The Pop History Dig

“Taylor Swift, Rising”
2003-2009

Taylor Swift at age 19, on October 22, 2008 cover of ‘Billboard’ music magazine, with a tag line below her name that reads: ‘Country’s Teen Queen Takes Her Music Global.’
Taylor Swift at age 19, on October 22, 2008 cover of ‘Billboard’ music magazine, with a tag line below her name that reads: ‘Country’s Teen Queen Takes Her Music Global.’
     Taylor Swift was a freshman sitting in her high school math class in Hendersonville, Tennessee when she began writing her first hit song.  She was 14 years old.  Within three years of that moment, her net worth began building to the tune of tens-of-millions-of-dollars.  After her first headlining concert tours in 2009 and 2010, she became a top star, generating corporate-level revenue.

     Initially a rising star in country music, Taylor Swift employed an array of talents to boost her career.  She was a songwriter, a savvy user of social media, a budding actress, a video editor, a dress designer, a poetry lover, and more.  In those early years, teens swarmed to her. Many of their moms did too, approvingly, as Taylor offered a clean-cut teen image.  She was then on the edge of her own teenage years, which gave her a special cachet with her audience.  Still, she grew up quickly in those years, projecting at times a wiser and more mature person well beyond her years.  She could be surprisingly business savvy one minute, and then gushingly teen the next, finding her way in the music world, though entitled to her teen exhuberances.

     Her first hit song — the one penned in high school — was titled “Tim McGraw.” It’s a song about teenage love — a timeless ingredient in songwriting, and one that became a specialty for Taylor.  “I’m in love with love,” she would later say, returning to that territory again and again in her songwriting.  More on that later.  Suffice it to say for the moment that Taylor Swift would prove she had a magic pen when it came to teen love and heartache.  “Tim McGraw,” for example, tells a tale of summer love about to end with the girl left behind.  She the freshmen, and he the college-bound senior.  “Their song” was one of those by country singer Tim McGraw, hence the song’s title. It held special meaning for them.  “…[W]hen you think Tim McGraw,” Swift writes in the lyrics, “I hope you think my favorite song / The one we danced to all night long …”

CD cover photo of  Taylor Swift’s first single, ‘Tim McGraw.’
CD cover photo of Taylor Swift’s first single, ‘Tim McGraw.’
     “Tim McGraw” began to get radio play in mid-2006, and by late January 2007, had risen to No. 6 on Billboard’s Hot Country chart.  “Tim McGraw” is the tune that first brought notice to this young singer-songwriter in the Nashville music world — and soon, much beyond.  For this song was only the first in a quick succession of other country and pop hits — along with top-selling albums, all kinds of music awards, magazine covers, a gazillion internet hits and video streams, TV appear- ances, and much more.  Her whirlwind rise to the top of both the country and pop music industries is redefining what a young kid, coming from practically nowhere, can achieve with a mix of innocence, moxie, helpful parents, and no small talent.

     In 2008, at the age of 19, Taylor Swift became the biggest-selling solo artist of the year with more than 7 million albums sold.  She was also breaking records on the internet for paid downloads and streaming videos.  In 2008, she was the most searched artist on MySpace with more than 200 million streams.  Forbes magazine ranked her at No. 4 on its annual “top earners” list of country musicians for 2008, giving her an estimated take of $18 million — just ahead of Tim McGraw and Brad Paisley, both at $16 million.  In the top three slots were Kenny Chesney at $65 million, Rascal Flatts at $60 million, and Toby Keith at $52 million.  But hey, Taylor Swift is just getting started.

 

Music, Roots & Rhyme

     Taylor Swift’s musical good fortune did not simply materialize out of the ether one day while musing in her ninth grade math class.  Her song-writing abilities began forming back in her early childhood.  She was a kid who liked poetry, among other things. “…Poetry was something that just stuck in my head and I was replaying those rhymes and try to think of my own…”  She read the Shel Silverstein poems and the Dr. Seuss books, and would later explain to Rolling Stone: “I noticed early on that poetry was something that just stuck in my head and I was replaying those rhymes and try to think of my own.”  In school, as the other kids complained about having to write poems, Taylor reveled in the challenge.  She would write multiple-page poems when most kids could hardly muster a line.  By the fourth grade she won a national contest for a poem called Monster In My Closet.  Taylor Swift remembers just having a really keen interest in rhyming.  “Poetry was the first thing that ever fascinated me about words and about writing,” she would later tell Rolling Stone.  “Poetry is what turned me into a songwriter.”

Young Taylor Swift and her mother, Andrea, 1997.
Young Taylor Swift and her mother, Andrea, 1997.
     Taylor grew up in Berks County, Pennsylvania, in the south-central part of the state between Harrisburg and Philadelphia.  She lived on a Christmas tree farm for a time, rode horses as a kid, and had good early schooling, attending the nationally-recognized Wyndcroft School in Pottstown, PA.   Both her parents had been in finance, with her father, Scott, a stockbroker and her mom, Andrea, later becoming a full-time mom.  Young Taylor started local performing at about the age of 10,  in various contests, fairs, and festivals in Reading and other Pennsylvania towns.

