‘She is a snake – in the most positive way!’ How Taylor Swift became the world’s biggest pop star, again

Ignoring the skeptics, Taylor Swift’s first leg of the Eras tour concluded last month, proving to be a significant pop culture phenomenon that spanned over three hours and showcased her spectacular career.

I have had the opportunity to witness one of the most euphoric concerts ever, which serves as a singular reminder of Swift’s generational talent. And it was enough to find it in the final US show of the Eras in August. In response to a plea on Twitter from Justin Trudeau, the world leaders turned their attention to ramping up public transportation systems, forcing cities to face the fact that they were underprepared. As a result, the Eras concert has estimated to generate a boost of $5 billion in consumer spending in the US.

It is likely that in a few years, the resurgence of Swift will be seen as the most successful pop star in the world. The re-established tour has been a success, with ticket sales bringing in $37 million on the day it was released in cinemas in the US in October. Even a filmed version of the Eras tour is being released. It is estimated that the current record holder, Elton John’s farewell tour, will be surpassed by Swift’s tour, with an estimated revenue of $1.4 billion – making it the highest-grossing tour of all time. The Eras tour is expected to conclude in November 2024.

The fierce backlash was soon underway as Harris Calvin, Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry, Kanye West, and Kim Kardashian accused Kim of being a superficial and self-serving “boss” girl, with public squabbles and accusations of feminism. However, by the end of the world tour, she was surrounded by a clique of musicians and actors, obsessed with the “squad” revolving around her. In the 80s, Madonna and Michael Jackson were as omnipresent as she has become with her release of the re-recorded version of her 1989 album in 2014. Her third album will be released in November, as the American South leg of her tour commences.

Squad goals …Swift on stage with Hailee Steinfeld, Gigi Hadid, Lily Aldridge and Lena Dunham during the 1989 tour in New Jersey, 2015. Photograph: Larry Busacca/LP5

How has Swift managed to regain her status without falling into the traps that brought her down before? Her current cultural dominance is evident in the way she recreates the original sound of her 1989 era, but with higher first-week sales for her album, it’s possible that her next release, “Taylor’s Version” of 1989, may debut even stronger.

He states, “I am assuming responsibility for how you perceive me,” similar to the storyline of the album transitioning into the negative publicity surrounding her attempt to tarnish her newly restored image with Swift – she allowed gothic imagery and effusive social media accounts to be wiped clean once she started a new relationship – the presentation of Reputation, however, is really about finding refuge in being ostracized and facing a new relationship. What’s actually more interesting is that Reputation, as Pantheon’s Pop Pop music podcast host Louis Mandelbaum puts it, serves as Swift’s retort to the haters. Instead of following her pattern of releasing a new album every two years, she broke that pattern by waiting three years to make her return with Reputation, following the immediate fallout from 1989.

“Lover,” Taylor Swift’s seventh album released in 2019, was one of her most successful records since her first in 2010. She was happy and moved on from the drama, speaking about how the album literally wore its heart on its sleeve. However, she wanted to affirm that the record, which was actually her seventh album, was obscured by the backlash she received. She intended to respond to the backlash and acknowledged that commercially it was less successful compared to “1989,” but many fans now feel that “Reputation” is underrated.

To diminish the value of the albums owned by Braun, she declared her intention to unveil exact replicas of the albums. The manager Scooter Braun obtained and subsequently sold the original recordings of her initial six albums without Swift’s consent. Nevertheless, the release of these replicas did happen to align with another conflict.

During the height of her post-1989 period, she experienced a decrease in the level of understanding from the general public that she had acquired as a result of Swift’s conflict with Braun. Many fans of pop music found it simple to state: this male music executive is trying to appropriate the creativity of this female singer-songwriter. Consequently, this enabled her to redirect attention towards her songwriting abilities: ‘I should possess my songs because I composed them in my bedroom when I was 15 years old,’ Mandelbaum explains.

The lyrical focus of The National’s Aaron Dessner, who produced two albums with Taylor Swift – Folklore and Evermore, has certainly showcased her mastery of her craft and well-rounded work. British-Maltese songwriter-singer Lauren Aquilina cites Folklore as her favorite among Swift’s albums, appreciating her ability to give new opportunities to her fans through storytelling. Swift, not just a pop star, has repositioned herself as a serious musician, and the surprise release of Folklore provided another boost for her during the pandemic.

Cabin fever … even an unlikely pivot into indie-folk couldn’t halt Swift’s growth. Photograph: Beth Garrabrant/Stoked PR

Taylor Swift, the first act to become the Beatles since their debut, has been breaking records on the US singles chart and has had the most albums in the Top 100. She hasn’t left the charts since then. Aquilina says that she can do whatever she wants now and has proven herself in songwriting. She blended storytelling elements with the pop stuff and brought in some of those folky elements on her record “That”. Swift has started releasing re-recordings of her 2021 spring version and will also release another original album, “Midnights”, in 2022.

