How Taylor Swift, the pop sensation, has become an unstoppable force

How Taylor Swift, the pop sensation, has become an unstoppable force

Keeping up with Taylor Swift, the American sweetheart and global pop sensation, can be quite a challenge. In the past few weeks, her  accomplishments have been far too many. Her latest record at the American Music Awards (after winning six trophies this year, she has become the first music-maker in the ceremony’s 50-year-long history to win 40 American Music Awards so far) is only part of a chain of successes.

In October, the singer-songwriter, 32, went from causing Spotify to crash on the day of the release of her tenth studio album, ‘Midnights’, to shattering streaming and sales records, and storming the charts and emerging as the first artist in history to claim all top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 — all in a span of 10 days.

Within a week of its launch, ‘Midnights’ became the biggest album of the year, having achieved 204,000 sales figure in the UK; Swift broke her own record of the biggest ever opening week in the UK for her 2014 album, ‘1989’, which had touched the sales figure of 90,300.

As if all this is not enough, Swift’s record-setting spree continues as she marches ahead in the stratosphere of superstardom. Soon after the release of ‘Midnights’, Swift announced ‘The Eras Tour,’ her first in five years, which will kick-start on March 17 next year. On November 15, when the tickets for the tour went on sale, Ticketmaster’s website crashed as hundreds and thousands of Swift’s fans, known as ‘Swifties,’ flocked online, with many of them waiting for hours, battling frequent outages. Even amid the chaos, however, Ticketmaster managed to sell more than 2 million tickets — a single-day record for an individual artist.

“The Eras on sale made one thing clear: Taylor Swift is an unstoppable force and continues to set records,” Ticketmaster wrote in its explanation note over the fiasco before cancelling the public sale. Ticketmaster could have managed the whole affair better, but perhaps it didn’t quite foresee the unprecedented rush this time round. According to reports, ticket resellers on sites like StubHub cashed in on the fervour, trying to sell $28,000 (Rs 22 lakh) per ticket.

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Swift was also the top trophy winner at the MTV Europe Music Awards that aired live on November 13, taking home the awards for Best Artist, Best Pop, and both Best Video and Best Longform Video for ‘All Too Well’ — the 10 Minute Version or Taylor’s Version. The track, co-written with Liz Rose, who has worked with Swift on seventeen of her officially released songs, including ‘You Belong with Me’, was originally part of her fourth studio album, ‘Red’ (2012).

However, after Swift got embroiled in a dispute with Scooter Braun — the high-profile manager who handles artists like Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber — and Big Machine Records over the rights to the masters of her first six studio albums, including ‘Red’, she chose to re-record each of the albums under a new label, Republic Records. ‘Red’ (Taylor’s Version) was released on November 12 last year.

‘All Too Well’

On November 16, Swift was nominated for the Grammys for ‘All Too Well’ in the Song of the Year category. The 10-minute-long track is a slow-burn that evokes the painful process of recovering from a crushing heartbreak. A blend of country, rock, folk and pop, the song is in the vein of cathartic songwriting Swift has made a mark with. Moving on after a failed romantic relationship is never easy; Swift’s refrain, “I remember it all too well” underlines how one can remain frozen in time in its immediate aftermath, filled with longing and assaulted by the memories of the relationship. “Time won’t fly/It’s like I’m paralyzed by it,” she croons. If you have loved and lost, this line, a lover’s lament, is likely to touch a chord with you: ‘you kept me like a secret, but I kept you like an oath.’

Swift is the first and only woman solo artist to have won the Grammy (for Album Of The Year) thrice for her solo recordings: ‘Fearless’ (2009), ‘1989’ (2015) and ‘Folklore’ (2020). If she wins the 2023 Grammy in the Song of the Year category — which, I have a hunch, she will — it will be a first. ‘All Too Well 10’ is the song I’m most proud of, out of anything I’ve written. The fact that it’s nominated for Song of the Year at the Grammys, an award I’ve never won, that honors the songwriting… it’s momentous and surreal,” the 11-time Grammy-winner wrote in a post on Instagram, where she has 232 million followers.

On November 17, Swift topped 50 million YouTube subscribers; she is now the eighth music artist in the world with more than 50 million subscribers. If you are wondering about the other seven, here they are: Blackpink (83 million); BangtanTV of K-pop group BTS (71.7 million); Justin Bieber (70.5 million); Marshmello (56 million); Eminem (54.1 million); Ed Sheeran (52.6 million); and Ariana Grande (52 million).

From country to the mainstream

Swift breaking charts, and winning hearts, however, is not a recent phenomenon. The singer-songwriter has enchanted music lovers with her infectious melodies woven around love, loss and longing — picked from her own life — ever since she burst on the country-pop scene with a self-titled debut album in 2006, three years after the Pennsylvania native arrived in Nashville to become a country star. All of 16, she co-wrote the 11 songs on her debut album. The five songs from ‘Taylor Swift’ that she released as singles — ‘Our Song,’ ‘Teardrops on My Guitar,’ ‘Picture to Burn’ and ‘Should’ve Said No,’ and ‘Tim McGraw’ — were certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America after they registered sales of one million copies.

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By the time she turned 24, Swift was firmly in an enviable position as an artist. She had released four multi-platinum-selling studio albums, undertaken three sell-out world tours and amassed a gigantic fortune. In May 2012, ‘Forbes’ named her the world’s highest paid celebrity under 30; with earnings in the previous 12 months topping $57 million, she had surpassed Justin Bieber and Rihanna.

