I’ll admit it. I appreciated Taylor Swift from afar, but I wouldn’t call myself a fan. I listened to her songs on the radio in a somewhat detached way. I knew she was the kind of young woman I want my own daughter to admire. But I didn’t feel any special connection to her as an artist.
Then I took my nine-year-old daughter to a Taylor Swift concert in Philadelphia. It’s been more than a week, and I’m still on a “high” from it. Six months ago when my good friend got a bunch of us to agree to buy tickets for this concert, I balked. It seemed a lifetime away. But as we walked into the stadium, I realized a lifetime was way too long to go without Taylor Swift in our lives.
For this former college-admissions-dean-turned-college-counselor, that concert was the perfect reminder that there’s beauty, vulnerability, and power to sharing your feelings. And, Taylor Swift is masterful in this form of self-expression. She has the guts to put herself out there.
Taylor Swift would make one heck of a college applicant. I bet her college essay would’ve been quite remarkable. Why? Because she’s willing to share her stories, triumphs, and failures, and turn them into pure gold—or platinum as they say in the music industry. If you listen to the lyrics of her songs, you realize she’s a genius inside a 25-year old’s body. I have to remind myself that she’s been writing her own music since she was a kid. She has translated her life into songs that are relatable, self-effacing, and representative of who she is. The difference between Taylor Swift and most of us is that she’s using self-expression to empower herself and millions of young girls (and a few 40 year old moms, too) to be comfortable in their own skin.
"@taylorswift13 shares her stories, triumphs, and failures. You need to be equally as authentic." TWEET THIS
Her songs and the stories behind them had all 50,000 of us rapt with interest. She’s a brilliant storyteller. She’s able to weave personal little tidbits into monumental messages about life, love, friendship, and challenge.
She shares. But Taylor Swift does more than that. She takes a moment in her life, shares it unapologetically, and then reveals a “hidden message.” The hidden message is the moral of the story—it’s what stays with her audience. It reminds us that life is far from perfect, but it’s the recovery or the lesson learned that catapults us forward. And, that’s the secret of a brilliant college essay.
Pick a topic that only you could write about. Share something “real” and sometimes “raw” about the topic. Sure, romantic love is not exactly appropriate for the college essay, but other life experiences are. And then, show growth. The growth is the hidden lesson. Every hit Taylor Swift has written has one. Every extraordinary essay has one too.
The problem is that most kids are afraid to put themselves out there. They worry that if they share something in their life besides academic achievement, they’re not going to be taken seriously. And the thought of actually writing about something in their lives that isn’t perfect terrifies them even more. But here’s a secret. Admissions officers—even those at Ivy League schools—were not perfect students or perfect college applicants. In fact, they are reminded every day how imperfect they were, especially as they read applications from students who have so many extraordinary accomplishments in high school.
"The best college essays I've read took a chance and the students really put themselves out there." TWEET THIS
The reason Taylor Swift’s songs are so powerful is that she shares in them what we all go through: emotions from challenge, criticism, and failure in our life. When I listen to her songs, I see a woman who is learning from missteps and mistakes, and turning her life into a daily display of a wiser, smarter, and more confident human being.
The best college essays I’ve read in my career in admissions and college counseling share that same quality. They capture a distinct moment, relationship, or characteristic about a young life, and then the student celebrates it, learns from it, or becomes motivated by it to do something positive.
I know the critics will say that Taylor Swift didn’t go to college; she didn’t write a college essay. What she’s done though, is realize a dream. Her dream looks a little different than the typical college bound teenager, but that’s the point. She uses her story to accomplish something in her life. Writing song lyrics or writing a college essay is about storytelling. It’s your story, though. And, if you’re willing to share it, good things will follow.
Swift performing on The Red Tour in March 2013
|Born||Taylor Alison Swift|
(1989-12-13) December 13, 1989 (age 28)
Reading, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Net worth||$280 million (June 2017 estimate)|
Taylor Alison Swift (born December 13, 1989) is an American singer-songwriter. One of the leading contemporary recording artists, she is known for narrative songs about her personal life, which have received widespread media coverage.
