She’s the girl next door who earns more a year than Beyoncé, Elton John and The Rolling Stones. We take a look at Taylor Swift’s phenomenal rise to superstardom
She’s the international superstar with, among other achievements, 10 Grammy awards, a place on the Forbes ‘100 most powerful women’ list and a mere 37million album sales worldwide (and counting). And she’s only 26. No, you didn’t read that wrong. It would be easy to assume that this list of accolades and achievements belong to someone twice, or thrice, her age, but no, Taylor Alison Swift, born in 1989, is flying high as the world’s biggest popstar, and her global domination shows no signs of waning.
Born in Pennsylvania, the first years of Taylor’s life were fairly normal. She attended regular schools, summered in New Jersey and had an interest in poetry. Then, aged nine she developed a passion for music, enrolled in vocal lessons and began performing locally. Aged 11, she watched a documentary on country singer Faith Hill and decided that was her destiny – she needed to be in Nashville to make it as a country star. Luckily, her parents obliged, and when she was 14 they relocated to help Taylor realise her dreams.
“They knew nothing about the industry and had no involvement in entertainment, but I was obsessed with it and so they did their research and read up about it to help me in every way they could.”
Taylor’s determination paid off – by 16 she was signed to a record label and releasing her eponymous debut album Taylor Swift, which was instantly met with critical acclaim. Unlike most teen stars of the time, Taylor was producing country music for teenagers to listen to – and both the public and critics alike were impressed with what they heard. Her album sold 39,000 copies in its first week, and to date has sold over 5million worldwide.
Swift’s success continued to mount, and when her second album, Fearless topped the Billboard 200 at number one for 11 consecutive weeks, went seven times platinum and became the best-selling album of 2009 in the US, it seemed she was a bona fide star.
Despite being primarily a country musician, her talent was making waves in the music industry, and at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs), she was nominated for, and subsequently won the Best Female Video award for You Belong with Me.
Although Taylor was the only country star ever to be awarded a VMA, her win wasn’t without controversy – namely because rapper Kanye West stormed the stage during her acceptance speech and suggested that the accolade should have gone to Beyoncé. This interruption sparked a worldwide backlash, and resulted in a press frenzy surrounding Swift – those who hadn’t heard of the rising star before the awards ceremony were certainly aware of her afterwards.
“I just told myself I had to perform, and I tried to convince myself that maybe this wasn’t that big of a deal. But that was the most happenstance thing to ever happen in my career.”
As controversy goes, Taylor Swift has faced very little of it. For someone so young with a career spanning a decade, you would expect there to be stories of debauchery, partying, drink and drugs, but the star barely ends up on a ‘worst dressed’ list, let alone finding herself in the papers for all the wrong reasons. This could be, in part, that she isn’t the partying type, but it also seems that she possesses a self-awareness, and an understanding that her career is precious; something that she could lose quickly.
“I’m in the news every single day for multiple different reasons. And it can feel, at times, if you let your anxiety get the better of you, like everybody’s waiting for you to really mess up – and then you’ll be done. If you do something that deﬁ nes your character to be not what the public thought you were, that’be not what the public thought you were, that’s the biggest risk.”s the biggest risk.”
Now settled with superstar DJ Calvin Harris, the furore surrounding Taylor’s love life is perhaps the closest she’s come to backlash from fans and the media. Her past relationships include some high profi le names, including actor Jake Gyllenhaal, singer John Mayer and most notably One Direction’s Harry Styles. Her relationship with the latter, whom she dated for a few months in 2013 saw her private life propelled into the public eye in a way that it hadn’t been before.
“The only thing anyone wanted to write about me was about me and some guy. It was really damaging. You’re thinking, ‘everybody goes on dates when they’re 22. It’s fine, right?’
Nope. Not when you’re in this situation, and everything you do is blown out of proportion and expanded upon. And all of a sudden, there’s an overriding opinion that doesn’t accurately reflect how you actually live your life.”
As her music began to evolve into a poppier sound, Taylor’s songwriting became more personal. Suddenly, everybody wanted to know who these hits were referencing, and speculation moved on from Taylor’s relationships, to exactly who she was referring to in her various hits. To this date she’s never divulged who each song is about, although it’s widely believed much of her 2014 album 1989 is written about Styles, while hits like We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together from her 2012 album Red is thought to reference her relationship and subsequent breakup with Gyllenhaal.
“I just feel like it’s not like it’s a big secret that I write songs about my life. People know when they get involved with me that, if we have some sort of significant relationship, it’s going to find its way into being inspiration at some point or another.”
Post-Styles and pre-Harris, Taylor refrained from dating for fear of further speculation over her personal life. Instead, she spent these years building her friendship circle. Suddenly, she was being pictured almost daily with a different celebrity female – lunching, exercising or shopping. For the girl who had often spoken about her unpopularity at school, it seemed as though the tables had definitely turned.
Taylor’s ‘squad’ as they’re now known, has become one of the most coveted social circles in the celebrity sphere – everyone from supermodels Karlie Kloss and Cara Delevingne, to Girls star Lena Dunham and singer Ellie Goulding are part of the clan, and are regularly pictured with Swift, be it a girls’ night in plastered over Instagram or backstage at an awards party. Taylor even enlisted the help of 16 of these friends when shooting her Bad Blood video last year – and with an all celebrity cast, it’s probably no surprise that it’s racked up almost 900million YouTube views, won a Grammy and in its week of release pulled in more viewers in the US than network television shows.
“A lot of the time I’ll reach out to people to tell them they’re great and a friendship will come out of them. Friendship often comes from admiration and that feels like a natural way to be friends with someone because you’ve established you respect what the person does.”
With great power comes great responsibility, and there’s no denying that Taylor has power – over her carefully constructed image, over her music choices (her record label were against her releasing her first ‘full pop’ album and wanted a country influence – she went against them and her 1989 album has currently sold almost 9million copies worldwide), and over a great many things other stars wouldn’t have a say in at all.
In 2014 she pulled her music from streaming service Spotify, due to the lack of royalties paid to artists, and just a few months later in June 2015 she threatened to do the same with Apple music, as she highlighted the fact artists weren’t making money during the three month free trial. Within 24 hours of her writing an open letter to the music corporation and posting it online, the company agreed to change their policy and pay artists.
In business and in her personal life, Taylor seems to have it sussed. Perhaps it’s because she’s been a decade in the industry or perhaps it’s her unique approach to life, but she certainly seems wise beyond her 26 years.