What you will never know is what comes next, as she keeps fans engaged. She becomes a new version of herself, fitting in with today’s culture and shedding her old skin. During the Reputation era, Swift refers to herself as a snake, but in the most positive way possible. Lauren Beeching, Swift’s publicist, says that Swift’s ability to recast her image is a testament to her musical talent that goes beyond longevity.

The mishandling of Ticketmaster’s rollout of the Eras tour, which has been criticized by Swift and led to an antitrust investigation, has constantly been showcased in online viral moments. However, it is not just the impact on Ticketmaster’s political and cultural reputation that has become a huge story, but also the unprecedented performance of Swift’s tour. Now, critics and fans are wondering if another backlash is brewing, as Swift is now more famous than ever.

The fans of Taylor Swift also have some mixed feelings about the capitalist era, as they feel somewhat exploited by the endless stream of special-edition merchandise that Swift puts on sale in various colorful vinyl record colorways. In addition, there is also disquiet among fans due to the endless stream of the same merchandise being sold. On a podcast, Matty Healy made racist jokes and laughed along, which led to extreme backlash from Swifties, who started a petition to break ties with him. Swift’s dating life has also been in the news, as she broke up with her partner of six years, Joe Alwyn, in January. She has been spotted with Blake Lively and the Haim sisters, signaling that she has seemingly reunited with her “squad.”

The nature of fame has changed since Taylor Swift’s last fall from grace, but there was no way for the poor girl to even go on a date without receiving a ludicrous amount of hate. Beeching says that at that point in time, she actually didn’t want to see Swift’s content and was forced to interact with it because there was a vast audience who wanted to analyze and criticize it. This meant that there was no way for Swift to be a pop megastar without blanket media coverage when she released 1989.

Today, there is less of a conversation driven chiefly by users of platforms like X and Reddit TikTok, and more of a monoculture emerged on those social media platforms where fandoms have spawned such celebrities as Cenat Kai, a riot-causing Twitch streamer, and Rae Addison, a pop star turned dancer and Pinkydoll vlogger, who are hugely famous to those interested in the largely unknown. These platforms serve content to users who are already predisposed to like them, showing them things they are prone to be interested in, thanks to algorithms that diffuse and siloed the content.

According to Mandelbaum, “From Taylor, down to Charli XCX, every individual is a revered figure in the current era.” Mandelbaum states, “Pop stars are under less pressure to produce music that appeals to everyone; Taylor only needs to cater to the desires of her fans.” By staying off the radar of those who are not her followers, Swift can become the most renowned individual in the world among her adoring fans.

This summer, Swift experienced the remarkable achievement of having four albums simultaneously ranked in the US Top 10, a feat previously accomplished only by Herb Alpert in 1966. There is a continuous stream of new music being released on streaming platforms, resulting in Swift’s transition from releasing one album every two years to two or three albums per year, including deluxe editions, due to her re-recording project. The popularity of the Cruel Summer track from the Lover album skyrocketed after the tour, prompting Swift to promote it as a single. Additionally, her album Eras possesses its own promotional power, as the factors that led to her previous decline are now better protected against, while her songs continue to receive significant airplay on influential platforms like pop radio. Therefore, in her second attempt to reach the pinnacle of pop music, Swift is confidently making her mark.

It has proven to be challenging for aspiring pop artists in the new economy, as highlighted in a detailed report by Billboard last month. Industry executives and managers lamented the fact that even if you are sitting next to the person on the train who is likely to be the next big star, your feed is flooded with videos of Carpenter and Rema. It may take a far bigger push to break through to the level of Swift, but streaming hits by stars such as Rema and Carpenter Sabrina may still be significant. One lamented that people are just buried in “content” in the Younger stars like Rodrigo Olivia, who was the big pop star last year. The struggle to mint new A-listers in the music industry is a constant battle in 2021.

Swift has faced his fair share of controversies, and it’s also the reason why Healy has proven remarkably weatherproof of cancellation-by-association. It’s a boon for Swift that there will be fewer avenues for haters or fans to air grievances, and he has significantly become less overexposed online. Just like any person, there’s too much online content for Swift.

According to Mandelbaum, fan-service is currently Swift’s main approach. “Even those who don’t like her begrudgingly acknowledge that she has achieved a lot through her own abilities, talent, and vision,” he explains. However, that’s not the point they’re missing. “Because there are simply so many people who adore her, she doesn’t have to worry about those who don’t – she only engages with those who love her.”