Since moving to Nashville, Tennessee, and making a splash in the country music world, Taylor Swift has gone on to be a massive pop music star with stellar songwriting credits and tried and true award-winning potential. Most notable for her tendency to capture the heartbreak from her numerous romantic relationships in the verses and choruses of her pop songs, Swift has been as celebrated as she has been critiqued in the public eye.
Being that Taylor Swift has sold more than 50 million albums and 150 million singles worldwide, she is not just one of the highest-selling artists, but she is also among some of the most decorated having won multiple Grammy Awards, American Music Awards, Billboard Music Awards, and even an Emmy and seven Guinness World Records.
Not only a music-powerhouse, but Taylor Swift has also been listed by Time magazine as one of the most influential people in the world, and also by Rolling Stone, Forbes, and Billboard Magazine. So how did this country/pop star garner this powerful platform, and how exactly did she get to the top of the pop pinnacle? The journey may have been relatively quick, but it certainly was not easy.
A Young Swift
Born Taylor Alison Swift, this singer-songwriter, was born on December 13, 1989, in West Reading, Pennsylvania. Daughter of Scott Kingsley Swift, a former stockbroker for Merrill Lynch, and Andrea Gardner Swift, a former homemaker and mutual fund marketing executive, Swift was named after famed singer-songwriter James Taylor. As a child, Swift grew up as a Christian on a Christmas tree farm that her father purchased from one of his clients.
The family would eventually move to the suburban town of Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, where Swift would quickly develop a love of musical theater. Like her grandmother, a professional opera singer, Swift would catch the music bug and begin performing at local fairs and contents. Traveling regularly to perform in New York City and take vocal music lessons, Swift would perform in a number of theatre productions with the Youth Theatre Academy productions.
Soon thereafter, Swift shifted her attention to performing country music, in part because of being inspired by Canadian country songstress Shania Twain. Swift admitted that Twain’s music made her: “want to just run around the block four times and daydream about everything.” After watching a documentary about another famed country singer – this time Faith Hill – Swift decided that the only way she could succeed and attain a music career would be to move to Nashville, Tennessee – the country music capital.
By age even, Swift traveled with her mother to visit Nashville record labels. Bringing along her demo tapes featuring cover versions of Dolly Parton and Dixie Chicks recordings, Swift was truly hopeful that she would be able to find some success.
Unfortunately, things didn’t pan out the way she had hoped – she was consistently rejected. Swift recalls that everyone in her town wanted to do exactly what she was trying to do. This pushed her to focus on being different. Approximately a year later, she met Ronnie Cremer, a computer repairman and local musician, who taught Taylor Swift how to play guitar and also assisted her with her first outing as a songwriter on her song “Lucky You.”
In 2003 she was ready to push her career to the next level. She and her parents decided to begin working with New York-based talent manager Dan Dymtrow who helped Swift by getting her a modeling gig with Abercrombie & Fitch. After the Abercrombie & Fitch campaign, which titled the “Rising Stars” campaign, Swift was given the opportunity to perform original songs at an RCA Records showcase. At this event, Swift was given an artist development deal. This prompted Taylor and her mom to begin traveling to Nashville on a frequent basis, and eventually, her father transferred to Merrill Lynch’s Nashville office and relocated the family to Hendersonville, Tennessee.
Now a Nashville resident, Swift began working extensively with a number of prominent Nashville songwriters during two-hour writing sessions each week after she went to school for the day. Liz Rose, one of her mentors, remembers that those writing sessions were some of the easiest she ever had.
After working on her writing extensively, Swift eventually became the youngest artist signed by the Sony/ATV Tree publishing house only to later by age 14. Years later, she claimed that her departure from the label was prompted by the feeling that she was “running out of time.” She felt that she needed to write music that truly captured the life experiences of her young teenage years while she was still going through her adolescence.
By 2005, Taylor Swift was performing at an industry showcase at Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe, where Taylor Swift managed to come to the attention of Scott Borchetta, a DreamWorks Records executive. Borchetta, who was at the time about to launch independent record label Big Machine Records, offered Swift a record deal from which her father negotiated a three-percent stake in the company for an estimated $120,000. Swift released her self-titled debut album in 2006.
In a review by Jon Caramanica of The New York Times, Carmica called the album a: “small masterpiece of pop-minded country, both wide-eyed and cynical, held together by Ms. Swift’s firm, pleading voice.” The album, which had sold over 7.75 million copies worldwide, peaked at number five on the Billboard 200 albums chart and spent a whopping 157 weeks on the chart. For the remainder of the year, Swift toured the album and made television appearances.