Taylor Swift, age 7, at Pottstown, Pennsylvania’s Wyndcroft School.
Taylor Swift, age 7, at Pottstown, Pennsylvania’s Wyndcroft School.
     She grew up with music in her ears, and early on discovered she liked country music, especially country tunes by women.  When she was six she listened to an album by country artist LeAnn Rimes, who was herself a teenage country star.  But Taylor soon learned more about country music, and Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton were in the air too.  But it wasn’t all country.  Her mom was a big fan of Def Leppard, a  heavy metal rock band.  And then there’s the matter of genetics.  Her grandmother was a musical performer and an opera singer who had married an oil man and traveled the world performing in all kinds of exotic places.  Taylor would later tell The Reading Eagle, her former hometown newspaper that she’d remembered her grandmother singing and was thrilled by it.  “She was one of my first inspirations,” Taylor said.

Taylor Swift, giving soccer a try in her middle school years.
Taylor Swift, giving soccer a try in her middle school years.
     At about ages 10 through 12, Taylor was also in a children’s acting company, and she landed many of the leads because she was a tall kid who could play adult parts.  By the time she was 12 or so, she had played Sandy in Grease; Kim in Bye, Bye Birdie; and Maria in The Sound of Music.  But actually, it was the after-show parties with the moms and the kids  — when Taylor discovered a karaoke machine — that sent her on her way.  That’s when she first began doing country music, singing Dixie Chicks, Shania Twain, and Faith Hill songs.  Some folks hearing her karaoke acts told her mom, “You know, she really ought to be singing country music.”

Taylor Swift, age 10.
Taylor Swift, age 10.
     But in middle school, Taylor had some rough going when the “cliques” ostracized her for liking that “dumb” country music.  Taylor took it to heart, tried sports to salvage her dignity, but she was not the super-athlete type.  She turned a bit inward, discovered the 12-string guitar, and began writing songs about her feelings and  middle school emotion.  Her mom would later say that writing songs was Taylor’s way of filtering the world.

Taylor Swift, age 12, with her brother Austin and cardboard figure on a Nashville trip.
Taylor Swift, age 12, with her brother Austin and cardboard figure on a Nashville trip.
     Undeterred by her middle school critics, Taylor took her karaoke skills over to Straustown, Pennsylvania where  a weekly contest was held, the prize being a chance to open for real country performers.  Week after week she entered the contest, and did not win.  But after a year of keeping at it, she won the contest and the prize: she opened for Charlie Daniels’ show — at 10:30 a.m.  Charlie didn’t appear, until his 8:30 pm showtime.  No matter to this  kid; she had moxie and determination and knew what she wanted.  Her sights were squarely set on Nashville, Tennessee, where her favorite country women had made their way.

     At about age 11 or so, she and her mom took a trip to Nashville.  Taylor thought she could just go down there, drop off some tapes, and land a record deal.  Her mom drove the car down Music Row in Nashville as Taylor gave out her karaoke tapes, one by one, to every record label there.  Back in Pennsylvania, however, the phone did not ring.  But Taylor kept at it, working all the avenues.  She would soon make other visits to Nashville.  In Pennsylvania, meanwhile,  Taylor was also doing something else: “…It occurred to me that the National Anthem was the best way to get in front of a large group of people if you don’t have a record deal…” she was singing the National Anthem at sporting events and other gatherings — a strategy she later explained to Rolling Stone, revealing a precocious business acumen:

“When I was 11 years old, it occurred to me that the National Anthem was the best way to get in front of a large group of people if you don’t have a record deal. So, I started singing the National Anthem anywhere I possibly could — 76ers’ games, the US Open, and I would just send my tapes out everywhere. I would sing the National Anthem at garden club meetings.  I didn’t care.  I figured out that if you could sing that one song, you could get in front of 20,000 people without even having a record deal.  So I’ve sung that song many, many, many, many times and it still gives me chills, you know, when I get to sing it at an event like the World Series. (which she later did, for the Philadelphia Phillies in game 3 of 2008 World Series).

Taylor Swift, age 13, about a year before the moved to Hendersonville, Tennessee.
Taylor Swift, age 13, about a year before the moved to Hendersonville, Tennessee.
     When Taylor sang the National Anthem at the U.S. Open tennis tournament one year, she thoroughly impressed the crowd.  Britney Spears’ manager, Dan Dymtrow, happened to be in the audience that day and signed her up for a time.  By 2003 there was also an artist development deal with RCA records.  She was 13 by then.  Not long after that, her parents decided to move to Tennessee to put their daughter in better reach of Nashville’s music world.  By then, they knew their daughter had some talent and were keenly aware of her drive and determination.  So, in 2004, in the summer before her freshman year of high school, they moved to Hendersonville, Tennessee, just outside of Nashville.  Taylor Swift was 14 years old.

     “They didn’t put me under pressure at all,” Taylor later explained of her parents’ expectations of her in making this move.  “It wasn’t like, ‘This is your one shot, so make it happen.’  They presented it as a move to a nice community.  If I made something out of it, great.  But if that didn’t happen, that’s OK, too.”  Taylor had written an earlier song titled “The Outside” which was selected for a 2004 Maybelline’s compilation CD, entitled Chicks with Attitude, an annual project to help young female artists get started.  In May 2004, she was also featured at a BMI Songwriter’s Circle showcase at the Bitter End night club in Greenwich Village, New York, a known haunt for hosting a long line of famous comedians and musicians.  So she wasn’t coming to Nashville empty handed.

