Taylor Swift: A Pop Culture Force

You can’t possibly live during the 2010s without hearing a Taylor Swift song. Her pop culture presence is everywhere since teenagers jammed into “Teardrops on My Guitar.” She’s one of the best-selling music artists, one of the greatest artists of all time, one of the greatest songwriters, and one of the most influential people in the world. She’s also named Woman of the Decade (2010s) by Billboard and Artist of the Decade (2010s) by American Music Awards.

Swift is known for her narrative lyricism, and the media portrayed her as the girl who gets into failed relationships only to write about them to make another hit song. To the casual observer, Swift is nothing more than a pop star, but she’s more than that. Her music has latched into her listeners in deeply intimate ways that you can’t quantify. She’s actively using her platform to shed light on social issues, especially injustices within the music industry, to ensure that the generation of musicians that comes after her would thrive better. She’s also a smart businesswoman with savvy business decisions that paved the way for artists to get what they really deserve.

Here are the ways Taylor Swift made a significant impact in pop culture:

Her lyrics felt so personal yet so relatable.

Taylor Swift has built her career channeling her personal emotions and writing songs about them, which turns out to become hits. Swift described herself primarily as a songwriter, writing songs about life experiences and letting her voice be a channel to get those lyrics across. Employing a “diaristic” approach, she starts writing a song by identifying an emotion before deciding on the melody. She described songwriting as a way to help her get through love, loss, loneliness, sadness, and growing up. And in the process, she made a generation relate to her.

She made a bulletproof foundation for a career built around her strange ability to pinpoint crucial and specific moments of intimacy and turn them into universal anthems of love, heartbreak, and loss that became the soundtrack of her fan’s real lives.

Her early success made sense. She was this teenager who was so relatable, as she told her crush, “you belong with me.” But she’s more than that – she’s a person people can see themselves in as they navigate their own lives and romances. The recurring themes of her songs were love and romance, but she has shown to have a complete grasp on heartbreak and pain as well.

Fearless (2008) featured a fairy tale imagery depicting teenage infatuation, while Speak Now explored negative emotions from a lost romance. Speak Now (2010) is also her entirely self-written album that charted on the Billboard Hot 200 for 137 weeks, proving that she’s one of the most promising songwriters of her generation.

As her career goes on, her stellar songwriting never stopped coming. Red (2012) delved into toxic relationships, and this album aged so gracefully, landing on different “best albums of the 2010s” lists. 1989 became her pop masterpiece, where she embraced nostalgia and positivity after failed relationships and criticisms over her personal life. 1989 (2014) also gave her second Grammys, making her the first woman ever to be honored with the award twice.

Swift continued to be personal yet relatable with Reputation (2017), which was inspired by the media scrutiny surrounding her. This album helped her break the Rolling Stones’ record for having the highest-grossing US tour in history. She capped off the decade with Lover (2019), an album that talked about her detailed realization of the full spectrum of love.

She surprised fans with her surprise 2020 albums Folklore and Evermore, which are both inspired by escapism and romanticism to explore fictional narratives. These albums did not reference her personal life, but she imposed her emotions onto imagined characters that freed her from the mental stress caused by tabloid attention. With these albums, she welcomed a new songwriting direction and stopped worrying about commercial success.

Hearing Taylor weave in intimate details – like leaving her scarf at his ex-boyfriend’s sister’s house, or her standing in front of a guy saying she’s sorry for one December night, or that she wears T-shirts and sneakers while the other girl wears short skirts and high heels – seemed so specific and detailed to reach a larger audience. But that’s precisely the candor that made her best songs feel so ubiquitous.

She played a huge role in shaping the modern country music scene.

Taylor Swift started her career as a country singer-songwriter holding a guitar before she turned out to be the pop superstar with grand concert tours. She played an important role in shaping the modern country music scene as the first artist whose fame reached the world beyond the United States.

When Swift released her lead single “Tim McGraw” in 2006, Big Machine Records was still in its infancy. Swift spent much of the year promoting her album with a radio tour, TV appearances, and opening for Rascal Flatts. Although record industry peers initially disapproved of Big Machine Records’ signing of a 16-year-old singer-songwriter, she tapped in a previously unknown market: teen girls who listen to country music.

Swift broke into the country music scene in 2006 with the release of her eponymous debut studio album that included the hit singles “Teardrops on my Guitar,” “Picture to Burn,” and “Our Song.” With “Our Song,” Taylor Swift became the youngest person to single-handedly sing and write a number one song on the Billboard charts. And after she rose to fame, country labels became more interested in signing young singers who wrote their own music.

