Taylor Swift


Taylor Swift: The Most Influential Woman in Music

Barbara Walters calls her “The Music Industry,” but Taylor Swift’s influence goes far beyond music.  She’s a cultural figurehead worth billions.

Today, TIME’s 2023 Person of the Year is the world’s most famous pop star, but as a child, she was just a girl with dreams of stardom. Swift submitted many demo tapes in her teens but was rejected each time.

The country music industry was wary of teenage Swift, as teenagers aren’t usual consumers of the genre. However, Swift later tapped into a previously dead market: teenage girls who love country music.

Rejection persuaded Swift “to figure out a way to be different.” To cultivate her skills, she began taking songwriting lessons for two hours a day.

While performing at Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe, Swift caught record executive Scott Borchetta’s attention and signed with Big Machine Records.

Taylor Swift was released in 2006. That year, Swift became the first woman in country music to write or co-write every track on a Platinum-certified debut album.

Fans were instantly attracted to her songwriting and relatability. She says, “All of my songs are autobiographical.”

Swift’s 2008 album, Fearless, debuted at number 1 on the Billboard 200 and was the top-selling U.S. album in 2009, solidifying her stardom.

Despite her widespread success, Swift faced her first hurdle in 2009. While accepting a VMA for “You Belong With Me,” she was interrupted by Kanye West, who disparaged her success. “I was so upset,” she said after the incident.

Swift revolutionized vulnerability and authenticity in music. Before Swift, few artists prioritized connection with their fans. Swift broke this boundary early on, connecting with fans on MySpace and Twitter.

She says, “Fans are my favorite thing in the world. I've never been the type of artist who has that line drawn between their friends and their fans.” She began using social media to send messages to her growing fanbase during this time.

Swift’s fourth album, Red, was released in 2012. Often inspired by color, she says of Red, “On one end you have happiness, falling in love, infatuation with someone, passion, all that. On the other end, you've got obsession, jealousy, danger, fear, anger, and frustration.” Red was Swift’s first pop album.

Swift’s 2014 album, 1989, launched her career into the stratosphere. Her “first official pop album” reached number one in Australia, Canada, and the United States.

One of the things I admire most about Swift is her conviction. In 2014, after a disagreement with Spotify executives over low compensation, Swift pulled her catalog from the platform. This was a massive blow to profits, and Spotify quickly met her demands.

Swift’s feud with Kanye West came back to haunt her. In 2016, West released “Famous.”  The rapper included vulgar lyrics about Swift, and the music video featured a jarring doll in her likeness.

West claimed that Swift approved the song. To fuel the fire, West’s wife, Kim Kardashian, released an illegally recorded, edited version of a phone call between the two, in which Swift seemed to approve of the song and video.

Swift was publicly canceled. She told TIME, “That took me down psychologically to a place I’ve never been before. I moved to a foreign country…I felt like my career was taken from me.”

Swift dusted herself off and emerged from hiding with a new album, Reputation, which instantly made headlines.

Swift signed a new deal with Universal Music Group in 2018. The deal included a provision allowing her to own her masters.

The move proved emblematic. In 2019, Swift learned that her masters were sold to a private equity group owned by music manager Scooter Braun. He sold her music to Shamrock Holdings for $300 million.

“Artists should own their own work for so many reasons. But the most screamingly obvious one is that the artist is the only one who really knows that body of work,” she wrote.

Swift isn’t one to back down. In 2020, she announced that she would re-record her old music to devalue Shamrock Holding’s investment. This time, she was the owner.

Swift’s re-recording is one of the most simple yet genius moves in the music industry—and, as it proves, among the most profitable. Her re-recordings garner her an estimated $8.5 million a month.

Swift is constantly writing.  Over the past five years, Swift has released Lover, Folklore, Evermore, Midnights, and five re-recordings. Her newest album debuts on April 18.

In 2023, Swift embarked on a retrospective tour of her ten albums titled Eras Tour. The Eras tour is the highest-grossing tour ever, earning Swift over $1 billion.

The tour grosses between $10 million and $13 million a night, and Swift takes home 85%. Morgan Stanley estimates that the Eras Tour (and Beyonce’s “Rennaissance Tour”) generates 5.4 billion in consumer spending, boosting State GDP.

Here’s what we can learn from Swift on adaptability, vulnerability, and creativity.


Cultivate vulnerability and authenticity with your audience. Swift says, “No matter what happens in life, be good to people. Being good to people is a wonderful legacy to leave behind.” Swift’s vulnerability and authenticity are unique as an artist. She was among the first musicians to engage with her fans on social media, and these interactions breed loyalty. Swift boasts over 530.3 million social media followers who watch her every move. Beyond fan engagement, Swift’s brand rests on the back of her vulnerable songwriting. She says, “All of my songs are autobiographical,” creating a closeness between her and her billions of listeners. Her songs are endlessly catchy, and fans pinpoint individual lyrics to learn more about Swift’s life. With her love of “sparkles and grocery shopping and really old cats that are only nice to you half the time,” Swift is highly relatable. According to Alexandra Gold, clinical psychology fellow at Harvard Medical School, her relatability cultivates the “strong social and emotional bond that people feel with her.” Swift rewards her fans with bonus songs and swag, boosting engagement. When asked about them, she says, “Fans are my favorite thing in the world.”