Taylor Swift at May 2005 songwriting deal with Sony/ATV. Seated from left are BMI's Shelby Kennedy, Taylor, and BMI's Perry Howard. Standing, from left, are: Sony/ATV’s 's Woody Bomar & Arthur Buenahora. Photo by Alan Mayor.
Taylor Swift at May 2005 songwriting deal with Sony/ATV. Seated from left are BMI's Shelby Kennedy, Taylor, and BMI's Perry Howard. Standing, from left, are: Sony/ATV’s 's Woody Bomar & Arthur Buenahora. Photo by Alan Mayor.
     In Nashville, Taylor Swift found her way around just fine.  She would also work with known song writers such as Troy Verges, Brett Beavers, and the Warren Brothers.  Then in early May 2005 she was hired as a staff songwriter — the youngest ever, still 14 — at the Sony/ATV publishing house.  She later told the New York Times writer Jon Caramanica that she prepared herself for the skeptical adult colleagues she might face:  “I knew every writer I wrote with was pretty much going to think, ‘I’m going to write a song for a 14-year-old today’,” she ex- plained.  “So I would come into each meeting with 5 to 10 ideas that were solid.  I wanted them to look at me as a person they were writing with, not a little kid.”  Indeed, her precocity was showing again.  By age 15, she also walked away from an earlier 2003 deal she had made with RCA Records.  The company wanted to extend her another one-year offer, but they refused to allow her to record her own songs.  Taylor was not excited about their tepid one-year offer and she was set on doing her own material.  Then came Scott Borchetta.


Big Machine Records

     Scott Borchetta was a guy who knew his way around Nashville and beyond.  He had a 20-year career in the music business and had helped engineer Toby Keith’s rise to stardom.  He had also been a former executive at DreamWorks Records, a venture record label founded in 1996 by Hollywood moguls David Geffen, Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg. DreamWorks Records was a subsidiary of DreamWorks film studios.  But that label — which also had a Nashville, country music branch named DreamWorks Nashville — shut down in 2005.  And that’s when Brochetta was looking around for something new.  He soon found it, or at least part of it,  in young Taylor Swift.

Scott Borchetta.
Scott Borchetta.
     Borchetta had heard a bit about Swift and knew she was a young songwriter over at Sony.  He invited her to drop by his office to play some of her songs.  He then watched her perform at Nashville’s Bluebird Café where she was being showcased one night.  Taylor later recalled watching him in the audience that night as she performed, and noticed that he “was the only one who had his eyes closed and was totally into the music.”  But Borchetta had competitors in the café that night, as he later told CBS.  “There were several other record companies that were in the room.  And I’m looking around, I’m going, ‘I hope none of these other guys are getting it.'”  Borchetta liked what he heard that night, and soon called Taylor to a meeting.  What Borchetta was planning was a new record label and he wanted Taylor Swift to be a part of that — an independent label that would take on the major Nashville Music Row companies.  That sounded perfect to Taylor who seemed to like long odds and shaking things up.  Borchetta, for his part, saw that Taylor had all the requisite ingredients for success in the music business:  she had intelligence, was a good writer, had a great attitude, and was a hard worker.  Big Machine Records was born shortly thereafter and Taylor Swift became its first artist.
Taylor Swift used ‘Tim McGraw’ as the title for her first single, a clever move that got Nashville’s attention.
Taylor Swift used ‘Tim McGraw’ as the title for her first single, a clever move that got Nashville’s attention.


First Song & Album

     Taylor Swift, age 15, was in her sophomore year of high school when she signed with Borchetta’s Big Machine Records. She recorded in the studio after school — and with her first song, “Tim McGraw” (CD cover shown earlier above), her career began its rise.  In many ways, using the name Tim McGraw as her first song title was a very clever bit of marketing.  McGraw, son of former baseball player Tug McGraw, is one of the nation’s most successful and recognized country artists who is also married to country singer Faith Hill.  Many in the country music world would automatically be curious about a song with McGraw’s name attached to it.  The single began to get radio play in the summer of 2006.

Taylor Swift’s debut album of Oct 2006 spawned 5 hit singles that rose on both the pop & country charts in 2007 and 2008.
Taylor Swift’s debut album of Oct 2006 spawned 5 hit singles that rose on both the pop & country charts in 2007 and 2008.


     Taylor left Hendersonville High School after her sophomore year.  For her junior and senior years she was home-schooled, finishing both years of course work in 12 months.  She finished with a 4.0 average.

     Back at Big Machine studios, meanwhile, a full album was in production — Taylor’s first, named appropriately, Taylor Swift.  It used “Tim McGraw” as its lead track.  Taylor, now 16, also wrote or co-wrote 10 other tracks on the album.  Swift wrote three songs by herself, and collaborated on seven others with writing partner Liz Rose, a skilled song editor who she had met at RCA Records.  Taylor Swift was released in late October 2006.  At its debut, the album started modestly with 39,000 copies sold in the first week.  Gradually, it would gain more attention as additional singles from it were released.  More on that in a moment.

