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Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift is that rarest of pop phenomena: a superstar who managed to completely cross over from country to the mainstream, becoming an enduring pop culture icon and conquering the world in the process. Swift shed her country roots like a second skin, revealing that she was perhaps the savviest populist singer/songwriter of her generation, one who could harness the zeitgeist, make it personal and, just as impressively, perform the reverse. These skills were evident on her earliest hits, especially the neo-tribute "Tim McGraw," but her second album, 2008's Fearless, showcased a songwriter discovering who she was and, in the process, finding a mass audience. Fearless wound up having considerable legs not only in the U.S., where it racked up six platinum singles on the strength of the Top Ten hits "Love Story" and "You Belong with Me," but throughout the world, performing particularly well in the U.K., Canada, and Australia. Speak Now, delivered almost two years later, consolidated that success and moved Swift into the stratosphere of superstardom. Her popularity only increased with her next three albums -- Red (2012), 1989 (2014), and Reputation (2017) -- and found her moving assuredly into a pop realm where she already belonged. Even when she scaled back her approach with 2020's stripped-down sibling releases folklore and Evermore, she remained at the top of the pop world, a position she maintained with re-recordings of her back catalog along with albums like 2022's chart-topping Midnights and 2024's The Tortured Poets Department.

This sense of confidence had been apparent in Taylor Swift since the beginning. The daughter of two bankers -- her father, Scott Kingsley Swift, worked at Merrill Lynch; her mother, Andrea, spent time as a mutual fund marketing executive -- Swift was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, and raised in suburban Wyomissing. She began to show interest in music at the age of nine, and Shania Twain wound up as her biggest formative influence. Swift started to perform regularly at local talent contests, eventually winning a chance to open for Charlie Daniels. She learned how to play guitar and began writing songs, signing a music management deal with Dan Dymtrow; her family relocated to Nashville with the intent of furthering her music career. She was just 14 years old but on the radar of the music industry, signing a development deal with RCA Records in 2004. Swift sharpened her skills with a variety of professional songwriters, forming the strongest connections with Liz Rose. Taylor's original songs earned her a deal with Sony/ATV Music Publishing, but not long after that 2004 deal, she parted ways with Dymtrow and RCA, all with the intent of launching her recording career now, not later.

Things started moving quickly once Swift came to the attention of Scott Borchetta, a former DreamWorks Records exec about to launch Big Machine Records. Borchetta saw Swift perform at a songwriters showcase at the Bluebird Cafe and he signed her to Big Machine in 2005; shortly afterward, she started work on her debut with producer Nathan Chapman, who'd previously helmed demos for Taylor. Boasting original song credits on every one of the record's 11 songs (she penned three on her own), Taylor Swift appeared in October 2006 to strong reviews and Swift made sure to work the album hard, appearing at every radio or television event offered and marshaling a burgeoning fan base through the use of MySpace. "Tim McGraw," the first song from the album, did well, but "Teardrops on My Guitar" and "Our Song" did better on both the pop and country charts, where she racked up five consecutive Top Ten singles. Other successes followed in the wake of the debut -- a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist (she lost to Amy Winehouse), stopgap EPs of Christmas songs -- and Swift concentrated on delivering her sophomore set, Fearless.

Appearing in November 2008, Fearless was certified gold by the RIAA in its first week of release, and the record gained momentum throughout 2009, earning several platinum certifications as "Love Story," "White Horse," "You Belong with Me," "Fifteen," and "Fearless" all scaled the upper reaches of the country charts while "You Belong with Me" nearly topped Billboard's Hot 100. Along with the success came some headlines, first in the form of an infamous appearance at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards where her acceptance speech was interrupted by Kanye West, who burst on-stage to declare that Swift's rival Beyoncé deserved the award more, but her romances also started gaining attention, notably a liaison with Twilight star Taylor Lautner, who appeared with the singer in the 2009 film Valentine's Day.

Her flirtation with the silver screen was brief, and she poured herself into her third album, Speak Now. Released in October 2010, Speak Now was another massive first-week smash that refused to lose momentum. Hit singles like "Mine" and "Mean," which won two Grammy Awards, played a big factor in its success, not just on the country charts but on pop radio as well. Following a 2011 live album called World Tour Live: Speak Now, Swift turned toward following a pop path on her fourth album, hiring such mainstream musicians as Dan Wilson, Butch Walker, and Britney Spears producer Max Martin. This mainstream pulse was evident on "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," the first single from Red. Upon its October 2012 release, Red shattered expectations by selling over a million copies in its first week, a notable achievement that was doubly impressive in an era of declining sales. Once again, Swift's album had legs: it was certified platinum four times in the U.S. and its international sales outstripped those of Speak Now. She supported Red with an international tour in 2013 and more hits came, including "I Knew You Were Trouble" and "22."

