Photo By: Noah Nickel via Apple Music
Taylor Swift has dominated headlines and music charts for the past 15 years. With millions of daily listeners across the globe, she is arguably one of the most famous artists of our generation.
Over the last decade, she’s reached a level of fame so high that even those who don’t consider themselves fans of her style of music can recite every lyric when she comes on the radio.
What sets her apart from other chart-toppers is the genuine connection she fosters with fans, and her willingness to share many details about her personal life with them; the good, the bad, and the ugly. Having been launched into stardom at the young age of 17, Swift’s personal life has been under the microscope for her entire adulthood.
One of the most frequent criticisms levelled at Swift is for her tendency to write songs based on past relationships, as well as the number of men she’s dated throughout her career. Given her brand image as the “country girl next door,” Swift didn’t initially comment on rumours and continued producing music that described her experiences in love and in life as an artist throughout the 2000s.
“My entire moral code as a kid and now, is a need to be thought of as good. It was all I wrote about. It was all I wanted. It was the complete and total belief system that I subscribed to as a kid,” said Swift in her Netflix documentary, Miss Americana.
The 2009 MTV Video Music Awards proved to be a defining moment in Swift’s career, when she was famously interrupted on stage by Kanye West after winning the award for Best Female Video. Swift was later invited to finish her speech by Beyoncé, who West had claimed was more deserving of the award. Swift and West made amends privately, allowing her reputation as America’s Sweetheart to remain intact.
“I feel like I wasn’t ready to be friends with him until I felt like he had some sort of respect for me, and he wasn’t ready to be friends with me until he had some sort of respect for me — so it was the same issue, and we both reached the same place at the same time,” said Swift in a 2015 interview with Vanity Fair.
Like any celebrity, Swift has found herself wrapped up in a fair number of conflicts with other artists in the industry. While her tendency to remain quiet in the face of controversy helped protect her public persona, it did little to strengthen her relationship with fans who were, for the most part, kept in the dark.
From 2006 to 2014, Swift shared only the high points of her life as an artist with the public. However, following the release of Kanye West’s song “Famous,” she began to speak out against injustice, both in her personal life and within the music industry.
Their iconic feud was rekindled in 2016 when West claimed to have sought approval from Swift to include the line, “I made that b***h famous” in a song that would be featured on his upcoming album, Life of Pablo. After its release, Swift’s team released a statement citing that she was never made aware of the actual lyric, at which point West’s now ex-wife Kim Kardashian shared a video on Twitter of the conversation between West and Swift where Swift appeared to enthusiastically approve the concept of the song. It was later discovered that the video had been edited and was missing key parts of their conversation, including Swift’s concern about the song’s message being perceived as misogynistic.
“Being falsely painted as a liar when I was never given the full story or played any part of the song is character assassination,” said Swift in a statement released on Twitter. “I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative, one that I have never asked to be a part of, since 2009.”
Swift still faced extreme backlash from the incident and spent two years out of the public eye as the #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty hashtag gained traction online. However, it wasn’t all bad. Swift spent those two years writing and recording her comeback album: Reputation.
Taylor Swift’s rebrand between the release of 1989 and Reputation was soon dubbed a “cultural reset” by fans across the globe. The album heavily referenced the chaos of her relationship with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, and the beauty of self-acceptance even when the rest of the world doesn’t seem to agree. Featuring several digs at celebrities who’d previously thrown her under the bus, Reputation reshaped Swift’s brand and positioned her as a force to be reckoned with both as an artist and a businesswoman.
After closing this chapter, Swift began sharing more of her life on social media and in media interviews. She went on to speak publicly about her political views; something that her management team had previously encouraged her not to do at risk of hurting her already strained public image. She also opened up in her Netflix documentary, Miss Americana, about how mainstream media contributed to her struggles with body image and eating disorders.
By starting to share more of her real self, Swift changed the dynamic that previously existed between celebrities and their fans. She started to develop a sense of community by establishing a closer relationship with the fanbase; something uncommon for celebrities to do at her level of success.
All of these experiences helped Swift position herself as a strong business woman in a previously male-dominated industry. This proved advantageous in June 2019, when her entire music catalogue was sold by her original recording label to Scooter Braun’s management company. This was problematic because throughout the early years of Swift’s music career, Braun had shared negative sentiments regarding her and her music in the public domain. A few years later, he held legal rights to all six of her albums.
“Scooter has stripped me of my life’s work, that I wasn’t given an opportunity to buy,” she wrote on Tumblr. “Essentially, my musical legacy is about to lie in the hands of someone who tried to dismantle it.”
In response, Swift released a statement on Twitter notifying her fans of the sale and how despite multiple attempts, she was not given the opportunity to buy the rights for herself. With this statement, she announced her plans to re-record her first six albums and take back financial control over her entire catalog. This was met with a flood of support, not only from long-standing fans, but also from listeners around the globe who were shocked to learn about the politics behind music rights ownership.
Her first re-recorded album, Fearless (Taylor’s Version) was released this year on Apr. 9 and broke multiple streaming records within the first week. She has also spent the past few weeks promoting the re-recorded version of Red (Taylor’s Version), which is set to drop on Nov. 12. Her determination to regain ownership has undoubtedly inspired other artists facing legal issues to stand up for themselves and take back what is rightfully theirs.
Taylor Swift’s experiences as a young female artist have revolutionized the way people think about the entertainment industry. While it may seem like glitter and sequins on the outside, Swift has pulled back the curtains and shown us the (sometimes) ugly truth.
By connecting with her fans on a deeper level than most, Swift has demonstrated that unlike other celebrities, she doesn’t need or want to be worshipped. Instead, she’s shown that her true happiness lies in her relationships with fans and the community they’ve built together.