Country-starlet-turned-pop-sensation and obsessed cat lady, Taylor Swift is currently on top of the world. With her record-shattering album Midnights and the viral Eras Tour, predicted to be the highest-grossing concert tour in history, she seems to have permeated most demographics in an age of highly individualized entertainment consumption. Swift’s cultural omnipresence and astonishing commercial performance no doubt contributed to her being named Time’s 2023 Person of the Year.

As the singer-songwriter’s popularity grows, it is no surprise that so does resentment. However, while the world continues to watch the star’s ascent, we seem to have forgotten one thing: Taylor Swift is a human being. A flesh-and-blood, imperfect woman with a penchant for the year 1989, autumn foliage, and millennial laughing emojis. The artist herself remains painfully conscious of her own shortcomings. Addressing the public’s perception of her persona, in “Anti-Hero” she sings: Did you hear my covert narcissism/ I disguise as altruism?/ like some kind of congressman.”

Although perceived by many as the epitome of a hyper-commercialized radio songwriting machine, Swift has changed little since her 2006 self-titled debut album. She has stayed true to her original ambitions of writing and sharing songs about her own personal experience. Swift’s discography tells a self-referential story, complete with recurring characters, places and themes. Her œuvre consists of a growing collection of songs authentic to the person Taylor was at the time she composed them. As opposed to other global popstars, Swift is credited as a lyricist on every single one of her songs, with more than 60 tracks having Swift as the sole writer, including her 2008 hit “Love Story, as well as the entirety of her 2010 album Speak Now. This grants Swift’s songs a feeling of intimacy beloved by millions worldwide. Taylor’s undeniable songwriting talent gives a personal touch to her work that might not necessarily be present in the average radio hit. “You call me up again just to break me like a promise / So casually cruel in the name of being honest,” an extract from the bridge of Swift’s “All Too Well,” illustrates the artist’s writing chops while crafting a deeply personal and compelling narrative.

Aside from being a gifted writer, Taylor Swift believes in the fair compensation of artists for their work. In a 2014 op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, she brought attention to the changing structure of music consumption caused by streaming services and how this could disrupt the livelihoods of artists worldwide. She noted that the increasingly popular streaming services, which pay artists a fraction of a cent per stream, have not sufficiently compensated for recently decreasing album sales. In the article, she wrote: “Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for.” The same year, she withdrew her music from Spotify, advocating for fairer compensation for artists. In 2015, she wrote a letter that ultimately convinced Apple Music to start compensating artists for streams received from users during the service’s 3-month free trial period.

The Pennsylvania native is also known for her philanthropy. She contributed one million dollars to both the Nashville tornado and Louisiana flood relief efforts. She quietly aided fans in difficult financial situations amidst the first Covid lockdown. She awarded 100 thousand dollars each to her drivers after the US leg of the Eras tour, and donates to food banks in every city she performs in.

However, her generosity extends past simply handing out money. In 2014, she sent out Christmas presents to unexpecting fans in what she called “Swiftmas.” She is also known to have invited hundreds of fans into her homes to so-called “secret sessions” where, along with the artist, they could listen to Taylor’s upcoming album before its official release and try her freshly-baked (albeit sometimes burned) cookies.

Through her famous re-recording process, wherein she painstakingly recreates and republishes her first six studio albums, Swift has demonstrated to the entire world her belief in the value of owning one’s own work. Having signed to an independent music label at only 14 years old, she bound herself to a six-album contract with the possibility of purchasing the rights to the master recordings after the sixth album. According to Swift however, this opportunity was never presented to her, with Big Machine Records selling the masters to a third party for an alleged $300 million instead. To devalue the old recordings, she embarked on a risky journey of re-recording the old albums, with the notable addition of never-before-heard songs (“vault tracks”) that did not make the cut the first time around. The re-recording process has proven to be a massive success, with last year’s 1989 (Taylor’s Version) – a re-recording of Swift’s 2014 album 1989 – breaking the record for Swift’s largest sales week in her 18-year career. This success has set an important precedent, inspiring other artists to reclaim the rights to their masters.

And lest we forget: Taylor Swift brings millions of people around the globe together. The Swifties, (in)famous for their unwavering loyalty, are often criticized for their admiration for a woman they do not know. However, what is overlooked is the real connection and feeling of community that Swift and her art foster. Paradoxically, each and every Taylor Swift concert, event, and party is a collective celebration of individuality, with fans exchanging self-made “friendship bracelets” and singing their favorite songs at the top of their lungs. Every outfit is a reference to an era or song, constantly reinterpreting Swift’s work with a personal touch.

Ultimately, Taylor Swift is an example of a powerful and independent woman in a world where positions of power remain largely male-dominated. Having endured slut-shaming for dating in her twenties, criticism for allegedly writing solely about her break-ups, and scrutiny for looking “too surprised” at award shows, she has burned her own path in the music industry and redefined longevity by peaking 18 years into her career. In between baking chai cookies and playing sold out shows to millions of fans, Taylor Alison Swift has managed to stay true to her roots — “My hope for the future, not just in the music industry, but in every young girl I meet . . . is that they all realize their worth and ask for it.”

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