Taylor Swift is pretty awesome. Okay, we’ve known that for a while. But she’s awesome for reasons other than you may think.
Yes she’s had longevity. She’s had her personal life directed for a decade and kept her dignity. She’s a versatile singer She’s a hit machine in multiple genres. And when she won four more American Music Awards this week, it raised her total to 23 and makes her the biggest winner of all time for the show.
All those are achievements in and of themselves. But they are also byproducts of the thing that makes her truly remarkable:
Taylor Swift is the first, and arguably the only, mega star in the age of social media.
But wait, we hear you saying. What about P!nk? Beyoncé! Gwen Stefani! They’re all superstars with good social media game. True. But they were all big before we were InstaTweetBooking. The fact that they are still big is a testament to their talent.
But Taylor came on the scene right around the time YouTube was taking off and we were leaving our mutual friend Tom at MySpace and migrating en masse to Facebook. With MTV having long ago abandoned the idea of playing music videos, YouTube would prove to be a crucial component for emerging artists to develop a following.
She has one of the biggest voices on social, with 112 million followers on Instagram alone. And people are listening. When she voiced her political opinions for the first time, voter registration spiked.
A Little Crazy Goes A Long Way
Of course, she had the good fortune to get humiliated on live television. When Kanye crashed her acceptance speech at the 2009 VMAs, the country crooner simultaneously gained America’s sympathy and became America’s sweetheart. It became a viral moment before we were calling them viral moments.
Be honest: when Taylor beat out Beyoncé for Best Tour at the AMAs this week we were all holding our breath to see if Kanye was gonna rush the stage. It’s one of those iconic moments that is permanently in the cultural zeitgeist.
After that people started paying attention. She performed a very cool country hit, Mean, at the Grammys and then turned into a Pop Hit Machine. 1989 went platinum in its first week and sold more than six million copies.
Her follow-up album, Reputation, picked up where 1989 left off, selling 4.5 million copies in the first 11 months. And the release of this album completes her contract with her label, making her a very coveted free agent. The musical equivalent of Aaron Rogers.
All the while, she’s dated a string of high-profile, A-List stars. They didn’t work out for one reason or another. But she keeps going while the world watches, living her life the way she wants.
But her love interests and bad blood feuds (Kanye, Katy Perry) didn’t just play out publicly, they played out on her playlists! She’s channeled all her pain, heartbreak, anger, and happiness through her songs.
In the old days, haters could shape the narrative. But if her fans want to know what’s up, they go straight to the source. Even if Taylor isn’t posting super personal stuff, she always has a positive message, or a look inside her tour. Or her cats. Her cats are almost as big an internet sensation as she is!
Back in the day, Janet Jackson sang about being in Control. But she could never have dreamed of the getting the level of control Taylor has over her career.
And the scope and scale would be impossible in an earlier era. Swift has mastered and manipulated the technological tools at her disposal in a way no one ever has. She got in on the ground floor and has grown along with the apps that occupy more and more of our time.
Someone someday will do it better. But no one can do it first again. Taylor Swift is a one-of-a-kind.
The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation
Champagne. Because she is the toast of the entertainment world, and will be for a long time.