Born and raised in Pennsylvania, Swift moved to Nashville, Tennessee at the age of 14 to pursue a career in country music. She signed with the label Big Machine Records and became the youngest artist ever signed by the Sony/ATV Music publishing house. Her 2006 self-titled debut album peaked at number five on the Billboard 200 and spent the most weeks on the chart in the 2000s. The album's third single, "Our Song", made her the youngest person to single-handedly write and perform a number-one song on the Hot Country Songs chart. Swift's second album, Fearless, was released in 2008. Buoyed by the success of pop crossover singles "Love Story" and "You Belong with Me", Fearless became the best-selling album of 2009 in the United States. The album won four Grammy Awards, with Swift becoming the youngest Album of the Year winner.
Swift was the sole writer of her 2010 album, Speak Now. It debuted at number one in the United States and the single "Mean" won two Grammy Awards. Her fourth album, Red (2012), yielded the successful singles "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" and "I Knew You Were Trouble". With her fifth album, the pop-focused 1989 (2014), she became the first act to have three albums sell a million copies within one week in the United States. Its singles "Shake It Off", "Blank Space", and "Bad Blood" reached number one in the US, Australia, and Canada. The album received three Grammy Awards, and Swift became the first woman and fifth act overall to win Album of the Year twice. The 2015 concert tour for 1989 became one of the highest-grossing of the decade. Swift's sixth album, Reputation (2017) and its lead single "Look What You Made Me Do" topped the UK and US charts.
As a songwriter, Swift has received awards from the Nashville Songwriters Association and the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and was included in Rolling Stone's100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time in 2015. She is also the recipient of 10 Grammy Awards, five Guinness World Records, one Emmy, 21 Billboard Music Awards, and 12 Country Music Association Awards. Swift is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold more than 40 million albums—including 27.8 million in the US—and 130 million single downloads. She has appeared in Time's100 most influential people in the world (2010 and 2015), Forbes' top-earning women in music (2011–2015), Forbes'100 most powerful women (2015), and Forbes Celebrity 100 (2016). Her inclusion in the third of these made her the youngest woman on the list, and she ranked first in Celebrity 100.
Life and career
1989–2003: Early life
Taylor Alison Swift was born on December 13, 1989, in Reading, Pennsylvania. Her father, Scott Kingsley Swift, was a financial advisor, and her mother, Andrea Gardner Swift (née Finlay), was a homemaker who had previously worked as a mutual fund marketing executive. Swift has a younger brother named Austin. The singer spent the early years of her life on a Christmas tree farm. She attended preschool and kindergarten at the Alvernia Montessori School, run by Franciscan nuns, before transferring to The Wyndcroft School. The family then moved to a rented house in the suburban town of Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, where she attended Wyomissing Area Junior/Senior High School.
At the age of nine, Swift became interested in musical theater and performed in four Berks Youth Theatre Academy productions. She also traveled regularly to New York City for vocal and acting lessons. Swift later shifted her focus toward country music inspired by Shania Twain's songs, which made her "want to just run around the block four times and daydream about everything". She spent her weekends performing at local festivals and events. After watching a documentary about Faith Hill, Swift felt sure that she needed to go to Nashville, Tennessee, to pursue a music career. At the age of eleven, she traveled with her mother to visit Nashville record labels and submitted a demo tape of Dolly Parton and Dixie Chicks karaoke covers. However, she was rejected since "everyone in that town wanted to do what I wanted to do. So, I kept thinking to myself, I need to figure out a way to be different".
When Swift was about 12 years old, computer repairman and local musician Ronnie Cremer taught her how to play guitar and helped with her first efforts as a songwriter, leading to her writing "Lucky You". In 2003, Swift and her parents started working with New York-based music manager Dan Dymtrow. With his help, Swift modelled for Abercrombie & Fitch as part of their "Rising Stars" campaign, had an original song included on a Maybelline compilation CD, and attended meetings with major record labels. After performing original songs at an RCA Records showcase, Swift was given an artist development deal and began making frequent trips to Nashville with her mother.
