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How Taylor Swift rose from ‘Miss Americana’ to global megastar




Its release sparked a global Spotify outage. One and a half million copies were sold in the US in one week. The top 10 spots on the Billboard Hot 100, the chart of the most popular songs in the US, were occupied by a single artist. Taylor Swift’s latest album, Midnights, is a record-breaker. The presale for her upcoming tour even caused a giant breakdown on the Ticketmaster platform, which eventually canceled Friday’s public ticket sale. And on November 20, the 32-year-old singer, ranked among the world’s most powerful women by Forbes magazine in 2021, swept the American Music Awards, winning in every category in which she was nominated. So, what are the reasons for her success?

For independent music journalist Romain Burrel, the “secret” of Swift “is not to stay in one place.” The artist is prolific. Since 2019, she has released no fewer than six albums. Only five months separate Folklore and Evermore, her two 2020 albums. She even tried her hand at directing a short film.

From a 100% product of Nashville who conquered the country scene to today’s pop icon, Swift has steadily evolved to dominate an industry where women “are discarded by the time they’re 35,” she said in the documentary Miss Americana. “There’s something a little different musically and visually with every release,” Hugh McIntyre, a journalist for Forbes who specializes in Entertainment, told Le Monde. The singer abandoned the cowboy boots and sequined dresses of her debut for leotards and thigh-high boots, then embraced a more rustic aesthetic, donning the plaid shirts and wool cardigans that were favored in an age of global lockdown.

By polishing the country pop of her early days, she opened the genre to a new, younger, female audience. From the halls of high school to the prom where she put on a show, the young Taylor Swift cultivated an image that many American teenage girls could relate to. with. Smiling and polite behind her guitar and princess dresses – her repertoire having long borrowed from the clichés of romantic comedies or Disney movies – the blonde also appealed to conservative parents.

Her persona was meticulously sculpted throughout her lyrics and music videos and maintained through her social media presence, where she regularly shared the adventures of her cats with more than 335 million accumulated followers. She radiated a sense of closeness

Cultivating her image as an approachable “girl next door,” the singer has repeatedly helped her fans, such as when she funded their college Education. She holds preview sessions for her albums during which she hosts fans at her home and bakes them cookies. “You can’t describe Lady Gaga as someone who is easy to identify with,” said McIntyre. “She’s from another world.  Taylor, you can imagine meeting her. You want to be like her. She’s not out of reach.”

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The singer also knows who to surround herself with. Her fourth album, Red, marked the beginning of a collaboration with Swedish producers Max Martin and Shellback, best known for being the architects behind several Britney Spears hits. The duo guided Swift’s first steps into a genre they had mastered to perfection with tracks like “22” and “I Knew You Were Trouble.” She also enlisted Jeff Bhasker, who helped produce hits like Fun’s “We Are Young” and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk,” and musician Dan Wilson, who co-wrote Adele’s “Someone Like You.” She continued her transition to more accessible pop with her fifth album, 1989, which allowed her to reach new heights. Recently, she has been working almost exclusively with producer and musician Jack Antonoff, who has also crafted hits with Lana Del Rey and Lorde.

On the visual side, Joseph Kahn, who previously directed videos for Britney Spears and Lady Gaga, brought to life “Blank Space,” “Bad Blood” and “Wildest Dreams.” The video for “Bad Blood” deploys a handpicked cast with appearances by singer Selena Gomez; supermodels Gigi Hadid, Cara Delevingne and Cindy Crawford; and actresses Zendaya and Ellen Pompeo.

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Only queen of her empire
The pop star has set herself up as the sole storyteller of her legend and the sole master of her empire. At 14, the ambitious Swift refused to renew her contract with RCA Records, fearing she would lack artistic freedom. At 16, she promoted her self-тιтled debut album, claiming to have written 150 songs for it. Facing numerous critiques suggesting that she doesn’t really write her songs, she returned in 2009 with her third album, Speak Now, which she claims she wrote entirely on her own.

The singer signed an open letter to Apple Music in 2015 regarding artist compensation on digital platforms. Apple gave in to her demands after a few hours. “She moves the industry from within,” Burrel pointed out. Warring with her former label boss Scott Borchetta, who sold her masters to Scooter Braun (manager of Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande, among others) Swift re-recorded Fearless and Red in 2021 to reclaim the rights. She encourages her fans to listen to the new versions. “When something says in parentheses (Taylor’s version) next to it, that means I own it,” she has ᴀsserted in promotional appearances.

Much less present on social media, granting interviews only in dribs and drabs and more and more discreet about her private life, Swift falls into the category of artists who, “like Selena Gomez or Orelsan,” prefer “a documentary about her life where she controls the story from A to Z,” without “going through the journalist who will ask her embarrᴀssing questions,” said Burrel.

For years, her political silence allowed her to appeal to both Democrats and Republicans. As the US was tearing itself apart during the 2016 election campaign, she was one of the few Hollywood pop stars who did not publicly disavow Donald Trump. Her silence posed a problem – especially since she was celebrated by figures of the American alt-right who see her as an “Aryan goddess.”

The star eventually broke her silence during the 2018 midterm election campaign. Following her endorsement of the Democratic candidate in Tennessee, the number of registered voters jumped. She continued to get political by castigating homophobes in her song “You Need to Calm Down” and simultaneously launched a peтιтion to the Senate in support of a bill to protect LGBTQ+ people. “She had a desire to be more successful. […] The album Red illustrates this desire to go out and conquer a new audience,” said Burrel, who added that she could not escape this politicization: “She had to show that she contrasted with the country music she came from, which is accused of being very White and rather right wing.”