Taylor Swift: the path to world domination

The American singer breaks artistic, economic and social and political influence records

Montse Gironés i Paula Solanas
6 min
Taylor Swift in Los Angeles on February 4, at the Grammy Awards. CAROLINE BREHMAN / EFE

BarcelonaEvery good pop icon ends up summed up in a couple of traits that make it perfectly recognizable. We can see Elvis Presley with his toupee, John Lenon with round glasses, Michael Jackson with the fedora and the protagonist of this story of country songs and crowded stadiums with hers. eyeliner sharp and lips painted an intense red. The American Taylor Swift (West Reading, Pennsylvania, 1989) was named by the magazine time person of the year 2023. The same year his tour Eras Tour It began to travel around the world and became an omnipresent cultural event.

In the last four years, Swift has broken so many records that it's hard to keep track. The last thing is to be the only artist who has won four-time Grammy for album of the year. Businesswoman, producer, director, actress and above all icon, at 34 years old she is at the peak of her career. It seems like it has just begun, but it has been more than 18 years full of successes, challenges and also obstacles within the music industry.

The role in pop culture

The Taylor Swift phenomenon must be framed within a context, as explained by Dafne Escandell, musical producer and composer at the School of New Interactive Technologies (ENTI) of the UB. "His musical progress cannot be understood without his role within pop culture," says Escandell. Among other characteristics, the "innocent" image and the ability to act as a narrator stand out, a voice capable of telling stories and that connected with her fans from the beginning.

At age 12, and after watching a documentary about country singer Faith Hill, Swift convinced her parents to move the family from Pennsylvania to Nashville to try to get a record deal. He signed with Big Machine Records, an emerging record label. She was a teenager of only 16 years old when in 2006 she published her first country album, which she named after herself, Taylor Swift. At that moment his rise to fame began. Songs about his experience in high school, where he wasn't popular, where the boys he liked didn't pay attention to him, and where he didn't know who he was, were received with open arms by teenagers who felt the same way.

Elly McCausland, professor and pioneer in teaching a subject specialized in Taylor Swift and literature at the University of Ghent, in Belgium, explains that one of the keys to her success is that fans feel that the singer "validates their emotions when they have been told they are too emotional. He achieves this with personal lyrics that at the same time appeal to collective experience. There are already at least seven universities that offer courses on her, her music and her business. "They say there's a Taylor Swift song for everything. It could be called a modern classic," says McCausland. ~BK_LINE_HOP~

Reputation and contamination

But Taylor Swift wasn't always welcomed with open arms. In 2016, after a public scandal in which rapper Kanye West and his ex-partner, businesswoman Kim Kardashian, betrayed and humiliated her, the artist disappeared from social networks and the press turned its back on him "in a booming year." of cancel culture," Escandell recalls. However, this has become the turning point of his career. Swift reappeared "facing accusations with musical arguments" with the album Reputation (2017), a turn from his previous albums and an alleged pop against the scrutiny of the press and social networks.

After thirteen years of contract with Big Machine Records, in 2018 Swift signed with Republic Records, so that all of the singer's masters (that is, the songs, copyrights, lyrics, recordings, photographs and videos) had become the domain of Big Machine owner Scott Borchetta. Six albums published between 2006 and 2017 that suddenly stopped belonging to him. At no time did Swift have the opportunity to buy her entire catalogue, and Borchetta sold the record company for 300 million dollars (265 million euros) to businessman Scooter Braun, who was then managing the careers of artists such as Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande and Demi Lovato. .

To regain full control over her music and her life, Swift decided that she would re-record the six albums with new songs that she was not allowed to publish at the time because they were "too emotional." Escandell describes this re-recording of the masters as "a masterstroke" for his career. A strategy like this meant the incorporation of new fans. The bond between the singer and the fans was already almost unbreakable; From then on "it was established as an almost blood bond," says Escandell.