To help Swift break into country music, her father transferred to the Nashville office of Merrill Lynch when she was 14, and the family relocated to a lakefront house in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Swift attended public high school, but after two years transferred to the Aaron Academy, which through homeschooling could accommodate her touring schedule, and she graduated a year early.
2004–2008: Career beginnings and Taylor Swift
In Nashville, Swift worked with experienced Music Row songwriters such as Troy Verges, Brett Beavers, Brett James, Mac McAnally, and The Warren Brothers. She eventually formed a lasting working relationship with Liz Rose. They began meeting for two-hour writing sessions every Tuesday afternoon after school. Rose thought that the sessions were "some of the easiest I've ever done. Basically, I was just her editor. She'd write about what happened in school that day. She had such a clear vision of what she was trying to say. And she'd come in with the most incredible hooks". Swift was signed by the Sony/ATV Tree publishing house, but left RCA Records when she was 14. She later recalled: "I genuinely felt that I was running out of time. I wanted to capture these years of my life on an album while they still represented what I was going through".
Swift was at an industry showcase at Nashville's Bluebird Cafe in 2005 when she caught the attention of Scott Borchetta, a DreamWorks Records executive who was preparing to form his own independent record label, Big Machine Records. She had met Borchetta in 2004. She became one of the first signings, and her father purchased a three percent stake in the fledgling company at an estimated cost of $120,000. The singer began working on her eponymous debut album shortly after signing the record deal. She persuaded Big Machine to hire her demo producer Nathan Chapman, with whom she felt she had the right "chemistry". Swift wrote three of the album's songs alone, and co-wrote the remaining eight with writers Rose, Robert Ellis Orrall, Brian Maher, and Angelo Petraglia.Taylor Swift was released on October 24, 2006. Jon Caramanica of The New York Times described it as "a small masterpiece of pop-minded country, both wide-eyed and cynical, held together by Ms. Swift's firm, pleading voice".Taylor Swift peaked at number five on the Billboard 200 and spent 157 weeks on the chart, marking the longest stay by any release in the 2000s. As of August 2016 the album has sold over 7.75 million copies worldwide.
Big Machine Records was still in its infancy during the June 2006 release of the lead single, "Tim McGraw", and Swift and her mother helped "stuff the CD singles into envelopes to send to radio". She spent much of 2006 promoting Taylor Swift with a radio tour and television appearances. Borchetta has said that record industry peers disliked his signing of a 16-year-old singer-songwriter at first, but that Swift tapped into a previously unknown market—teenage girls who listen to country music. Following "Tim McGraw", four more singles were released throughout 2007 and 2008: "Teardrops on My Guitar", "Our Song", "Picture to Burn" and "Should've Said No". All were highly successful on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart, with "Our Song" and "Should've Said No" both reaching number one. For the former, Swift became the youngest person to single-handedly write and perform a number-one song on the chart. "Teardrops on My Guitar" became a moderate commercial success, reaching number thirteen on the Billboard Hot 100. Swift also released the holiday album Sounds of the Season: The Taylor Swift Holiday Collection in October 2007 and the EP Beautiful Eyes in July 2008. She promoted her debut album extensively as the opening act for other artists on their tours.
Swift won accolades for Taylor Swift. She was one of the recipients of the Nashville Songwriters Association's Songwriter/Artist of the Year in 2007, becoming the youngest person to be honored with the title. She also won the Country Music Association's Horizon Award for Best New Artist, the Academy of Country Music Awards' Top New Female Vocalist, and the American Music Awards' Favorite Country Female Artist honor. She was also nominated for Best New Artist at the 2008 Grammy Awards. In July of that year, Swift began a romance with Joe Jonas that ended three months later.
2008–2010: Fearless and acting
Swift's second studio album, Fearless, was released on November 11, 2008. The lead single, "Love Story", was released in September 2008. It peaked at number four on the Billboard Hot 100 and number one in Australia. Four more singles were released throughout 2008 and 2009: "White Horse", "You Belong with Me", "Fifteen" and "Fearless". "You Belong with Me" was the album's highest-charting single on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number two. The album debuted at number one on Billboard 200 and was the top-selling album of 2009 in the United States. The album received promotion from Swift's first concert tour, Fearless Tour, which grossed over $63 million.Taylor Swift: Journey to Fearless, a concert film, was aired on television and later released on DVD and Blu-ray. Swift also performed as a supporting act for Keith Urban's Escape Together World Tour.
