Media & Entertainment

How Taylor Swift Defined the 2010s

Taylor Swift

American Music Awards-proclaimed Artist of the Decade, singer-songwriter Taylor Swift, was a force to be reckoned with in the 2010s. To this day she remains one of the most streamed and critically acclaimed artists ever, but the Tennessee country princess turned global pop-star had not only a major impact in the music industry. Here is how Miss Americana went from America’s sweetheart to cultural powerhouse and political activist.

Speak Now (2010)

At the turn of the decade, with already selling 7 million copies of her sophomore album ‘Fearless’ with two Top 5 Hits and winning Album of the Year at the Grammys in 2009, the country-star was no newbie to the music industry. However, with winning AOTY at only 19 years old, many criticized her for not pulling her own weight in the work and writing process. This led Taylor Swift to write her third studio album Speak Now completely by herself, which sold over one-million copies in its first week. And so her success as a music artist, earning her praise as one of the greatest songwriters, was only the beginning.

Red (2012)

Taylor Swift dropped her fourth album Red, the second best-selling album of 2012 and #4 on the 100 Best Albums of the 2010s by both Rolling Stone AND Billboard. Also dubbed as her ‘’transition album’’, Red was a step away from her first three more-country albums. She took on major influences from pop and dubstep as she collaborated for the first time with Max Martin and Shellback, one of the biggest writers and producers in pop music.

The lead-single ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ earned Taylor her very first number 1 on the Hot 100. Like many others on Red, WANEGBT – while still country – was built as a pop song with a huge catchy chorus. Similarly, her next major non-conventional single was the dubstep-inspired hit ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ – which also became a global meme in pop culture – peaking at #2 on Billboard and charting for 36 weeks.

The iconic bold red lips, fedora hats, oversized glasses and baggy white shirts.

Her aesthetics also evolved: Taylor’s princess dresses and country style shifted into the iconic bold red lips, fedora hats, oversized glasses and baggy white shirts, in line with the hipster aesthetic of 2012 and the rise of Instagram. She was breaking into the mainstream and became an icon for many young adults as defined by her relatable millennial songs such as ‘22’.

This was also the era where her personal life became more interesting for the tabloids. Due to her confessional songs and high profile relationships, she was heavily scrutinized by the media for her dating life. Her good-girl image took a hit, and she was poised to reinvent herself. And so of course with all these developments, she put all of it into her upcoming work, which turned out to be – perhaps – one of the most monumental shifts in music history.

1989 (2014)

Her most daring project yet, Taylor Swift switched completely to pop music with – what many believe to be – her magnum opus 1989 in 2014. Named after the year she was born, 1989 signified her rebirth and took on inspiration from 80s synth-pop and vintage polaroid aesthetics. As she moved from Nashville to New York – an iconic shift moving away from the country-scene and going full pop diva – she also addressed her criticisms with a carefree attitude proven by her three number 1 songs from this timeless body of work.

The lead-single Shake It Off, an uptempo dance-pop track taking a jab at the hate she’s received, debuted at #1 and charted for almost a year. A few months later, for the first time in Billboard history, Taylor Swift became the first woman to replace herself at the number 1 spot with her second single ‘Blank Space’. Blank Space is a cheeky pop song making fun of how the media portrays her of having too many exes, earning her critical acclaim as a songwriter and lyrical genius.

1989 has been dubbed ‘’pop perfection’’ and one of the ‘’greatest pop albums of all time’’, by fans and critics alike, selling over ten million copies worldwide. It also won Best Pop Vocal Album and Album of the Year at the Grammys, making Taylor Swift the first female artist to win AOTY two times.

Her 1989-era was also her most prolific: her personal life and public image became heavily covered in the media, being routinely called ‘‘annoying’’, ‘’greedy’’, ‘‘manipulative’’ and a ‘‘snake’’. One of the reasons for it was because she took her music off streaming services in protest of smaller artists not receiving enough money that they deserve. In addition, her resparked feud with Kanye West in 2016 was the final straw to Taylor Swift’s so-called ‘’downfall’’, as the internet collectively decided to cancel her.

Reputation (2017)

After taking a hiatus being out of the public’s eye for over a year, Taylor Swift made her most iconic comeback to date with ‘Look What You Made Me Do’, peaking at #1 on the Billboard Charts. The music video addressed all the criticism she’s received the past few years, as well as her sexual assault lawsuit that she won after counter-suing a symbolic one dollar, pledging to donate money to organizations defending sexual assault victims.

Her musical persona was shifting to a darker aesthetic taking on the ‘’snake’’ imaginary people forced onto her, with music heavily inspired by electro-pop and EDM sounds. Reputation was Taylor’s catharsis as her public image was at an all-time low, which led her to hide her personal life from the media spotlight and come back stronger than ever, speaking out against injustices to her and others.

Lover (2019)

At the end of the decade, Taylor Swift broke her silence on politics when she endorsed a Democratic candidate in her home state, resulting in more than 160.000 people registering to vote. She also shifted back to a more bright-hearted and colourful aesthetic with ‘Lover’, the first album she has owned after a lengthy battle with her old record label. Lover was a celebration of love in all its complexities and in Taylor’s words: ‘love is also equality’, as she spoke out for LGBTQ rights with the single ‘You Need To Calm Down’. And thus she further petitioned the Senate to pass the equality act and donated 113.000 dollars to the cause.

Taylor Swift continues to use her platform and her art for good after finding her own voice and not staying silent anymore as explained in her recent documentary ‘Miss Americana’, detailing her tumultuous life this past decade and her fight against sexism in the music industry. So last year the AMAs have rightfully crowned her Artist of the Decade. Hated but also very beloved, even long after the 2010s, no one could ever possibly say ‘’who’s Taylor Swift anyway?’’

 

Cover: Gate of Theories

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Danny Cao
Danny was raised in the Netherlands after his family immigrated from Vietnam. Coming into contact with injustice, prejudice, and identity early on in his childhood, he heavily incorporated these themes into his writing and storytelling, whether fiction or fact. He also loves reading, media entertainment and languages, and is constantly inspired by creativity and nostalgia. He writes mostly about pop culture, such as film and music, and ties this heavily to social issues - from true romance to future revolutions - anything is possible.

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