Taylor Swift at Detroit Lions-Miami Dolphins 2006 Thanksgiving Day football game where she sang National Anthem. Photo, Al Messerschmidt / Getty Images
Taylor Swift at Detroit Lions-Miami Dolphins 2006 Thanksgiving Day football game where she sang National Anthem. Photo, Al Messerschmidt / Getty Images
     At this point in her career, Taylor Swift was still an aspiring country artist.  The outcome was uncertain, and during 2006 she continued plugging away at her usual haunts, performing in local venues and at sporting events as she had previously done.  She performed in mid-March at the Legends of Tennis event and at the Hillcrest Racquet Club back in Berks County, Pennsylvania.  And she also continued doing the National Anthem — at a NSCAR event on November 12th, and on Thanksgiving Day in Detroit, November 23, 2006, at the Detroit Lions-Miami Dolphins football game.  During the year she was also performing at selected clubs as well.  In mid-June 2006, for example, she performed at the Maverick Saloon & Grill in Santa Maria, California.

     By late January 2007, “Tim McGraw” had risen to No. 6 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, and four other singles from the album followed — “Teardrops on My Guitar,” released on February 24, 2007; “Our Song,” August 22, 2007; “Picture to Burn,” January 2008, and “Should’ve Said No,” on May 19, 2008.  All of these singles made it into both the Top Ten on the Billboard country chart and the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart — marking Swift’s special “crossover” appeal to both audiences, a big plus business-wise.  Of her initial group of singles, “Our Song” was her first No. 1 hit on the Billboard Country Chart.  Swift was also the first female artist to land five singles in the country Top Ten from a debut album.  And some of her singles lingered there for many weeks.  “Tim McGraw,” for example, stayed on the Billboard country chart for 35 weeks.  By the end of 2008, Swift’s debut album, Taylor Swift, had sold more than 3 million copies.

Taylor Swift’s Digital Nation


       Many of the singles from Taylor Swift’s albums typically have special videos made — common practice since the days of MTV in the early 1980s.  And some of these videos are no small productions — mini-dramas and love stories, all appealing and “must haves” to her fans.  All of her songs are also available in digital format to purchase electronically and download from the internet.

Apple's iTunes offers a downloadable 'extend- ed play' (EP) album of 8 Taylor Swift songs--a sampling of the digital availability.
Apple's iTunes offers a downloadable 'extend- ed play' (EP) album of 8 Taylor Swift songs--a sampling of the digital availability.
     Taylor Swift herself — very much an internet person, savvy in video editing, blogging, and all things web-wise — has used her MySpace page to broadcast her music and broaden her fan base.  Between her videos being available on You Tube, as well as her own MySpace page and at the TaylorSwift.com website, millions of page views, “video streams” and downloads of her music began occurring early on, and continues to grow like wildfire.  This electronic “buzz” and digital proliferation of her material occurs simul- taneously with — and sometimes in advance of — any release in physical CD formats.  The music video for “Tim McGraw,” for example, has been viewed more than 25 million times on YouTube.  More of the same is found in her subsequent songs, albums, and videos.  Reporter Jon Caramanica of The New York Times observed in November 2008: “She has aggressively used online social networks to stay connected with her young audience in a way that, while typical for rock and hip-hop artists, is proving to be revolutionary in country music.”  Indeed, Taylor Swift has built a loyal and growing following, especially of teenage girls, who post her stuff all over their own MySpace pages and follow her every blog.  This network amounts to a very lucrative web of commerce — or “Taylor Swift Nation,” as some now call it.


National Notice

Taylor Swift on the cover of the April 13, 2008 ‘USA Weekend’ magazine, in advance of the annual Country Music Awards show.
Taylor Swift on the cover of the April 13, 2008 ‘USA Weekend’ magazine, in advance of the annual Country Music Awards show.

     By mid-May 2007, with her music rising on the national charts, Taylor Swift began receiving wider national recognition.  In mid May 2007, she performed at the Academy Of Country Music New Artists’ Show in Las Vegas.  On May 15, 2007, Swift performed “Tim McGraw” at the Academy of Country Music Awards, actually meeting McGraw and his wife, Faith Hill, for the first time, in the audience.  They would later invite Taylor to be an opening act on their 2007 tour.

     In early November 2007 at the Country Music Association Awards, Swift, now 17, received the coveted CMA Horizon Award for best new artist.  Among past recipients had been Garth Brooks, The Dixie Chicks and Carrie Underwood.  In December 2007, at the Grammy awards, Swift was also a nominee in the Best New Artist category, but Amy Winehouse won the award.  A week later, Swift celebrated her 18th birthday, still pretty happy with the way things went in 2007.

