am posting theories. I am into it. I want all the codes.”
The sense of community and the connections Gough’s made online with other Swift appreciators are materializing in real life.
Later this year, Gough is heading to Miami to attend her first “Eras Tour” concert where she’ll be meeting up with some Swifties she’s connected with online. She’ll then set sail on a Swift-themed cruise – a move that’s about as far from a self-imposed music sabbatical as you can get.
“It’s such a fun community and I am sad that I missed out for this long but I’m so excited that I’m in it now,” she said, adding that she’ll always look back lovingly on this time “because it was a switch in my life completely.”
With so much discourse from those who may be tired of hearing about or seeing Swift as the world watches her traipse through what’s arguably her most prolific era, Gough’s story of finding solace, healing and joy through music highlights a human perspective that’s just not talked about enough.
To truly understand the draw of Swift, Gough’s message is simple: Take a listen for yourself.
“One of the reasons that the Swifties are so loyal, is because you tend to connect with her when listening to her songs. Anything you have been through in life, there is a Taylor Swift song for that,” Gough said. “We have all been there, we have all experienced the pain and pleasure that love can bring, that life can bring.”
It’s that relatability that sparked enough hope in Gough amid her grief to turn the volume back up and embrace the healing the power of music.