Not the one to rest on her laurels, Swift has constantly evolved to up her game. Behind her skyrocket-rise to stardom and her mature songcraft, there is hard work. A great deal of it. Bursting at the seams with talent, she is a rare pop phenomenon who has managed to completely cross over from country to the mainstream. “Swift shed her country roots like they were a second skin; it was a necessary molting to reveal she was perhaps the sharpest, savviest populist singer/songwriter of her generation, one who could harness the zeitgeist, make it personal and, just as impressively, perform the reverse,” writes music critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine in his introduction to the artist on Spotify, where Swift has 8,43,65,133 folks as her monthly listeners.

‘folklore’ and ‘Evermore’

When the world had retreated indoors during the pandemic, Swift was quietly working on the 16-track ‘folklore’ (2020), her eighth studio album that was recorded in isolation. It marks a shift in her singing-songwriting career: while she has built her musical catalogue based on her own life and experiences, ‘folklore’ focuses on telling others’ stories. Under the lockdown, Swift got a home studio built. She roped in producer Jack Antonoff, who has worked on all of her albums since ‘1989’, and a new collaborator — Aaron Dessner, guitarist of The National. The three worked remotely, and in absolute secrecy.

Swift had to cancel the concert tour for her seventh studio album ‘Lover’ (2019), but the confinement could not contain the damburst of her artistic impulses to create new music. ‘folklore,’ as Swiftians would vouch, is her most mature, subtle and experimental work to date. Subdued and autumnal, the tracks on the album unravel in an alternative-rock and folk-inspired setting. Swift turns over a new leaf in the department of lyrics, too. Stepping away from diary entries, she turns her songs into poignant short stories; many of them are linked throughout the album.

‘folklore’ spurred Swift to a new creative height, bringing her to a new stage in her career. It was no wonder then it got an overwhelming response. The album caused a sensation, breaking the Guinness World Record for the biggest first day on Spotify for a female act. Furthermore, it topped the charts worldwide and became the highest-selling album of the year in the US. That was not the end. It was also voted as the album of the year in Billboard. Swift was nominated for five awards at the 2021 Grammys and ‘folklore’ won Album Of The Year, making her the first woman to win the award three times and only the fourth artist to do so overall. The three others include: Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder and Paul Simon.

Taylor Swift albums

The huge success of ‘folklore’ encouraged Swift to keep on writing and experimenting with new songs. “My world felt opened up creatively. There was a point that I got to as a writer who only wrote very diaristic songs that I felt it was unsustainable for my future moving forward. It felt too hot of a microscope… On my bad days, I would feel like I was loading a cannon of clickbait when that’s not what I want for my life,” she said in an interview, adding that her new-found ability to ‘create characters in this mythological American town’ in ‘folklore’ opened up a whole new world of songwriting for her.

‘folklore’ was released in July 2020. Towards the end of the year, Swift was at it again. On December 11, she released her ninth album, ‘Evermore,’ which explores the same musical and lyrical worlds as ‘folklore’. Musically, however, it’s even more experimental; Swift seems to wander into several zones she is at home in — from hushed, fingerpicked folk songs to pop country. “..We just couldn’t stop writing songs. To try and put it more poetically, it feels like we were standing on the edge of the folklorian woods and had a choice — to turn and go back or to travel further into the forest of this music. We chose to wander deeper in… I’ve never done this before,” Swift wrote in an Instagram post.

On ‘Evermore,’ Swift collaborated with other artists like Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and Marcus Mumford, among others. “Swift is making the quietest, most elegant music of her career. … After a career spent striving for the next level of stardom, she has discovered a more sustainable path for evolution,” gushed Pitchfork, believed to be the bible of the Indie, in its review of the album. The acclaim for ‘Evermore’ — both critical and commercial — followed, making it a smash hit album. It debuted at No. 1 on the US Billboard 200 and remained there for four weeks, eventually topping the Billboard Year-End Top Album Sales chart for 2021, even though it was released in December 2020.

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‘Evermore’ became Swift’s third album in a span of just 16 months to sell a million copies in the US in its opening week. With three back-to-back hit albums (two of them standing out for their alternative and introspective electro-folk), Swift proved that her reinvention has been thorough and earnest and rewarding. “Making ‘folklore’ and ‘Evermore’ was one of the most unique, cathartic, extraordinary experiences I’ ve ever had,” Swift said in her speech at BRIT Awards 2021.


The 13-track intimate and moody album marks Swift’s return to pop as well as to her quintessential personal terrain. Co-produced by Jack Antonoff, it also features a duet with Lana Del Rey: ‘Snow on the Beach’. In these songs, Swift reminisces on 13 sleepless nights throughout her life. She has said these songs are “the stories of 13 sleepless nights scattered throughout my life”. She wrote in an Instagram post in the prelude to the album’s midnight launch: “This is a collection of music written in the middle of the night, a journey through terrors and sweet dreams…The floors we pace and the demons we face. For all of us who have tossed and turned and decided to keep the lanterns lit and go searching – hoping that just maybe, when the clock strikes 12 … we’ll meet ourselves.”

For most of the last decade, Swift has been in a phase of her career that was marked by a distinct chaos. Besides her feuds and disagreements with the likes of Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry and Kanye West, she also had to wage battles with the industry’s bigwigs to regain control over her masters. During the last two years, however, Swift has reoriented herself and recast her past.

‘Midnights’ is Swift’s fifth album in three years. In modern pop music, it’s a feat. If you listen to ‘Midnights,’ however, there is not a single track that will appear rushed or hurried. In fact, its USP is its unhurriedness, its restless-slumber quotient. In the creative phase that Swift is in right now, she will create another record soon, create history for something or the other. It seems she is on this planet to do spectacular things, make history, many times over. And there’s no stopping her.

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