Borchetta would later tell the press that signing Swift was one of his best decisions, given that it tapped into a previously unknown market—teenage girls who listen to country music. Over the course of the 2000s, Swift would release two other albums: Fearless (2008) and Speak Now (2010). Along with records, Swift would collect a number of accolades, including but not limited to Artist of the Year and Favorite Country Album at the American Awards and Album of the Year and Best Country Album at the Grammy Awards as well. This was clearly a big triumphant night for Swift to cherish.
While Swift was collecting award after award, it was at an awards show that she experienced one of her very first public controversies. At the 2009 VMAs (Video Music Awards), Swift attended after having received a number of nominations for her work on her 2008 album Fearless. When the winner for the Best Female Video was announced, Swift made her way to the stage to give her acceptance speech only to be interrupted by rapper Kanye West who leaped on the stage.
West, who took the microphone over, told audiences that he thought Swift had wrongfully garnered the award and that it should have instead gone to R&B singer Beyoncé. Swift was visibly stunned and consequently unable to make her acceptance speech. West, on the other hand, was removed from the show. Later in the telecast, when Beyoncé accepted her award for Best Video of the Year, she invited Taylor Swift to return back to the stage to finish her speech. West, who was later invited to the Jay Leno Show to publicly apologize to Swift, expressed his remorse.
The feud would continue years later when West would claim that he was responsible for Swift’s fame. While presenting one of her subsequent acceptance speeches after West’s statement, Taylor Swift told audiences:
“I wanna say to all the young women out there; there are going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame. But if you just focus on the work, and you don’t let those people sidetrack you, someday when you get where you’re going, you’ll look around, and you will know that it was you and the people who loved you who put you there. And that will be the greatest feeling in the world.”
For much of the 2010s, Swift would continue to work on her own albums and contribute to the work of others. She would release a total of five albums in the 2010s – Red (2012), 1989 (2014), Reputation (2017), and Lover (2019) – including her recent 2020 release Folklore. She also worked with a number of artists across a number of artistic genres: pop artist John Mayer, singer-songwriters Civil Wars and T-Bone Burnett, alternative pop group Imogen Heap, EDM DJ Calvin Harris, and rapper Future among others. By 2012, Forbes Magazine reported that Swift was ranked as the highest-paid celebrity under 30 – beating out not only Justin Bieber and Rihanna but Lady Gaga as well.
One of the things that Taylor Swift is perhaps most famous for is the way that she transfers her romantic experiences and dating dramas to record. One of her most public feuds began with the subject of an ex-boyfriend – and then the issue eventually spiraled into other business-related matters. The peer in question? Fellow pop superstar Katy Perry. Initially, Swift and Perry, both of whom had dated fellow pop star John Mayer, had been friends. However, the two ended their friendship after Perry was reported to have stolen some of Swift’s dancers.
Taylor Swift claimed that she eventually had a breaking point with Katie Perry and explained that Perry had done something horrible that pushed Taylor to view Katie Perry as an enemy. Before you assume that it was some kind of “catfight” or a man, Swift insists that it was business-related, regarding Perry trying to hire some people out from under Taylor Swift.
So now I have to avoid her. It’s awkward, and I don’t like it.” The conflict between the popstars lasted nearly four years until May of 2018 when the two put an end to their feud. Perry reportedly extended an olive branch, sending Swift a note that said: “I’ve been doing some reflecting on past miscommunication and hurt feelings between us.”
Aside from Mayer, Swift has been connected to a number of famous singers and actors – whom she often writes about in her many recordings. In 2008, Swift was rumored to be dating Joe Jonas of boyband fame (The Jonas Brothers). And yet, while many suspected that the two were dating, both Swift and Jonas refused to acknowledge their relationship. Instead, at the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards, Swift told the press that Joe Jonas would make someone a happy lady without showing any signs of animosity. Swift was later romantically linked to actor Taylor Lautner – perhaps best known for his role in the Twilight film trilogy.
Swift and Lautner reportedly met while filming her acting debut in the 2010 film Valentine’s Day. The couple didn’t last long enough to make it to the film premiere. Instead, Swift quickly moved on to pop star John Mayer. That relationship did not last long and actually ended on bad terms when she decided to release a tell-all song about Mayer called “Dear John.”
Since Jonas, Lautner, and Mayer, Swift has also been romantically connected to Glee star Cory Monteith who would eventually pass away, actor Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s son Conor Kennedy, Harry Styles of boyband fame (One Direction), DJ Calvin Harris, actor Tom Hiddleston, and Joe Alwyn who she met while attending the 2016 Met Gala.
As a result of including the details of her love life in a number of her recordings, Swift’s songwriting has at times been criticized for exploiting the personal details of her famous male peers in everything from the titles of her songs, lyrics and liner notes where she might drop coded clues.
Taylor Swift has been such a powerful pop star that it can be hard to remember her early country music flavors that she used to pepper her music with. But whichever side of Taylor Swift you prefer, she is still swiftly becoming one of the biggest names in music year after year.