Taylor Swift is a phenomenon. She’s sold over 22 million albums world wide and she’s one of the best-selling digital recording artist of all time. She has endorsement deals with Sony , Diet Coke and Covergirl. She’s number three on“The 10 Highest-Paid Women in Music 2013,” Forbes List. Mick Jagger thinks she’s a rock star. Though she has accomplished a lifetime full of achievements, she’s just 24. She is the girl you’d hate if you didn’t like her so much.
The last (but not least) remarkable thing about Swift is her ability to thrive and continue to maintain high album sales in an industry that’s technologically evolving, in an economy that hasn’t been kind to the entertainment industry.Major artists are seeing record and single sales suffer, but Swift isn’t feeling the effects.
There are many, many reasons why Swift is as successful as she is, but here are just a few that can apply to anyone, and that Swift can teach us:
The crux of the country genre is storytelling. Most country songs are a narrative, and it is one of the major lyrical components to differentiate country music from other genres.
But storytelling isn’t just important because it’s a pillar of country music, it is important because the oldest and best way to engage people is by telling stories, and Swift is a master story teller. Storytelling is the oldest form of entertainment, it predates religion- and no one sings about being a young woman better than Swift. She writes about falling in love, and the messy, complicated feelings and situations it creates. She writes about her best friend, her family, growing up, figuring it all out and what she’s learned in the process.
On her latest album, “Red,” she writes about transitioning from adolescence into her early twenties (something many young entertainers fail to do well), writing, “We’re happy, free, confused, lonely at the same time. It’s miserable and magical, oh yeah,” in “ 22.”
But Swift is most famous for writing about love, which is the main complaint of her critics, yet it is how she made her fortune. Whether people want to admit it or not, part of growing up and being young is having crushes, falling in love, figuring out how to play the dating game and dealing with the opposite sex. I think part of Swift’s genius is being able to write all of the confusion, hurt and ultimate clarity into a song. “I hope the sun shines and it’s a beautiful day/and something reminds you, you wished you stayed,” she writes in “Lass Kiss,” on her “Speak Now,” album.
Though more often than not in her music the other party is at fault, Swift is not without remorse. In her song, “Back To December” (again) on her “Speak Now” album, she writes about not appreciating the person she was with the way she should have. “So this is me swallowing my pride/ Standing in front of you saying, ‘I’m sorry for that night,’/ I go back to December all the time/It turns out freedom ain’t nothing but missing you/ Wishing I’d realized what I’d had when you were mine/ I’d go back to December, turn around and make it all right/ I go back to December all the time.”
There are many aspects to Swift’s success, but I think her genius as a songwriter and a storyteller is underrated, and it is only recently that other artists are starting to acknowledge her genius.
She Knows Her Audience
It does help to be a 24 year old girl when you’re writing for a 24 year old demographic (though Swift has transcended that). She is the best friend/sister figure who writes things more vividly than we feel them. Her songs have a television drama full of back-story, when paired with a catchy melody sells millions of records.
When Swift spoke to Jody Rosen in an interview for vulture.com, she explained her relationship with her fans. “There’s more of a friendship element to it than anything else,” she said. “Maybe it’s a big-sister relationship. Or it’s a Hey, we’re the same age—and we were both 16 when my first album came out, and we’ve both grown up together.”
She Protects Her Image
A big reason why Swift’s audience is loyal is that she’s never done anything drastic enough to turn them off, and remains uncontroversial enough that moms are comfortable letting their newly tween-aged daughters listen to her music. She’s as demure today as she was when she started out.
Tabloids never have pictures of Taylor Swift stumbling out of a club, no nude photos of her ever surface, she’s never been to rehab and horror stories of working with her are non-existent. She prides herself on being a role model and a non-controversial celebrity. Ironically, it’s what rubs some people the wrong way- how pristine her image is.
That pristine image has served as a brilliant marketing strategy; she retains her initial fans and gains new ones that come of age every year. It’s hard to argue her straight edge image isn’t interesting when her album and tour sales show differently.
She Does Adulthood Differently
So how did Swift bridge into young adulthood? Swift took the road less traveled by her peers Katy Perry, Beyoncé or Lady Gaga by not taking on a sexualized feminist persona. Instead, wrote songs about what it’s like to be in your twenties. She didn’t rewrite “Fifteen,” or any of her other hits, and doesn’t sing the same story over and over again. Swift and her music have grown up together with her fans, any artist will say that is one of the most difficult things to do well as a musician. She hasn’t innovated her sound just for the sake of innovating, and she hasn’t been a slave to six-month beat trends. Her songs have reached across genre isles but are still unmistakably Swiftian.
She distinguishes herself by not taking the road many female entertainers do when they’re trying to enter a mature market. Instead of changing her image, Swift changes the content of her music to reflect her maturity and how she’s evolved; she’s done it extremely well, especially for someone her age. It has made a huge difference in her staying power and in her success.
She’s An Oddball
She may be a fashion darling with a Victoria’s Secret model best friend, but you would never know it by listening to Swift’s music. Swift has made a career out of writing songs about what it feels like to be an outsider, like she singss in her hit “You Belong With Me,” “She wears short skirts/I wear t-shirts/she’s cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers.” She insists on playing the unpopular girl, and to be fair, many artists capitalize on being outsiders.
Swift has channeled those feelings into music since she was little, and is now one of the best songwriters working today. The lesson? What makes you weird is what makes you stand out.