In 2009, the music video for "You Belong with Me" was named MTV Video Music Award for Best Female Video. Her acceptance speech was interrupted by rapper Kanye West. The incident was the subject of controversy and frequent media attention, resulting in many Internet memes. James Montgomery of MTV argued that the incident and subsequent media attention turned Swift into "a bona-fide mainstream celebrity". Also that year, she won five American Music Awards, including Artist of the Year and Favorite Country Album.Billboard named her 2009's Artist of the Year. The album ranked number 99 on NPR's 2017 list of the 150 Greatest Albums Made By Women.
At the 52nd Grammy Awards, Fearless was named Album of the Year and Best Country Album, and "White Horse" was named Best Country Song and Best Female Country Vocal Performance. Swift was the youngest artist ever to win Album of the Year. During the ceremony, Swift sang "You Belong with Me" and "Rhiannon" with Stevie Nicks. Her vocal performance received negative reviews and a media backlash. Jon Caramanica of The New York Times found it "refreshing to see someone so gifted make the occasional flub" and described Swift as "the most important new pop star of the past few years". Swift became the youngest ever artist to be named Entertainer of the Year by the Country Music Association.Fearless also won the Association's Album of the Year award.
Swift contributed backing vocals to John Mayer's "Half of My Heart", a single featured on his fourth album, Battle Studies (2009). She co-wrote and recorded "Best Days of Your Life" with Kellie Pickler, and co-wrote two songs for the Hannah Montana: The Movie soundtrack—"You'll Always Find Your Way Back Home" and "Crazier". Swift also provided vocals for Boys Like Girls' "Two Is Better Than One". She contributed two songs to the Valentine's Day soundtrack, including "Today Was a Fairytale", which became her first number one on the Canadian Hot 100 chart. While filming Valentine's Day in October 2009—Swift's film debut—she began a romantic relationship with co-star Taylor Lautner, but they broke up later that year. The romantic comedy, released the following year, saw her play the ditzy girlfriend of a high school jock, a role in which Los Angeles Times found "serious comedic potential". In a scathing review, the critic for Variety deemed her "entirely undirected", arguing that "she needs to find a skilled director to tamp her down and channel her obviously abundant energy".
Swift made her acting debut in a 2009 episode of CBS's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, playing a rebellious teenager. The New York Times noted that the character allowed Swift to be "a little bit naughty, and credibly so". Later that year, Swift both hosted and performed as the musical guest for an episode of Saturday Night Live.Entertainment Weekly described her as "this season's best Saturday Night Live host so far", noting that she "was always up for the challenge, seemed to be having fun, and helped the rest of the cast nail the punchlines". Later in 2010, she briefly dated actor Jake Gyllenhaal.
2010–2014: Speak Now and Red
In August 2010, Swift released "Mine", the lead single from her third studio album, Speak Now. It entered the United States at number three, making Swift the second female artist in the history of the Hot 100 (after Mariah Carey) to debut multiple tracks in the top five in one year; the other was "Today Was a Fairytale" at number two. Swift wrote the album alone and co produced every track.Speak Now, released on October 25, 2010, was a commercial success, debuting at number one on the Billboard 200, and becoming the 16th album to achieve opening week sales of one million copies. It became the fastest-selling digital album by a female artist, with 278,000 downloads in a week, earning Swift an entry in the 2010 Guinness World Records. She earned another Guinness World Record entry after she became the first woman to achieve 10 track debuts on the Billboard Hot 100. Three of the album's singles, "Mine", "Back to December", and "Mean", peaked in the top ten in Canada.