Taylor Swift on the April 2008 cover of ‘Blender,’ a music magazine.
Taylor Swift on the April 2008 cover of ‘Blender,’ a music magazine.
     In 2008, Taylor Swift also began appearing on magazine covers.  In April, she appeared on the cover of Blender, a music magazine. In advance of the annual Country Music Awards later that spring, she appeared on the cover of USA Weekend magazine on April 13th (above).  The editors there offered her as the possible “breakthrough country star.”  People magazine also named her to its Most Beautiful People list in April.  Meanwhile, at the Country Music Television(CMT) Awards in mid-April 2008, Swift took home two prizes, Video of the Year and Female Video of the Year,  for “Our Song.”  She followed that a month later, on May 18th, by winning the Top New Female Vocalist honor at the Academy of Country Music Awards ceremony in Las Vegas, where she also sang.

     In the summer of 2008, Swift continued performing in various venues, including, for example, the Verizon Amphitheater in San Antonio, Texas on June 22, 2008.  Her Taylor Swift CD by this date was in its 20th week as country music’s No.1 selling CD.  And also by this time, she had passed 50 million MySpace streams for her videos.  In mid-July 2008, she performed outdoors at the 16th Annual Country Thunder gathering at Shadow Hill Ranch in Twin Lakes, Wisconsin.


Wal-Mart Deal

Taylor Swift at Country Thunder event, July 2008, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin. Photo, Rick Diamond/WireImage
Taylor Swift at Country Thunder event, July 2008, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin. Photo, Rick Diamond/WireImage

     Also during the summer of 2008, in mid-July, Big Machine Records released an EP, or “extended play,” CD volume of Taylor Swift songs entitled Beautiful Eyes.  EP’s are something more than a single, but less than a full album.  This one included six tunes, some of which were already available as singles.  A companion DVD with nine song videos was also available.  A limited number of the EPs were pressed so that they would not be confused with Swift’s forthcoming second major studio album, then in the works (see below).  Beautiful Eyes was marketed in an exclusive deal with Wal-Mart stores. In its first week of release, the EP sold 45,000 copies, debuting at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums and No.9 on the Billboard 200 albums chart.  By late December 2008, it had sold more than quarter million copies in U.S.  In August 2008, Taylor Swift’s love life got some media attention, as a brief involvement between she and teen throb Joe Jonas, 19, of the Disney group, the Jonas Brothers, fueled the teen gossip pages.  But that was all over within a couple of months or so, reportedly providing material for a Swift tune named “Forever and Always.”

Taylor Swift performs National Anthem at game 3 of the World Series, Oct 25, 2008 in Philadelphia. Photo, John Mabangalo-Pool, Getty Images.
Taylor Swift performs National Anthem at game 3 of the World Series, Oct 25, 2008 in Philadelphia. Photo, John Mabangalo-Pool, Getty Images.


2008 World Series

     In late October 2008, Taylor Swift was invited to perform the National Anthem at the World Series baseball classic, game three in Philadelphia, where the Tamp Bay Rays and Philadelphia Phillies were contending for the championship.  Swift, in her earlier days of National Anthem singing, had also done the circuit with the Phillies’ minor league team in Reading, Pennsylvania — the Reading Phillies.  In fact, it wasn’t that long ago since she had done her last National Anthem performance there, in early April 2007.  But these days Taylor Swift wasn’t doing the National Anthem to get noticed, now she was doing the National Anthem because she was Taylor Swift.

     By this time, Taylor had appeared on the October 22nd cover of Billboard music magazine (first photo at top of article).  She was also performing at live venues, such as a sold-out mid-October show in Chattanooga, Tennessee. 

Taylor Swift and Hank Williams Jr. at the BMI Country Awards, Nov 11, 2008 in Nashville. Photo by Rick Diamond/WireImage.
Taylor Swift and Hank Williams Jr. at the BMI Country Awards, Nov 11, 2008 in Nashville. Photo by Rick Diamond/WireImage.
     By early November 2008, her first album, Taylor Swift had sold over three million copies and she also had scored some 7.5 million downloads of her singles.  She was also being honored with more country music awards.  At the November 11th, 2008 BMI Country Awards in Nashville, Swift’s “Teardrops On My Guitar,” which she also co-wrote, won country song of the year. ( BMI is Broadcast Music, Inc., one of three U.S. performing rights organizations that collects license fees on behalf of songwriters, composers, and music publishers and distributes them as royalties to its members.)  But by this date, a lot of the business planning around her music was focused on her forthcoming second studio album, titled Fearless.  An opening salvo for that album came on national television with The Ellen DeGeneres Show, which devoted the entire show to Taylor Swift’s album release party.


Taylor Swift’s ‘Fearless’ album, released in November 2008.
Taylor Swift’s ‘Fearless’ album, released in November 2008.
“Fearless”

     When Taylor Swift’s Fearless hit the streets in November 2008, it debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart.  It quickly sold more than 590,000 copies in its first week, the best first-week sales for any female artist in 2008.  Fearless includes 13 tracks, all of which Swift wrote or co-wrote, and seven of which are hers alone. Newsday, The Boston Globe, Allmusic, and Rolling Stone, among others, all gave the album positive reviews.  Like her previous album, Fearless spun off singles, released separately.  “Love Story” came out before the album, on September 8, 2008.  “White Horse” was released on December 8, 2008, and “You Belong With Me,” on April 20, 2009.  Swift’s music was also beginning to show up as background music on television shows.  “White Horse,” for example, was used in the season premiere of the prime time TV drama Grey’s Anatomy on September 25, 2008.

