Taylor Swift is the most recognizable face in pop music, and for good reason: She has won a slew of awards over her 20-plus year career. But behind the five-foot-11-inch blonde’s cherubic smile is a calculating mind. She writes or co-writes every song on her albums, and she is a perfectionist who wants to be in control of all aspects of her career and life. “She works really hard, and she’s super competitive,” says Kellie Pickler. “She’s one of those girls who is very driven and a lot smarter than her age.”
The Pennsylvania native first found her musical niche as a country singer, writing songs about her high-school love life and entering local talent shows. By the time she was 13, a development deal with RCA Records had landed her the attention of recording industry veterans, and she started performing her own material at venues across Nashville. It was there that she caught the eye of Scott Borchetta, the exec who was starting Big Machine Records. He signed her, and she began writing with established producers like Nathan Chapman, who helmed demos for Swift on her debut album, Fearless.
She worked with a variety of musicians and producers on her next album, RED. This time, she focused less on her personal stories and more on the societal themes that would inform her later work. She paired up with Max Martin and Shellback, who would become some of her most frequent collaborators, as well as songwriters like Liz Rose and Aaron Dessner, and incorporated new genres into her sound, including heartland rock and dubstep.
By the end of the album, Taylor had captured a wide audience, and her RED Tour became the highest-grossing country music trek of all time. By 2018, she was dominating both the pop and country charts, with her fifth album, Reputation, nominated for Album of the Year at the 61st Grammy Awards. It topped the Billboard 200 for five weeks, and spawned a pair of chart-topping singles, one with Calvin Harris and another with ZAYN.
The record-breaking Reputation rewrote the rules for how Taylor could be perceived by fans and the media, as she continued to take a stand against the pantyless TMZ culture that had ruined careers of Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez. She fought back with songs like “Look What You Made Me Do” and “Shake It Off,” while also embracing her image as the face of a younger generation, with a line of clothing that pushed the boundaries of social norms.
A flurry of viral videos followed, and Swift’s fame reached a whole new level. In January 2022, New York University’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music introduced the first-ever course on her career, and other universities soon followed suit, offering classes that cover topics ranging from her evolution as a creative music entrepreneur to discourses on youth and girlhood in popular culture. For many, taylor swift is more than just a pop star — she’s an icon.