"Mean" won Best Country Song and Best Country Solo Performance at the 54th Annual Grammy Awards. Swift performed the song during the ceremony. Claire Suddath of Time felt she "delivered her comeback on-key and with a vengeance"; Jayme Deerwester of USA Today wrote that the criticism in 2010 seemed to have "made her a better songwriter and live performer". Swift won various other awards for Speak Now, including Songwriter/Artist of the Year by the Nashville Songwriters Association (2010 and 2011), Woman of the Year by Billboard (2011), and Entertainer of the Year by the Academy of Country Music (2011 and 2012) and the Country Music Association in 2011. At the American Music Awards of 2011, Swift won Artist of the Year and Favorite Country Album.Rolling Stone placed Speak Now at number 45 in its 2012 list of the "50 Best Female Albums of All Time", writing: "She might get played on the country station, but she's one of the few genuine rock stars we've got these days, with a flawless ear for what makes a song click."
The Speak Now World Tour ran from February 2011 to March 2012 and grossed over $123 million. In November 2011, Swift released her first live album, Speak Now World Tour: Live. The following month, she contributed two original songs to The Hunger Games soundtrack album: "Safe & Sound", cowritten and recorded with the Civil Wars and T-Bone Burnett, and "Eyes Open". "Safe & Sound" won the Grammy Award for Best Song Written for Visual Media. After providing vocals for B.o.B's "Both of Us" in May 2012, Swift dated political heir Conor Kennedy from July to September 2012. In August, Swift released "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together", the lead single from her fourth studio album, Red. It became her first number one in the US and New Zealand, and reached the top slot on an iTunes chart 50 minutes after its release, earning the "Fastest Selling Single in Digital History" Guinness World Record. Swift released the album's second single, "Begin Again", in October. It reached number seven on the Billboard Hot 100. Other singles released from the album include "I Knew You Were Trouble", "22", "Everything Has Changed", "The Last Time", and "Red". "I Knew You Were Trouble" was a major commercial success, peaking at number two in the United States.
Red was released on October 22, 2012, incorporating new genres, such as heartland rock, dubstep and dance-pop. The album was a critical and commercial success, and debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 with first-week sales of 1.21 million copies. This marked the highest opening sales in a decade, and made Swift the first female to have two million-selling album openings, a record recognized by Guinness World Records.The Red Tour ran from March 2013 to June 2014 and grossed over $150 million.Red earned several accolades, including four nominations at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards. Its single "I Knew You Were Trouble" won Best Female Video at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards. Swift was named Best Female Country Artist at the 2012 American Music Awards and Artist of the Year at the 2013 ceremony. She received the Nashville Songwriters Association's Songwriter/Artist Award for the fifth and sixth consecutive years in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Swift was also honored by the Association with a special Pinnacle Award, making her the second recipient of the accolade after Garth Brooks.
In 2013, Swift cowrote "Sweeter Than Fiction" with Jack Antonoff for the One Chance soundtrack, and received a Best Original Song nomination at the 71st Golden Globe Awards. She provided guest vocals for a McGraw song titled "Highway Don't Care", featuring guitar work by Urban. Swift performed "As Tears Go By" with the Rolling Stones in Chicago as part of their 50 & Counting tour, and stated that the band was a major influence on her career outlook. She also joined Florida Georgia Line on stage during their set at the 2013 Country Radio Seminar to sing "Cruise". Outside music, Swift voiced Audrey, a tree lover, in the animated film The Lorax (2012), made a cameo in the sitcom New Girl (2013), and had a supporting role in the film adaptation of The Giver (2014). She dated British singer Harry Styles.
In March 2014, Swift relocated to New York City. Around this time, she was working on her fifth studio album, 1989, with writers Antonoff, Martin, Shellback, Imogen Heap, Ryan Tedder, and Ali Payami. She promoted the album through various campaigns, including inviting fans to secret album-listening sessions, called the "1989 Secret Sessions". Credited as her "first documented, official pop album", it marks a departure from her previous country albums. The album was released on October 27, 2014 to positive reviews.