CD cover for ‘Love Story’ single from Taylor Swift’s ‘Fearless’ album.
CD cover for ‘Love Story’ single from Taylor Swift’s ‘Fearless’ album.
     But it was “Love Story” that became the album’s rising star, a song that Swift later told Time magazine took her about 20 minutes to write on her bedroom floor.  In less than a year, “Love Story” would become the country song with most paid downloads in history, surpassing 3 million.  The song was also released as an international single  — her first — and it rose on the charts in several countries, hitting No.1 in Australia.  Taylor, meanwhile, continued to pick up more music awards and appear in the national media.  On November 23rd in Los Angeles, she received the “favorite country music female artist award” at the American Music Awards.  Later that month, the December issue of CosmoGirl magazine came out with Taylor on the cover.  She was featured in a companion story about her songwriting as the magazine also designated her as one of its 2008 “Born to Lead” award winners.  On December 31 st, 2008, she performed during New Year’s Eve festivities in Times Square.


SNL guest banner featuring Taylor Swift.
SNL guest banner featuring Taylor Swift.
SNL & CSI

     Although the national notice for the rising young star continued to roll in, she was still capable of being amazed and thrilled by what was happening to her.  In early January 2009, she was invited to be a musical guest on NBC’s Saturday Night Live (SNL), the popular Saturday night TV comedy show.  “I just found out that I get to play on SNL!!,” she wrote on her MySpace blog after hearing about the appearance.  “January 10th!  It’s my mom’s birthday, and I don’t think either of us would’ve believed you [if you] told us a few years ago that we’d get to spend her birthday in New York City — at Saturday Night Live!  Wow.  It’s pretty unreal.”

Taylor Swift expressing happy surprise to audience reaction at January 2009 SNL performance.
Taylor Swift expressing happy surprise to audience reaction at January 2009 SNL performance.
     Swift was the youngest musical guest ever on SNL, and one of only a handful of country artists — among them, Garth Brooks, Dolly Parton and Tim McGraw — to perform on the show over its past 32 years.  The guest host that night was Neil Patrick Harris, former Doogie Howser, M.D. TV star also in the current show, How I Met Your Mother.  MTV News interviewed Swift while she was doing her SNL rehearsal, and she admitted that her rising good fortune had been quite amazing.  “It feels like everything the past couple of months has been a dream,” she said.  On the SNL show she performed two songs, “Love Story” and “Forever and Always,” and she also did a bit comedy sketch as “Annie” from the Broadway play.  The reviews were mixed, with some taking issue with “too sparkly” guitar and others charging she used too much make-up.  Her fans, however, were generally happy with her two SNL songs.

Taylor Swift shown with actor George Eads in a clip from the ‘CSI’ TV show of March 2009.
Taylor Swift shown with actor George Eads in a clip from the ‘CSI’ TV show of March 2009.
     Another TV appearance for Swift followed in March — this one, her first short dramatic role — in the CBS series, Crime Scene Investigation, or CSI, as it more popularly known.  She played the daughter of a motel manager who gets into serious trouble and is murdered, becoming the corpse of the crime scene investigation.  In an earlier series of flashbacks, she is seen engaging with CSI’s Nick Stokes (George Eads), one of the investigators, and in various scenes with different hair styles and and a faked piercing.  The show also used a remix of one of her songs, “You’re Not Sorry,” as background music.  CBS was pretty happy about her appearance, as viewer numbers at 21 million were up by 3 million over the previous week.  The Taylor Swift blogosphere, meanwhile, lit up with fan cheers after her CSI debut.  But while Hollywood may beckon, her day job is keeping her pretty busy.  She had filmed the CSI segment in California in January 2009, and that’s when a Rolling Stone writer and photographer caught up with her for an interview and photo shoot.  More on that later.
Taylor Swift taking a photo of Katie Couric in early 2009 when the two were shopping. Photo, CBS/John P. Filo.
Taylor Swift taking a photo of Katie Couric in early 2009 when the two were shopping. Photo, CBS/John P. Filo.

     But the big Taylor Swift news in early 2009 was her planned 52-city tour through the U.S. and Canada.  As tickets went on sale in city after city, the concert was sold out.  After the date was announced for her show at the Staples Center in L.A., for example,  it was sold out in two minutes. The New York city show sold out in a flash as well.  The Fearless tour, touting the music of her second album, will run for six months, beginning in April 2009 in Evansville, Indiana and ending in October 2009 at Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota.

     “Headlining my own tour is a dream come true!,” she said in a January 30th press release announcing the tour.  “…Having written my own songs, they are all stories in my head, and my goal for this tour is to bring those stories to life….”  She added there would be affordable tickets for everyone who wanted to come to her show.  Ticket prices started at $20.

Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift at conclusion of their duet of ‘Fifteen’ at the Grammy Awards, February 2009. Photo, John Shearer/WireImage.
Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift at conclusion of their duet of ‘Fifteen’ at the Grammy Awards, February 2009. Photo, John Shearer/WireImage.
     Also in early 2009, Taylor and her mom were interviewed by CBS News anchor Katie Couric, as Katie was then preparing her “All Access Grammy Special” ahead of the 2009 Grammy Awards.  Taylor recounted for Katie her early love of words as a child, and that she was constantly after her mother to tell her stories.  Her mom acknowledged to Couric that as a child, Taylor could be “exhausting.”  During the meeting, Katie and Taylor also went on a brief shopping jaunt to Jeffrey’s, a New York city boutique.  During their outing, Taylor is seen photographing Katie for material to use on Taylor’s My Space blog.  At the Grammy Awards, meanwhile, Taylor Swift and another teen star, Miley Cyrus of Disney and “Hannah Montana” fame, performed a duet of Taylor’s song “Fifteen” during the nationally-televised awards show.


“Good Girl”

Taylor Swift on the cover of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine, March 2009.
Taylor Swift on the cover of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine, March 2009.
     In March 2009, Taylor Swift appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine along with a feature story titled: “Taylor Swift: Secrets of Good Girl.”  The story explained that Swift had never smoked a cigarette or taken a drink of alcohol.  Nor is she into drugs.  “I have no interest in drinking,” she told Rolling Stone.  “I always want to be responsible for the things I say and do.”  Indeed, at the moment, Taylor Swift is a clean-cut role model for millions of kids out there, but occasionally ventures into a rebel role, if only as a provocateur.  She once drew a small red heart on her ankle, vowing to replace it with a tattoo if her records sold over 2 million copies.  However, her father said if she did that, he might have to use a belt sander to take it off.  Still, for the most part, Taylor appears to have a fair grip on how she wants to live her star-struck life  — and being a “rehab regular” is not part of her plan.  She gets reenforcement for her clean-cut life style from the moms who tell her what she means to their kids.  And her ninth- and tenth-grade fans seem to like her style too, calling her “down to earth” and “a good person.”  Some go well beyond that, writing her long letters about what her music means to them, as one tenth-grader did in a letter shared with Rolling Stone:

“…When I first discovered your music a few years ago, something in me opened up….I had been feeling upset, and you told me that I’m not alone…Your lyrics mean the world to me, and I swear they are the narration of my life…. I wish more than anything that I could change a teenager’s perspective, the way you have done for me….”

Taylor, The Brand


     Taylor Swift is a hot commodity. Like any rising celebrity in the national limelight, she is being sought out to sell things.  She has already made a deal with Jakks Pacific to do line of Taylor Swift dolls, and she is also endorsing the L.e.i. clothing brand, and a line of sundresses to be carried exclusively at Wal-Mart stores.  More such deals are sure to come.  And having already traveled with some success in Australia and England, there is interest in broadening “Taylor Swift Nation” beyond U.S. shores, and making her something of a global commodity.  There are plans afoot for taking her tour abroad beyond the few previously-arranged dates she had already played recently in London.  Australia and Japan are both in the offing, and likely other countries as well.

     Swift is especially attentive to her fans, and through her MySpace page and her personal blogging she has a direct and “anytime” line to millions of them.  And she has also made a point of being personal with most fans, signing autographs, dispensing hugs, throwing them bracelets, from the stage, mixing with the front-row audience while performing sometimes, and more.  It is part of her core program, fiercely guarded, and appears genuine.

     As of March 4, 2009, Taylor Swift’s Fearless album had an extended its stay at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart, holding there for an 11th week, with sales of 73,000 copies that week.  Only five other solo female artists have had No. 1 albums for 11 or more weeks in the 53-years that Billboard has been keeping the chart:  Alanis Morissette, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Carole King and Judy Garland.  Fearless was named album of the year at the Academy of Country Music Awards on April 5, 2009.  The album by then had total sales just over 3 million copies.

 

The Real Thing

The “Kid” Inside

     Taylor Swift is still a teenager; a kid with a freshness and exuberance that still bubbles through her no-nonsense music-making business side.  That teenage part of the package is real and genuine, and was on display when Rolling Stone sent her the forthcoming March 2009 cover she would appear on.  She was in London at the time, and Rolling Stone sent along a flip camera with their package to tape her reaction to seeing the cover for the first time. 

From video of Taylor Swift seeing her first 'Rolling Stone' cover.
From video of Taylor Swift seeing her first 'Rolling Stone' cover.

     As she unwrapped the cover for the first time came her reaction: “Everything you’d expect from a 19-year-old,” said Rolling Stone’s editors: “giddiness, awe and pure excitement.”  She couldn’t believe it: on the cover of Rolling Stone — the dream of any modern day pop or country artist.  And as Rolling Stone added: the young woman you see in the video — although a composed and driven musician — is still at her core a wide- eyed teen, excited and exuberant in what she is experiencing.  At one time, Rolling Stone had posted the video of Taylor open- ing the package at its website, but it now appears to have been taken down.

     Some have wondered whether Taylor Swift is the real thing, or a manufactured “too-good-to-be true” media package.  Rolling Stone’s Vanessa Grigoriadis, on her assignment to cover Swift, followed her from the set of the TV show CSI to Faith Hill and Tim McGraw’s Los Angeles mansion which she used while the couple were away.  Grigoriadis continued on with Swift to press junkets in New York and also to Swift’s home near Nashville, Tennessee, getting a pretty good look at her in different settings.

