With millions of people around the globe scrambling for tickets to Taylor Swift’s stadium shows, tens of thousands standing outside the venues just to hear her, charts topped on every platform, and records shattered with every release… one thing should be clear by now: we are in our Taylormania era.
Back in the 60’s you had Beatlemania, a term created to describe the otherworldly levels of fame and hype that The Beatles had reached. And in 2023, it is Taylor Swift who is on top of the world by every single metric, be it tour sales, album sales, awards, or song streams. In other words, she has outgrown the term “superstar” by now. But while her accolades and chart-topping sales are certainly impressive achievements, her impact goes much beyond simple numbers.
Taylor & the Taylor’s Version
However, the problem never really made it to the public agenda until Taylor Swift started talking about it.
With a thriving career of over 17 years, it’s needless to say that Swift has left her mark on the music industry in several ways. Most prominently with her masters/re-recording crusade.
Now, I won’t bore you with a whole explanation of what masters are and why we ought to talk about them (although you can read here to find out more!), but to give you a quick rundown – in 2019, her old record label sold the rights to her masters to Scooter Braun instead of allowing her to purchase them, she got upset (rightfully so), and in 2021 began re-recording her first six albums to reclaim ownership over her work.
Truth be told, the right to masters ownership has long been an issue within the industry. Over the years numerous artists have complained about not retaining the masters to their songs and albums, and some have fearlessly advocated for their right to ownership. However, the problem never really made it to the public agenda until Taylor Swift started talking about it.
After all, you have most likely heard of “Taylor’s Version” at least once in the past two years. Meaning that even if you don’t know what masters are and are not well-versed in the more technical side of the music industry, you are at least familiar with the idea of artists re-recording their music and fighting for their rights. Taylor put it on the map.
But what’s even more important is that not only did her efforts reach the public eye, but they also made it to the industry’s ears. In fact, she has already inspired several artists to follow suit and re-record their catalogs, and has prompted music labels to modify contracts in order to block artists from re-recording like Swift. Plus, it made new and aspiring artists increasingly aware of the importance of owning their own masters, thus encouraging them to fight for their rights and demand masters ownership from the get-go.
And that’s not all she did for artists rights. In 2015, she pulled her music from Apple Music in protest of their 3-month free trial period, as during those 3 months the service was not paying the artists whose music was streamed. Soon after, Apple Music rolled back its policy and decided to pay artists even during that free trial period. Similarly, when she signed a deal with Universal Music Group in 2018, she added a clause stating that the label would have to distribute any money they make from selling Spotify shares to their artists. Albeit being an industry giant, Swift always remains a champion for the little guy.
Taylor in the movie landscape
While Taylor’s main job title may read “singer-songwriter”, the popstar has also dabbled in the movie industry from time to time. And in her usual fashion, she blew through the roof in that field as well.
Just last month, her concert movie Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour was released worldwide with AMC Theatres acting as its main distributor. Whilst we could certainly talk a lot about the record-breaking financial success of this film and how it brought huge monetary gains to both Swift and AMC, that’s not the most relevant aspect of the release. What’s most interesting about it is its significance in today’s movie landscape. Instead of striking a deal with a huge conglomerate like Netflix or Disney or Universal Pictures, she decided to follow an unorthodox path and bypassed traditional studios to release the film directly in cinemas with AMC. But why does that matter?
Well, 2023 has seen two massive strikes in the entertainment industry of the United States, with the WGA (Writers Guild of America – writers’ union) and the SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists – actors’ union) protesting over the summer demanding fairer wages and treatment from studios. In order to uphold the strikes, writers were refusing to work on scripts for several months, whereas actors were declining to do any promo work for their releases. In other words, movies were neither being made nor being advertised.
This all led to movie distributors growing concerned over their revenues for this year. Luckily, this summer was saved by the Barbenheimer extravaganza, which attracted moviegoers en masse. With the trend slowing down and numbers increasingly dropping, theaters were preparing for a lean fourth quarter of 2023. Until Taylor Swift came to the rescue and revived box office numbers.
Less than a month after its release, the film has already grossed $139.5 million in the United States and Canada, and $46.8 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $186.3 million. But while it’s certainly wonderful that Taylor is helping theaters stay afloat, the significance of her AMC deal goes beyond that.
For starters, the movie was reportedly “in full compliance with strike rules”, meaning that everyone who participated in the making of Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour were likely paid appropriate wages. Thus showing studios that it’s possible to score great box office numbers while fairly retributing your workers. Plus, going down a non-traditional path to distribute a film of such a large caliber, shows movie theaters that they do not have to be reliant on major studios to attract moviegoers, and tells studios that they are not that necessary after all. More filmmakers could be inspired by her actions and decide to bypass studios by going straight to theaters instead, which would throw the balance of the whole movie industry out the window.