1989 sold 1.28 million copies in the US during the first week of release and debuted atop the Billboard 200—this made Swift the first act to have three albums sell more than one million copies in their opening release week, for which she earned a Guinness World Record. As of June 2017, 1989 had sold over 10 million copies worldwide. The album's lead single, "Shake It Off", was released in August 2014 and debuted at number one on the Billboard Hot 100. Others included two number-one singles—"Blank Space" and "Bad Blood" (featuring Kendrick Lamar)—as well as the top-ten entries "Style" and "Wildest Dreams", and the singles "Out of the Woods" and "New Romantics". "Shake It Off", "Blank Space", and "Bad Blood" also topped the charts in Australia and Canada. After "Blank Space" reached number-one in the US following "Shake It Off", Swift became the first woman in the Hot 100's history to succeed herself at the top spot. The music video for the former briefly became the fastest video to reach one billion views on Vevo. The videos for "Blank Space" and "Bad Blood" won four accolades at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards, with the latter winning for Video of the Year and Best Collaboration. Swift's headlining tour, the 1989 World Tour, running from May to December 2015, grossed over $250 million, and became one of the highest grossing tours of the decade.
Swift was named Billboard's Woman of the Year in 2014, becoming the first artist to win the award twice. Also that year, she received the Dick Clark Award for Excellence at the American Music Awards. In 2015, "Shake It Off" was nominated for three Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year and Song of the Year and Swift won the Brit Award for International Female Solo Artist. The singer was one of eight artists to receive a 50th Anniversary Milestone Award at the 2015 Academy of Country Music Awards. In 2016, Swift won three Grammy Awards for 1989—Album of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Album, and Best Music Video for "Bad Blood". She became the first woman, and fifth act overall, to win the first of these twice.
Prior to 1989's release, Swift stressed the importance of albums to artists and fans. In November 2014, she removed her entire catalog from Spotify, arguing that the streaming company's ad-supported, free service undermined the premium service, which provides higher royalties for songwriters. In a June 2015 open letter, Swift criticized Apple Music for not offering royalties to artists during the streaming service's free three-month trial period and stated that she would pull 1989 from the catalog. The following day, Apple announced that it would pay artists during the free trial period, and Swift agreed to stream 1989 on the streaming service. Swift's intellectual property rights management and holding company, TAS Rights Management, filed for 73 trademarks related to the singer and the 1989 era memes. She re-added her entire catalog to Spotify, Amazon Music and Google Play in June 2017.
In 2015, Swift performed "I Saw Her Standing There" and "Shake It Off" with Paul McCartney at the Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special after-party, and joined Kenny Chesney to sing "Big Star" on the opening night of his Big Revival Tour in Nashville. In March 2015, Swift started dating Scottish DJ and record producer Calvin Harris. By June 2015, the duo were ranked as the highest-paid celebrity couple over the past year by Forbes with combined earnings of over $146 million. In August, Swift addressed her mother's cancer diagnosis, and encouraged others to get a medical checkup. Before Swift and Harris announced the end of their relationship in June 2016, the two co-wrote his song "This Is What You Came For", for which she was initially credited under the pseudonym Nils Sjöberg. In October, she penned Little Big Town's "Better Man" for their seventh album, The Breaker. The song earned Swift an award for Song of the Year at the 51st CMA Awards. Two months later, Swift and Zayn Malik released a single together called "I Don't Wanna Live Forever", for the soundtrack of the film Fifty Shades Darker (2017), which reached number one in Sweden and number two in the US. The duo won the MTV Video Music Award for Best Collaboration for its music video.
In August 2017, Swift sued and prevailed in a civil trial against David Mueller, a former morning show personality for Denver's KYGO-FM. Four years earlier, Swift had informed Mueller's bosses that he had sexually assaulted her by groping her at an event. After being fired, Mueller accused Swift of lying and sued her for making him lose his job. Shortly after, Swift counter-sued for sexual assault. The jury rejected Mueller's claims and ruled in favor of Swift. The singer thereafter cleared her social media accounts, and released "Look What You Made Me Do" as the lead single of her sixth album Reputation. The song topped the charts in Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, the UK, and the US. Its music video gained over 43.2 million views during its first day on YouTube, breaking the record for the most-viewed music video within 24 hours. In October, Swift released the album's second single, "...Ready for It?", which reached number three in Australia and number four in the US.