     Grigoriadis believes Swift really is the “good girl” she appears to be.  “For whatever reason she’s never felt a need to rebel from those values and that’s cool,” says Grigoriadis.  The Rolling Stone writer also found Swift “really focused on making her music” and being very involved in the songwriting, the technical aspects, and accessing her feelings.  “She really is that girl in the tiny little bedroom at home writing songs about the things she hopes and dreams and feels,” concludes Grigoriadis.  But Grigoriadis also thinks that Swift’s music may change with time.  “I think because she’s not a manufactured product she could potentially show a broodier side…,” said Grigoriadis in a Rolling Stone background piece.  “You never know, I think she’s a true artist.  I think you can count on her doing something different.”  Others have also found her song-writing to be clever and evocative, and better than many writers twice her age.  If she keeps maturing as a songwriter, they say, in a few years she could become even more awesome than she is now with her teen talent, perhaps then growing into another genre as well.


Love, Lyrics & Meaning

     “The words,” said Taylor Swift in a 2008 interview with her former hometown news- paper, The Reading Eagle, “I love words.  I love to write.  Being an artist is what I love.”  Right now, the words are about love and teenage heartache, and Taylor Swift says that this is a special thing with her, being into teen love and emotion; able to feel it and capture it — all fair game for her pen.  “I love love,” she told Rolling Stone.  “I love studying it and watching it.  I love thinking about how we treat each other, and the crazy way that one person can feel one thing and another can feel totally different.”  She is also attentive to unique and sometimes painful world of adolescent girls, and wants to help them, through her music, to feel better about themselves.  She has looked at the world from the teen perspective and taken it to heart.  “In school, I loved reading To Kill a Mockingbird, and I’m very interested in any writing from a child’s perspective.”  This is a young lady who has thought quite a bit about what she is writing; there is a depth and intellectual curiosity there; a capacity to move to next levels, whenever they may present themselves.

Taylor Swift as photographed for ‘Rolling Stone,’ January 21, 2009. At times, she flashes  facial similarities to actresses Helen Hunt and Jenna Elfman. Photo, Peggy Sirota
Taylor Swift as photographed for ‘Rolling Stone,’ January 21, 2009. At times, she flashes facial similarities to actresses Helen Hunt and Jenna Elfman. Photo, Peggy Sirota

     Then there is her grounding in the country women singers — studying them and admiring them for what they have stood for, not just their sound or lyrical quality.  As she told Rolling Stone in the “Unabridged Taylor Swift” of early December 2008:

     …I think the thing that cemented it in my mind and made me fall in love with country music was seeing three great examples of what females could bring to country music — I saw that Shania Twain brought this independence and this crossover appeal; I saw that Faith Hill brought this classic old-school glamour and beauty and grace; and I saw that the Dixie Chicks brought this complete “we don’t care what you think” quirkiness, and I loved what all of those women were able to do and what they were able to bring to country music.

I thought, “You know, if Nashville is the town that lets you be yourself and do things like that, and be different, then that’s where I need to be.” … It was such a big deal to me that those three women stood for things in country music…


Taylor Swift receiving ‘song of the year’ award for ‘Teardrops on My Guitar,’from Del Bryant, president/CEO of BMI, at the BMI Country Awards, in Nashville, Tenn., November 2008.
Taylor Swift receiving ‘song of the year’ award for ‘Teardrops on My Guitar,’from Del Bryant, president/CEO of BMI, at the BMI Country Awards, in Nashville, Tenn., November 2008.
 

The Road Ahead

     Taylor Swift’s story is a quintessential “American Dream” stuff  — an amazing rise to fame and fortune in a very short space of time, owed, it appears, to hard work, talent, and yes, luck.  But the kid has had a lot going for her, including two indulging parents that helped make it all happen, though with a measure of leavening.  Her mom counseled, for example, according to Taylor, to always to have “high hopes but low expectations.”  And Taylor herself appears to have her feet on the ground, as she told The Reading Eagle in 2008:  “… I continue to walk around with the mentality that I’m not really a big deal because as fast as it came, it can go.”  Taylor’s late teen /early young lady good looks haven’t hurt her rise either.  But these came largely after the initiative; after the middle school rejection; and after she discovered the “inside thing” looking for an outlet.  Taylor Swift has talent, good instincts, intelligence, and grit.  She’ll need all of that and more in the months and years ahead as she continues her journey through the music world and beyond.  Certainly in the near term, with six months of touring — and no doubt, a lot more of that ahead — her youthful exuberance and faith in her fans will be tested.  The hard experience of the road, constant performing, and media attention can both wither and inspire, as any artist who’s been there will likely tell her.  Hopefully for Taylor Swift, the days ahead will teach her well, bringing experience that only adds to her creative reservoir, along with a measured maturity that does not crush her spirit.

For other music-related stories at this website please see the Annals of Music category page. Additionally, the topics page, “Noteworthy Ladies,” includes 36 stories on women who have made their mark in entertainment and various other fields. Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. - Jack Doyle

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Date Posted:  12 May 2009
Last Update:  6 November 2014
Comments to:  jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Taylor Swift, Rising,” 2003-2009,
PopHistoryDig.com, May 12, 2009.

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