Since then Swift has re-recorded four of her six albums, now with the label Taylor's Version next to the original name to distinguish them from the first albums, in the hands of Braun. Latest, 1989 (Taylor's Version), was released in October 2023 and surpassed the sales of the original album, from 2015, during the first week: from 1.29 million to 1.65 million copies sold. Swift is a billionaire since 2023. "But she doesn't waste her power like others like Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates do. It's easier to identify with her as a normal person," explains McCausland. Even so, criticism has continued, also due to its environmental impact, especially due to its use of two private jets, which places it on the lists of celebrities more pollutants.

Taylor Swift at an Eras Tour concert in Chicago.

Political influence

For the first time in 2019, Swift took a stand regarding the US government. Although without ever getting completely wet, he has been identified as pro-democrat. Last year, after publishing an Instagram post asking young people to register to vote, there was an increase of 35,000 registrations, according to the platform. The European Commission wants to ask you to help mobilize the young vote for the 2024 European elections, coinciding with the passage of your tour of Europe during the spring. The BBC Podcast Global Story has already advanced the following question: "Could Swift change the results of the US election?" And it is not strange that the Democratic Party of the United States wait for a sign from taylor swift to give Joe Biden a boost in the foreseeable duel with Donald Trump in the November presidential elections.

Swift's presence in the last year has been unbeatable. Videos on TikTok, images of her on red carpets and, since September 2023, the networks have lit up with every appearance at an NFL game to support her new partner, American football player Travis Kelce. According to the brand consultancy Apex Marketing Group, Swift has generated a value of 306.8 million euros since appearing in the games of the Kansas City Chiefs, Kelce's team. The last Super Bowl final, won by the Chiefs, had 123.4 million viewers in the United States and was the live broadcast with the highest audience since the moon landing in 1969.

The $1 billion tour

In March 2023, the singer began the tribute tour to her discography, The Eras Tour. According to he Wall Street Journal, when the 151 concerts end at the end of 2024, will have been the largest tour in music history, estimated at more than $1 billion. For more than three and a half hours, Swift sings, dances, plays guitar, piano and talks to her fans. There are 44 songs without interruptions and 16 costume changes, dresses and shiny boots. Fans dress up with the theme of their albums and exchange friendship bracelets with each other.

The Taylor Swift effect impacts the local economy of each city you visit with your tour. At a time when runaway inflation invites us to do the opposite, a concert by the singer implies an excessive increase in consumption in many ways. According to a survey by the polling company QuestionPro, attendees of the American dates of their tour are spending around 1,300 euros per concert, including admission, accommodation, the chosen outfit, merchandising and expenses associated with this musical experience. In fact, this study ensures that when the tour ends it will have generated an economic impact of 5 billion dollars, more than the annual GDP of 50 countries. According to Pollstar – a data consultancy on the concert industry –, on average a ticket for one of the concerts on the tour costs 234 euros, with about 53,900 tickets sold for each show on average. Furthermore, in resale tickets have been offered for 3,500 euros.

Another proof of Swift's ability to monetize all the content she generates is the film she released in theaters about the tour. With 241 million euros raised worldwide, Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour It has become the highest-grossing concert film in history; The previous record was held by Michael Jackson.

Loyalty to the Swift Empire

Each album in the singer's discography represents an era, a specific aesthetic and a different color. Fans have always valued his ability to change music styles and reinvent himself. But the singer has also tried to find new audiences while maintaining the loyalty of her early fans. We must keep in mind that with Swift nothing is free, everything in her life and her music is planned and measured to the millimeter, as she herself explains in the song Mastermind, of the disk Midnights (2012). And this is how he has managed to build his empire.

"She has established herself as one of the most influential artists in the sector over the last twenty years. The possibility of this bubble deflating abruptly is an unrealistic scenario," defends Escandell. On April 19 he will release his eleventh album, The tortured poets department, in the middle of the tour, which fans believe will be a clear reference to her ex, British actor Joe Alwyn. “Fans won't get tired of listening to music, it's what they want. It remains to be seen if Swift will be able to keep up with them,” notes the producer.