From Reputation, two promotional singles, "Gorgeous" and "Call It What You Want" were released. The album was released on November 10 and sold 1.216 million copies in the US—becoming 2017's top-selling album (pure sales only) in the country—and 2 million copies worldwide during its first week. It topped the charts in several countries, including the US, the UK, Australia and Canada. Later that month, Swift performed "...Ready for It?" and "Call It What You Want" on Saturday Night Live. In support of Reputation, Swift will embark on Taylor Swift's Reputation Stadium Tour in 2018.
One of Swift's earliest musical memories is listening to her maternal grandmother, Marjorie Finlay, sing in church. As a child, she enjoyed Disney film soundtracks: "My parents noticed that, once I had run out of words, I would just make up my own". Swift has said she owes her confidence to her mother, who helped her prepare for class presentations as a child. She also attributes her "fascination with writing and storytelling" to her mother. Swift was drawn to the storytelling of country music, and was introduced to the genre by "the great female country artists of the '90s"—Shania Twain, Faith Hill and the Dixie Chicks. Twain, both as a songwriter and performer, was her biggest musical influence. Hill was Swift's childhood role model: "Everything she said, did, wore, I tried to copy it". She admired the Dixie Chicks' defiant attitude and their ability to play their own instruments. The band's "Cowboy Take Me Away" was the first song Swift learned to play on the guitar. Swift also explored the music of older country stars, including Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette. She believes Parton is "an amazing example to every female songwriter out there".Alt-country artists such as Ryan Adams,Patty Griffin and Lori McKenna have inspired Swift.
Swift lists Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones,Bruce Springsteen, Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson, and Carly Simon as her career role models: "They've taken chances, but they've also been the same artist for their entire careers". McCartney, both as a Beatle and a solo artist, makes Swift feel "as if I've been let into his heart and his mind ... Any musician could only dream of a legacy like that". She admires Springsteen for being "so musically relevant after such a long period of time". She aspires to be like Harris as she grows older: "It's not about fame for her, it's about music". "[Kristofferson] shines in songwriting ... He's just one of those people who has been in this business for years but you can tell it hasn't chewed him up and spat him out", Swift says. She admires Simon's "songwriting and honesty ... She's known as an emotional person but a strong person".
Swift has also been influenced by many artists outside the country genre. As a pre-teen, she enjoyed bubblegum pop acts including Hanson and Britney Spears; Swift has said she has "unwavering devotion" for Spears. In her high school years, Swift listened to rock bands such as Dashboard Confessional,Fall Out Boy, and Jimmy Eat World. She has also spoken fondly of singers and songwriters like Michelle Branch,Alanis Morissette,Ashlee Simpson,Fefe Dobson and Justin Timberlake; and the 1960s acts The Shirelles, Doris Troy, and The Beach Boys. Swift's fifth album, the pop-focused 1989, was influenced by some of her favorite 1980s pop acts, including Annie Lennox, Phil Collins and "Like a Prayer-era Madonna".
Swift's music contains elements of pop, pop rock and country. She described herself as a country artist until the 2014 release of 1989, which she described as a "sonically cohesive pop album".Rolling Stone wrote: "[Swift] might get played on the country station, but she's one of the few genuine rock stars we've got these days." According to The New York Times, "There isn't much in Ms. Swift's music to indicate country—a few banjo strums, a pair of cowboy boots worn onstage, a bedazzled guitar—but there's something in her winsome, vulnerable delivery that's unique to Nashville".The Guardian wrote that Swift "cranks melodies out with the pitiless efficiency of a Scandinavian pop factory".
Swift's vocals were described by Sophie Schillaci of The Hollywood Reporter as "sweet, but soft". The Los Angeles Times identified Swift's "defining" vocal gesture in studio recordings as "the line that slides down like a contented sigh or up like a raised eyebrow, giving her beloved girl-time hits their air of easy intimacy".Rolling Stone, in a Speak Now review, wrote: "Swift's voice is unaffected enough to mask how masterful she has become as a singer; she lowers her voice for the payoff lines in the classic mode of a shy girl trying to talk tough." In another review of Speak Now, The Village Voice wrote that her phrasing was previously "bland and muddled, but that's changed. She can still sound strained and thin, and often strays into a pitch that drives some people crazy; but she's learned how to make words sound like what they mean."The Hollywood Reporter wrote that her live vocals are "fine", but they do not match those of her peers. In 2009, Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly described Swift's vocals as "flat, thin, and sometimes as wobbly as a newborn colt". However, Swift has received praise for refusing to correct her pitch with Auto-Tune.
