Taylor Swift is music's biggest star right now
She can do no wrong with her fans
Swift is using her power and changing the industry
How did Taylor Swift go from country star to pop princess? Watch “CNN Spotlight: Taylor Swift” at 10 p.m. ET.
It didn’t seem like Taylor Swift could get any bigger.
She’s got massive success in the music industry, millions of devoted fans and a permanent place in pop culture history, the latter thanks to an incident that the world will never, ever allow Kanye West to forget.
But clearly, that wasn’t enough for the (literally) towering singer.
In one week, she became the second-biggest selling act of 2014 and the only solo platinum-selling artist of the year – all with the debut of her new album, “1989.” She pulled her music off Spotify, the most popular streaming site in the world, and managed to get pulled into a political controversy thanks to a remark during the U.S. Senate race in Iowa.
You just couldn’t get away from her. Morning shows? There was Swift performing on “Good Morning America.” Prime time? Look, it’s Swift on “The Voice.” Online? Between her tweets, “1989”-related photos and a countdown clock, she was ubiquitous.
For all we know, she’s even boosted the sales of tap shorts.
“Taylor Swift is basically the biggest musician in the world this week, and that means she’s in the rare position of being able to do whatever she wants,” wrote Jacob Kastrenakes of The Verge.
It’s the next step in the evolution of the singer who launched her career in country music at the age of 16. Now 24, she has weathered critics who have kept a tally of some of her alleged celebrity sins: Her music wasn’t country enough, her wide-eyed “Gosh, I really won” awards acceptance speeches weren’t genuine, and her relationships were mostly fodder for publicity and potential song material.
So what does Swift do? She releases her first fully pop album, designates “Shake It Off” – an ode to her haters – as the first single and declares herself happily single.
“I really like my life right now,” Swift recently told Rolling Stone. “I have friends around me all the time. I’ve started painting more. I’ve been working out a lot. I’ve started to really take pride in being strong. I love the album I made. I love that I moved to New York. So in terms of being happy, I’ve never been closer to that.”
It would seem Swift has long been on the path to world domination. Big Kenny of the country duo “Big and Rich” said the singer displayed that she had what it took even as a teen at the annual Country Radio Seminar held in Nashville.
“She just had a charge in her that was twice her age really,” he said of the then-15-year-old. “From the get-go.”
Singer-songwriter Frankie Ballard toured with her and said Swift isn’t one of those stars who mails it in.
“She was plugged in. She was there every day,” he said of his tour mate. “She was the captain of the ship.”
Protected by ‘Swifties’
Swift gets that if this were high school, she would be the annoying straight-A student who is gorgeous, is friends with the other cool kids (Swift is BFFs with the likes of actress Selena Gomez and singer Lorde), volunteers after school and dates the cutest boys. But she’s running for homecoming queen and is courting your vote – hard.
Not that she doesn’t already have plenty of admirers. Her fans, known as “Swifties,” are equal parts adoring and protective of her. Come for Taylor Swift on Twitter, and you are sure to encounter her army.
They are paying her back in part for being one of the most accessible music artists in the business. She does meet-and-greets, surprises them at their bridal showers, stalks their timelines and Instagram feeds, and even made them part of her newest project.
Before the world ever heard a note from “1989,” Swift handpicked fans who had really, really wanted to meet her and invited them to her homes around the world for a listening party. They got hours to hang with their idol, taking Polaroids and delving into the new album. The fans were allowed to share their experiences and asked only to keep details about the new songs under wraps.
Swift told NPR that not only did they honor her request, but her fans stood guard when the album was leaked online two days before its October 27 release date.
“Anytime they’d see an illegal post of it, they’d comment, ‘Why are you doing this? Why don’t you respect the value of art?’ ” Swift said. ” ‘Don’t do this. We don’t believe in this. This is illegal. This isn’t fair. This isn’t right.’ And it was wild seeing that happen.”
She needs that support in face of New Yorkers disliking the fact that she’s been named Global Welcome Ambassador for Tourism of the Big Apple. The choice of the Reading, Pennsylvania, native to represent New York has been less than popular, despite her move to Tribeca and her new single “Welcome to New York.”
“I’m incensed! It’s insulting,” Twisted Sister frontman and Queens, New York, native Dee Snider told the New York Daily News. “She doesn’t have any life experience here or connection to the town.”
Center of controversy
It’s not just New York. Swift also became part of the debate in Iowa during the waning days of the 2014 campaign.
Tom Harkin, the state’s retiring U.S. senator, entangled Swift in a bit of political negativity when he invoked her name while discussing Republican Joni Ernst, who was vying for his seat.
“Well, I (got to) thinking about that. I don’t care if she’s as good looking as Taylor Swift or as nice as Mr. Rogers, but if she votes like Michele Bachmann, she’s wrong for the state of Iowa,” Harkin said. He later apologized and said, “I shouldn’t have said those things,” but Ernst made some hay from the comment and won election.
Swift has also ended up as part of the debate about Internet music streaming.
On November 3, she pulled her catalog from Spotify, leaving its 40 million users bereft of her five albums. Spotify quickly courted her return with a playlist filled with songs like “Taylor” by Jack Johnson and “You’re Amazing” by Epic Connection.
“We hope she’ll change her mind and join us in building a new music economy that works for everyone,” Spotify said in a statement. “We believe fans should be able to listen to music wherever and whenever they want.”
Swift told Yahoo Music that the decision was her own.
“I can say is that 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,” she said. “And I’m not wiling to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists and creators of this music.”
Never underestimate Taylor Swift. Right now, she’s standing very tall.