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A Generation of Swifties: Investigating the Appeal of Taylor Swift's Music

Music & Podcasts

November 13, 2023

Taylor Swift is the queen of the modern music industry. Unarguably. The Eras Tour can serve as a mere peek at the influence of her music empire.

According to research done by QuestionPro, the tour's economic valuation was also estimated to be $5 billion, higher than the GDP of 50 countries. The overall number is $6.3 billion in the US and Canada. Other economic agencies projected an impact as high as $80 billion globally. Perhaps the number of the audience attending it would better reflect the impact: in the city of Tennessee alone, a single concert on Sunday reached roughly 71,000 showgoers and a three-night total nearly eclipsed 212,000.

Taylor has been the queen of pop music for over a decade now. Each of her new albums eclipsed the last. With 10 and 4 re-recorded albums, she has been oppugned and questioned but has never been out of style (get it?).

When Midnights first came out, listeners were dubious about the Lana Del Ray-styled transition: she suddenly turned her composition from mellow folklore and country reminiscence to a rich, dark rock/pop composure. As much as they were shocked, listeners still emptied their pockets. Why? Because Taylor Swift is automatically recognized as the next big music trend. If Midnights was taking on fragility, revenge, and self-parody as themes, we know what everyone would be singing for the next few months.

ActionVance from Unsplash

The Lyrics

A large reason for the captivity of Taylor’s music stems from the fact that she’s an unrivaled lyricist. When you click into any of her albums, you’ll see a list of song names, most of which are nouns—symbolizations of time or tokens of love—all of which are transporters that take you to the time and place the story took place. You have “cardigan,” “mirrorball,” “august,” “invisible string,” “betty,” and “the lakes” in the album folklore alone.

All of this is the epitome of the appeal of Taylor’s lyrics: the power to encapsulate emotions inside symbolizations and euphemisms instead of direct outlets. These might sound like an easy literary device, but it’s rare and difficult to achieve in the modern music industry. TikTok tunes encourage songwriters to sacrifice the attempt to build transcending romantic environments and instead focus on breeding earworms that people can’t get out of their heads.

Taylor’s songs usually start with extremely detailed snippets of romance in a relationship, I guess you could call them “sweet nothings.” Because in truth, the things that make the listeners invest in the relationship itself—regardless of whether it’s true or not—are the details that embed the narrations instead of the loud, dramatic declarations of love, also known as emotional catharsis. Look at the beginning of Maroon from Midnights:

When the morning came we

Were cleaning incense off your

vinyl shelf 'cause we lost track of time again.

Laughing with my feet in your lap

Like you were my closest friend.

Mick Haupt from Unsplash

This could be a depiction of anybody’s relationship—a secret event that becomes a tradition among an intimate couple. You could almost picture yourself standing with your boyfriend/girlfriend, leaning on a wall beside the sandal-colored vinyl shelf, talking about god knows what. Looking back on it, you had no idea what your topic of discussion was, but you remember losing track of time getting drunk on this feeling.

One can find this style of narration in a vast majority of Taylor’s lyrics. Rewind to the Reputation era, even with the rock-and-roll vent-like music style, this “MO” of Taylor’s still manage to get encapsulated. Here’s a few lines from Delicate in Reputation:

Dive bar on the east side, where you at?

Phone lights up my nightstand in the black

Come here, you can meet me in the back

Dark jeans and your Nikes, look at you

Oh damn, never seen that color blue

Notice how the characters in her narrations are all incredibly unique, with their slightest details captured to create a 3D figure. Speaking of the Reputation era, there’s no way we can ignore Taylor Swift’s multiple genre transitions.

The Transitions

The first few albums, Taylor Swift, Fearless, Speak Now, and Red are all works of her country music heritage. Then in 2014, she published 1989, a complete and total treasure of pop music. Following this album is probably the darkest age of her personal music career when she was targeted by the snake insult that started from the Kanye West microphone incident.

It was three years later that Taylor released a new album, the phoenix-from-the-ashes styled revenge album Reputation that included hip hop and rock & roll elements in its production. After that, Lover, folklore, evermore, and Midnights all became mashups of modern jazz, hip-hop, or even folklore elements with their tunes.

The clear distinction between her different eras of music might be the easiest to understand with some contrast. In Dear John from Speak Now, she wrote about being manipulated in a relationship:

Well maybe it's me

And my blind optimism to blame

Or maybe it's you and your sick need

To give love and take it away

In Reputation, the tables completely turned. Look What You Made Me Do brought so many surprises including the lines where she no longer identifies as the victim but the believer of karma:

The world moves on, another day, another drama, drama

But not for me, not for me, all I think about is karma

And then the world moves on but one thing's for sure

Maybe I got mine, but you'll all get yours

As she ventures into dozens of different musical genres, she continues to polish her production skills. A new positive cycle of creation starts. The more she steps out of her comfort zone, the more success she gains, and the less she’s afraid to risk even more.

In terms of business management, innovation in products or goods generally helps maintain steady customer loyalty. The mystery of what she’ll bring next to our ears is what keeps her fans and the entire music industry hooked.

The Person Behind It All

Finally, there’s the appeal of her music that doesn’t quite have anything to do with her music but is what really made it sensational. In her songs, no matter the era, the person and the music merge into one. Take the Reputation transition for example, since that’s what most would identify as her most prominent stage of metamorphosis, where the snake actually becomes the butterfly.

Before this, she endured hate, shame, and a sexual assault lawsuit. It is with this knowledge of what she has been through in three years that fans click on the songs in the album. Open any YouTube video of fans reacting to …Ready For It for the first time and you’ll see them covering their mouths with their brows furrowed. Listeners could feel the genuine emotions behind the words, the beats, and the tunes. And when they do, they are building connections with the person who wrote the songs. “Why do people tune in to re-recorded albums? It’s literally the same song sung by the same person with the same words and the same tunes.” I’ve had non-Swifties ask me before. I can genuinely say it’s because we feel connections with Taylor as a person.

Omid Armin from Unsplash

This is how you create a pop queen: not by ripping off other songwriters’ tunes, not by screaming out how depressed you were after a breakup, not by getting a driver’s license, but by relating and painting entire landscapes with music.

Yolanda Liu
1,000+ pageviews

Writer since May, 2023 · 10 published articles

Yolanda Liu is a 10th Grade student from Shanghai, China. She's got three major passions in life: basketball, literature and good food. She plans on writing her own novel in the next two years. When she's not buried in the world of words, you can find her on the basketball court or having a good time with her friends.