In an interview with The New Yorker, Swift characterized herself primarily as a songwriter: "I write songs, and my voice is just a way to get those lyrics across." A writer for The Tennessean conceded in 2010 that Swift is "not the best technical singer", but described her as the "best communicator that we've got". Swift's vocal presence is something that concerns her and she has "put a lot of work" into improving it. It was reported in 2010 that she continues to take vocal lessons. She has said that she only feels nervous performing "if I'm not sure what the audience thinks of me, like at award shows".
Swift uses her life experiences as an inspiration in her work. In her songs, Swift often addresses the "anonymous crushes of her high school years" and celebrities. Swift frequently criticizes ex-boyfriends, an aspect of her songwriting downplayed by The Village Voice: "Being told What Songs Mean is like having a really pushy professor. And it imperils a true appreciation of Swift's talent, which is not confessional, but dramatic." However, New York believes the media scrutiny over her decision to "mine her personal life for music … is sexist, inasmuch as it's not asked of her male peers". The singer herself has said that not all her songs are factual and that they are sometimes based on observations. Aside from her liner note clues, Swift tries not to talk about song subjects specifically "because these are real people. You try to give insight as to where you were coming from as a writer without completely throwing somebody under the bus".
For a female to write about her feelings, and then be portrayed as some clingy, insane, desperate girlfriend in need of making you marry her and have kids with her, I think that's taking something that potentially should be celebrated—a woman writing about her feelings in a confessional way—that's taking it and turning it and twisting it into something that is frankly a little sexist.
— Swift in response to criticism of her songwriting
The Guardian has praised Swift for writing about teenage years "with a kind of wistful, sepia-toned nostalgia" over the course of her first two albums.New York has remarked that many singer-songwriters have made great records as teens, but "none made great records so explicitly about their teens". The magazine has also compared her work to Brian Wilson. In Fearless, Swift featured fairy tale imagery and explored the disconnect "between fairy tales and the reality of love". Her later albums address more adult relationships. In addition to romance and love, Swift's songs have discussed parent-child relationships, friendships, alienation, fame, and career ambitions. Swift frequently includes "a tossed-off phrase to suggest large and serious things that won't fit in the song, things that enhance or subvert the surface narrative".
Rolling Stone describes Swift as "a songwriting savant with an intuitive gift for verse-chorus-bridge architecture". According to The Village Voice, she uses third-verse point of view reversals frequently. In terms of imagery, repetition is evident in Swift's songwriting. In The Guardian's words, "she spends so much time kissin' in the rain that it seems a miracle she hasn't developed trenchfoot".Slant Magazine adds, "to Swift's credit, she explores new lyrical motifs over the course of [her fourth] album". Although reviews of Swift's work are "almost uniformly positive", The New Yorker has said she is generally portrayed "more as a skilled technician than as a Dylanesque visionary".
Swift's personal life is the subject of constant media attention. In 2013, Abercrombie & Fitch marketed a slogan T-shirt with a "slut-shaming" remark directed toward her.The New York Times asserted that her "dating history has begun to stir what feels like the beginning of a backlash" and questioned whether Swift was in the midst of a "quarter-life crisis". Swift has said that she is unwilling to discuss her personal life in public, as she believes that talking about it can be "a career weakness".
Rolling Stone remarks upon her polite manner: "If this is Swift's game face, it must be tattooed on because it never drops." The magazine also takes note of her "ease with glad-handing", and The Hollywood Reporter credits her as "the Best People Person since Bill Clinton". While presenting Swift an award for her humanitarian endeavors in 2012, Michelle Obama described her as a singer who "has rocketed to the top of the music industry but still keeps her feet on the ground, someone who has shattered every expectation of what a 22-year-old can accomplish". Swift considers Michelle Obama to be a role model.