Read relentlessly. Swift has always been an avid reader. She says, “[Without books] You can let little things pass you by, little details…if you have never read books that describe how beautiful they are from somebody else’s perspective.” Books and reading are integral components of Swift’s creative practice. She enjoys The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, and the Harry Potter series. She believes in the power of storytelling, which can only be bred by reading relentlessly. Her status as a reader is apparent in her songs: “Love Story,” one of her most popular hits, is based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and her Folklore and Evermore albums draw on Hemmingway’s work. Swift knows that to read well is to write well—she’s been writing since her pre-teens when she wrote a 400-page book about her life. Reading is also a part of her relaxation process. She says, “The cool thing about reading is that when you read a short story or you read something that takes your mind and expands where your thoughts can go, that's powerful.”

Aim to spend more time alone. “I am alone a lot, which is good. I need that time to just be alone after a long day, just decompress.” The more successful you are, the more time you must spend honing your focus to continue cultivating success. Science backs this: Brilliant people are happier if they spend more time alone. After a night on tour, Swift “[goes] to either my house or the hotel, or my apartment, or whatever - wherever I am, I go home, and I watch TV, and I sit there, with my cat, and I just watch TV or go online, check my emails.” Highly creative people need time alone to recharge and cultivate their practice. Swift says, “Spending a lot of time alone gave me a lot of time to think. A lot of time to think gave me the time to write songs.” On Swift’s level, her biggest rival is herself. Time alone allows her to beat her own records and set further goals. Swift says, “As soon as I accomplish one goal, I replace it with another one. I try not to get too far ahead of myself. I just say to myself, 'All right, well, I'd like to headline a tour,' and then when I get there, we'll see what my next goal is.”

Cope with rejection through practice and preparation. For Swift, middle school bullying was just like her rejection in the music industry. She says, “A lot of people ask me, 'How did you have the courage to walk up to record labels when you were 12 or 13 and jump right into the music industry?' It's because I knew I could never feel the kind of rejection that I felt in middle school. Because in the music industry, if they're gonna say no to you, at least they're gonna be polite about it.” Swift was rejected by every firm she submitted to until finally getting her ‘big break.’ So—what changed? For Swift, rejection bred an obsession with preparedness. She says, “I try to prepare for everything beyond the extent of preparation.” For her Eras Tour, she famously sang the whole setlist while running on the treadmill every day for six months. When asked about rejection, she says, “Anytime someone tells me that I can't do something, I want to do it more.”

Adapt to shifts in your given industry—better yet, be the first to do so. “The business aspect is one of the most important things about having a music career because every choice you make in a management meeting affects your life a year and a half from now.” Swift is no stranger to adaptation. Her ten studio albums span folk, alternative, pop, and country genres. She’s also won a Grammy for “Album of the Year” in three genres (country, pop, and folk). Swift's boundless creativity and pursuit of authenticity allow her to adapt quickly and willingly. She’s constantly open to innovation. Streaming platforms profoundly changed music, and Swift says, “Music is changing so quickly, and the landscape of the music industry itself is changing so quickly, that everything new, like Spotify, all feels to me a bit like a grand experiment.” Nevertheless, Swift copes with these changes by speaking out and through introspection. She’s constantly adapting and constantly in a new ‘era.’

Be the most curious person in every room. “Even if you’re happy with the life you’ve chosen, you’re still curious about the other options.” Despite Swift’s landmark fame, she’s always curious about other people and opportunities. I believe this is one of the things that genuinely sets Swift apart—she’s relentlessly curious about everything from business, art, culture, and people. Her curious mind spills into her songs, driving her to pursue new genres. She’s also curious about business and technology, and this interest led her to defend artists' rights to tech executives. Swift’s curiosity extends to people, too; many of her songs are written about close friends or family members. She says, “Most of my songs have names of people I’ve met or are dear to me. There are people who have privacy issues and about people knowing about their private life. But for me, I like to include a few special names and a few details about them to make the song very special to me.” When speaking about curiosity, she says, “Everything affects me.”

Taylor Swift Quotes

On her music: “People haven't always been there for me, but music always has.”

On giving advice: “I never give advice unless someone asks me for it. One thing I've learned, and possibly the only advice I have to give, is to not be that person giving out unsolicited advice based on your own personal experience.”

On fear: “I’m intimidated by the fear of being average.”

On dark times: “Everybody has that point in their life where you hit a crossroads and you've had a bunch of bad days and there's different ways you can deal with it and the way I dealt with it was I just turned completely to music.”

On business decisions: “The lesson I've learned the most often in life is that you're always going to know more in the future than you know now.”

On standing up for yourself: “I think most of us fear reaching the end of our life, and looking back, regretting the moments we didn't speak up. When we didn't say "I love you." When we should've said "I'm Sorry." When we didn't stand up for ourselves or someone who needed help.”

On healing: “I've found time can heal most anything and you just might find who you're supposed to be.”

On inspiration: “You can draw inspiration from anything. If you're a good storyteller, you can take a dirty look somebody gives you, or if a guy you used to have flirtations with starts dating a new girl, or somebody you're casually talking to says something that makes you so mad - you can create an entire scenario around that.”

On her business acumen: “When I'm in management meetings when we're deciding my future, those decisions are left up to me. I'm the one who has to go out and fulfill all these obligations, so I should be able to choose which ones I do or not. That's the part of my life where I feel most in control.”



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