As Swift geared up for the release of her fifth album in 2014, she made it clear that 1989 was designed as her first "documented, official" pop album and that there would be no country marketing push for the record. "Shake It Off," an ebullient dance-pop throwback, hit number one upon its August 2014 release. When 1989 appeared in late October 2014, it once again shot to number one and became her third straight album to sell one million copies in its first week (a new record for any artist).

Swift gathered many awards in the subsequent year, including Billboard's Woman of the Year, the Award for Excellence at the American Music Awards, and a special 50th Anniversary Milestone Award from the CMAs. Her 1989 World Tour included Asia, North America, and Europe during the last half of 2015, and she won three Grammy Awards at the 2016 ceremonies, including Album of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Album, and Best Music Video for "Bad Blood." At the end of 2016, she released "I Don't Wanna Live Forever," a duet with ZAYN from the soundtrack for Fifty Shades Darker. The single reached the Top Five across the world. Swift returned with her sixth album, Reputation, in November 2017. Preceded by the number one hit single "Look What You Made Me Do," Reputation debuted at number one, and while it didn't replicate the success of 1989, the album did help underscore her popularity while also pushing her toward mature musicality.

Reputation was Swift's final record for Big Machine. In November 2018, she signed with Universal Music Group, which distributed her new albums under its Republic Records banner. The first album under this contract was Lover. Released in August 2019, Lover was preceded by two singles, "Me!" and "You Need to Calm Down," which both reached number two on the Hot 100 and helped push the album to number one. The acclaimed LP and two of its singles received a total of three nominations at the 62nd Grammy Awards.

Swift's plans to support Lover with a tour in 2020 were scrapped due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With some unexpected time on her hands, she wrote and recorded a new set of songs, many in collaboration with Aaron Dessner of the National; Bon Iver and longtime Swift associate Jack Antonoff also contributed. The resulting album, folklore, was released in July 2020, and went straight to the top of the Billboard 200. Less than five months later, Swift released a companion album to folklore called Evermore. Featuring many of the same collaborators as its predecessor, the Grammy-nominated Evermore debuted at number one upon its December 11, 2020 release. Altogether, the sibling LPs planted Swift atop the U.S. charts for a combined 11 weeks, and folklore became the best-selling album of 2020.

In 2021, she began the process of re-recording her back catalog after her Big Machine masters were sold off in 2019, starting with 2008's Fearless. The first of these tracks -- "Love Story (Taylor's Version)" -- arrived that February, with Fearless arriving in April. The new version of Fearless contained cameos from Colbie Caillat, Keith Urban, and Maren Morris, along with several previously unheard tunes originally written during the same time period; it debuted at number one on Billboard upon its release. Swift next revisited Red, releasing Red in November 2021. Another chart-topper, this revamp of the 2012 album featured new duets with Phoebe Bridgers, Chris Stapleton, and Ed Sheeran, along with a ten-minute version of the ballad "All Too Well." Another re-recording, "This Love (Taylor's Version)" (originally off 1989), arrived in May 2022 and was included in the soundtrack to the coming-of-age drama The Summer I Turned Pretty.

At the same time she was revisiting her past work, Swift opened up another chapter in her career with the October 2022 release of Midnights, an album co-produced by Jack Antonoff and featuring a duet with Lana Del Rey on "Snow on the Beach." A moody, electronica-tinged album loosely conceptualized around songs the singer purportedly wrote in the middle of the night, Midnights topped numerous global charts, including the Billboard 200. In late 2022, she also had a supporting role in the David O. Russell film Amsterdam, and sales of her ensuing tour broke the record for the most concert tickets sold in a single day. By early 2023, Swift's career-spanning efforts had converged when she took home the Grammy Award for Best Music Video, Short Film for her ten-minute version of "All Too Well." Soon after, on Valentine's Day, she released Lover Live from Paris, which captured highlights of a September 2019 performance at the Olympia on limited heart-shaped vinyl.

Next up on the re-release schedule was Speak Now , which arrived in July 2023 with six additional songs that were written for but not included on the 2010 LP. Fall Out Boy and Paramore's Hayley Williams, both cited influences for Speak Now, appeared on two of those songs. That year, Swift also commenced her record-smashing, critically acclaimed international "Eras" stadium tour. The extended jaunt -- spanning almost 150 shows -- was so profitable and in-demand that Swift released Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour in cinemas worldwide at the end of the year. Before 2023 was over, she also moved forward in her re-release series with 1989 , a revision of her pop-minded fifth album from 2014. As with many of the re-releases, the set included multiple previously unreleased songs from the same time, as well as re-recorded versions of some of Swift's biggest hits.

In early 2024, Midnights won the Grammy Awards for Best Pop Vocal Album and Album of the Year, helping Swift make history by being the first artist to win the latter award four times. During her acceptance speech for Best Pop Vocal Album, she announced the April 2024 release of her next record, The Tortured Poets Department. The songwriting-focused album featured 16 new tracks, with each of four different physical editions featuring a different 17th bonus track. The album included guest features from Post Malone on the song "Fortnight" and Florence + the Machine on "Florida!!!" ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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