To no one’s surprise, studios did NOT like that at all, as they are reportedly ‘angry’ at her move. However, SAG-AFTRA Chief Negotiator and National Executive Director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland praised Swift in an interview, saying “I hope that the studios are paying attention because it is an important sign of creative partners who have talent and provide a fair deal […].”
Taylor’s voice is not just for singing
Taylor may have started using her voice for political endorsements well into her career, but it’s surely a very powerful one.
On Sep 19 of this year, National Voter Registration Day took place in the United States, which is a nationwide holiday created in order to increase awareness of voter registration importance and opportunities. In celebration of the event, Swift took to her Instagram account (where she boasts 275 million followers) and wrote “I’ve been so lucky to see so many of you guys at my U.S. shows recently. I’ve heard you raise your voices, and I know how powerful they are, make sure you’re ready to use them in our elections this year!.” Her post included a link to register at Vote.org.
The voter organization reported that over 35 thousand registrations were recorded on that day, the most since 2020 and a 23% jump from last year. While it’s not possible to determine causality between the registration surge and Taylor’s social media upload, Vote.org found a 1,226% jump in participation in the hour after the post. It doesn’t take much else to draw conclusions.
Particularly since that wasn’t the first time something similar happened. In 2018, she uploaded an Instagram post to her then 112 million followers urging them to vote. According to Vote.org, nearly 65 thousand individuals aged 18 to 29 registered on the platform in the 24 hours following Swift’s social media upload, which was a big increase from previous days. The nonprofit organization even released a statement at the time, saying “Taylor’s post has helped bring out young voters […],” and commending her for using her platform the right way.
Taylor & the Taylornomics
Swift has long been vocal about her feminism, even using it as material for a few of her songs.
But while her influence as so far described is nothing short of admirable, her impact on society in its broader sense is far greater.
Over the years, she has often engaged in philanthropic work, donating to causes such as education, uplifting victims of gender-based violence and national disasters, wildlife, and LGBT+ rights (in fact, she remains one of the top contributors on GoFundMe). Not only that – just this year, she reportedly gave bonuses to those working on her tour totalling over $55 million. Given the amount of worker strikes we’ve seen this year complaining about unfair wages across various industries, a gesture like that sets a nice precedent.
Plus, her financial impact goes beyond monetary distribution. This year she embarked upon her record-smashing Eras Tour in the U.S., a stellar event which gathered millions of people inside and outside stadiums across the country. However, she wasn’t the only one making a buck from these concerts. Financial publication MarketWatch reports that the tour helped the U.S. avert a widely predicted summer recession, and describes her as one of the most influential individuals on markets. “Call it Taylornomics, as some already have,” they write, “[…] it was a force to be reckoned with. And it served as a proxy of sorts for the consumer mindset in 2023. In effect, the market’s rise paralleled Swift’s attendance as a pop juggernaut.” But her influence doesn’t just stop at money.
As a successful woman in a (still) male-centric industry, Swift has long been vocal about her feminism, even using it as material for a few of her songs. But her landmark effort in the fight against misogyny came in 2017, when former radio DJ David Mueller sued her for a whooping $3M for defamation after she accused him of groping her in 2013, and she countersued for $1 in damages (which she won!).
A purposely low sum, as Swift did not want to bankrupt her assaulter but she aimed at sending a message to women and artists to hold predators accountable for their actions. Something which worked out as was hoped, since Taylor’s trial and symbolic sum were cited in several other cases in the American judiciary in the following years. Plus, the singer-songwriter has not shied away from calling out misogynistic and slut-shaming comments made against her, thus using her platform to send a definite message of female empowerment.
Taylor as the people’s troubadour
[H]er way with words is of the rarest and most inimitable kind
Nevertheless, Swift’s biggest impact on society remains within her music. Not only does she write incredibly catchy and addictive tunes, but her way with words is of the rarest and most inimitable kind. And the relatability of those words is what sets her apart – transcending cultures, languages and generations, she manages to speak to and for everyone, often better than they can do so themselves.
But as they say, every empire must fall. Sure, right now the Taylormania frenzy has taken over the world by every single metric – tour tickets, CD and vinyl sales, streams, cultural impact… she has it all! And, as we all know, nothing can last forever, so there will surely be a day where her hype will have faded. But even when she will no longer be on top of the charts, her influence will never truly leave. Nor will she or her music ever stop being relevant, as people will always seek an artist who can speak for them – she will always be the people’s troubadour. And isn’t that a real fucking legacy to leave?
Edited by Adriana Cid