Quartz considers Taylor Swift as the most important artist of the millennial era. Her performances with guitars ushered in the “Taylor Swift factor,” a phenomenon in which media outlets call the rise in guitar sales to women.

She changed the way music streaming operates.

Media outlets consider Swift’s million-selling albums in the 2010s an anomaly during the streaming-dominated music industry as the album era declined. She’s the only artist to have four albums that sold over a million copies within one week. Swift’s million sales figures only proved that she is the one bending the music industry to her will.

Not many people can convince Apple to change their business model in just a matter of hours unless, of course, they’re Taylor Swift. In 2015, the then-25-year-old posted an open letter to the tech giant on her Tumblr page. She explained that she is withholding her 1989 album from their music platform due to Apple’s policy of not giving the artists royalties during the three-month trial period. Apple listened and reversed the payment policy of its streaming service to cater to Swift.

She also notably withdrew her entire back catalog from Spotify, arguing that their ad-supported, free service undermined the premium service that provides higher royalties for songwriters.

Some people accused her of being greedy or opportunistic in denying users access to her music. Yet Swift defended herself, saying that she was making a principled stand on behalf of artists in general. “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. I’m not willing 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,” Taylor Swift said.

Taylor believes that music must not be free and selectively, hand-picking which streaming services can have access to her material allowed her to shape how streaming operates.

After she was heard, she re-added her entire catalog, plus 1989 to Spotify, Google Play, Amazon Music, and other digital streaming platforms in 2017.

She did not stay quiet about societal issues.

Just as she was candor in her lyrics, Taylor Swift is also vocal when it comes to societal issues that will impact the music industry, women, and America as a whole. Due to her openness, she inspired societal change in a way that made her platform even more influential.

In 2013, David Mueller, an ex-radio DJ, groped her at a 2013 meet and greet. Swift informed Mueller’s bosses of the incident, which got him fired. But he accused Swift of lying and sued her for damages from getting fired. Swift countersued him for sexual assault for nominal damages of only a dollar. After she won her symbolic $1 – which she sought out for anyone who felt silenced by sexual assault – the national hotline for Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) saw a 35% increase in calls over the weekend after she testified.

Swift has been recognized as a feminist icon by different media outlets. During the 2008 US Presidential election, she promoted the Every Woman Counts campaign to engage women in the political process. She’s also one of the many country artists to record a PSA for the Vote Country campaign. In her acceptance speech at the Billboard Women in Music summit in 2019, she actively spoke out against misogyny and sexism. She came out with a song contemplating the misogynist double standards she had to face as a woman in the music industry with “The Man.”

She has also been outspoken against LGBT discrimination. After the murder of an openly gay teenager Larry King in 2008, she recorded a GLSEN PSA aiming to condone violence and fighting hate crimes. Her song “Mean” was an anti-bullying anthem that deals in part with homophobia in high schools. The music video for “Mean” was nominated for an MTV VMA social activism award in 2011.

Besides these, Swift is also a vocal critic of police brutality, white supremacy, and systemic racism in the United States.

She ushered in a new era of one-on-one fan interaction.

Taylor Swift is famous for being accessible to her fans, and that’s why her fanbase, the “Swifties,” love her. But when she decided to host a top-secret fan streaming session for 1989, it was a game-changer that ushered in a new era of one-on-one fan interaction.

In 2014, she invited groups of dedicated super fans from all over the US and UK to come to one of her houses for a surprise. They had no idea that they would be the first to hear her brand-new album while eating pizza and taking polaroid selfies with her. Her secret sessions endeared Swift even further to her fans and made her a viral sensation as the already social-media-savvy Swifties shared their experiences all over social media.

She is also known to be something like a fairy godmother to her fans. She helped some pay off their college tuition fees, flew to Ohio to attend a fan’s bridal shower, visited fans in hospitals, and delivered personally wrapped Christmas presents by mail and in-person in an event called “Swiftmas.” She considers it her responsibility to be conscious of her influence on her fans.

She trademarked her lyrics.

Because her lyrics are so original and marketable, her intellectual property rights management and holding company, TAS Rights Management (do you know she has her own rights company?), filed for 73 trademarks regarding her and her 1989 era memes. “Party Like It’s 1989,” “Cause We Never Go Out of Style,” “This Sick Beat,” “Nice to Meet You, Where You Been?” and “Could Show You Incredible Things” are legally trademarked phrases belonging to her. Each one, chosen from lyrics in 1989, is prohibited from being printed on almost everything, from guitars to T-shirts to tattoos without a license.