Taylor Swift's imperial era: How her star rose even higher

Taylor Swift's imperial era: How her star rose even higher

6 min read

If you haven’t heard of Taylor Swift, where have you been? The singer has achieved astronomical levels of success over the past five years: here are five ways through which her star has risen higher than ever
In her 2020 Netflix documentary Miss Americana, Taylor Swift regarded her 2019 album Lover as “one of my last opportunities as an artist to grasp onto” the success she’d previously enjoyed. This was because—in her own words, as she reflected on turning 30—“women in entertainment are discarded in an elephant graveyard by the time they’re 35”. Less than four years after that, she was unveiled as Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” for 2023: a title they bestow upon the individual whom they believe has most affected the news and society in the calendar year.
With the release of her latest album, The Tortured Poets Department, just around the corner, her star is set to rise even higher. But how did Taylor Swift ascend, from already-incredible success to astronomical levels of achievement? We’ve pinpointed the five key moments from the past five years which we believe have allowed her to become one of the most famous people in the world—all before she turns 35.

1. The release of Folklore and Evermore

On April 27, 2020, Taylor posted a selfie to Instagram with the caption, “Not a lot going on at the moment”; like the rest of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic meant she was quarantining at home. However, less than three months later, on July 23, she revealed that her isolation had in fact been incredibly productive as she released her surprise eighth studio album, Folklore.
In contrast to preceding albums Lover and Reputation, which were glossy synth-pop and electropop creations, Folklore was a stripped-back, indie folk album. This was a completely new sound for Taylor, and a new way of writing; while many of her songs are inspired by her personal life, Folklore also included lyrics telling the stories of different characters, such as the love triangle of Betty, James and Inez (named after the children of her close friends, Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds). It was a comforting album in times of incredible discomfort, and at times, with songs like “Exile” and “My Tears Ricochet”, tear-jerking.
Indeed, there was nothing like Folklore in Taylor’s discography until December 10, 2020, when she released Evermore, her ninth studio album (and another surprise). Described as Folklore’s “sister record”, Evermore is a continuation of its alternative acoustic sound—in Taylor’s words, “we just couldn’t stop writing songs”. And with songs like “Champagne Problems” and “Happiness”, it is as emotional as its predecessor.
"Folklore and Evermore are alternative, indie folk albums: a completely new sound for Taylor"
Folklore and Evermore were acclaimed by her fans (known as Swifties) and music critics, with many heralding songs like “Mirrorball” and “Tolerate It” as some of the best songwriting of Taylor’s career. Over a million copies of each album were sold in their respective first weeks, and singles like “Cardigan” and “Willow” charted all over the world. This success culminated in Taylor winning “Album of the Year” at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards for Folklore, making her the first woman to win this award three times.

2. Taylor’s Versions

Alongside releasing original material, over the past few years Taylor has also been revisiting old favourites. On April 9, 2021, Taylor Swift released Fearless (Taylor’s Version), the re-recording of her 2008 album Fearless. This was the first of her album re-records: she had been in dispute with talent manager Scooter Braun after he purchased her old record label Big Machine Records, along with the master recordings of her first six albums, which she had been trying to purchase herself.
To ensure she owned her own music—and at the suggestion of fellow singer Kelly Clarkson—Swift began to re-record her first six albums at the end of 2020 (she talks about this in depth in the clip below). At the time of writing, Taylor has released Fearless (Taylor’s Version), Red (Taylor’s Version), Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) and 1989 (Taylor’s Version); fans eagerly await Reputation (Taylor’s Version) and Taylor Swift (Taylor’s Version).
In addition to re-recording songs that she had already released, Taylor also includes “From the Vault” tracks on each re-release; these are songs which were written for but left off her original albums, for one reason or another. Swifties buy and stream the Taylor’s Versions in their millions to support their favourite singer and ride the wave of nostalgia that each re-record provides, as well as poring over the new songs. This has led to some “Vault” tracks, like “Mr. Perfectly Fine” and “Is It Over Now?”, becoming huge hits in their own right, making Taylor an almost constant presence in the charts and on the radio since 2021.
"  Swifties buy and stream the Taylor’s Versions in their millions to pore over the 'Vault' tracks"
One song in particular, “All Too Well”, has been a fan favourite since its original release on Red in 2012—especially because of persistent rumours that it was originally much longer than the five-minute album track. Swifties were then delighted when Taylor included the full ten-minute version of “All Too Well” on Red (Taylor’s Version), and even more so when Taylor released a 15-minute short film inspired by the ballad, which she had directed. Fans sent the song to the top of the Billboard “Hot 100” in the US, making it the longest ever song to top the US charts; it has been streamed more than 800 million times on Spotify.  

3. Midnights

When Taylor appeared at the 2022 MTV Video Music Awards to collect three awards for All Too Well: The Short Film, many Swifties—who are always on the lookout for the “Easter eggs” Taylor leaves them, in her work, style and online presence—predicted that she’d announce the release of Reputation (Taylor’s Version). Because of this, the announcement that Midnights (her tenth studio album of original material) would be released on October 21, 2022, came as a huge surprise.
Taylor described Midnights as a concept album, with each song telling the story of a different midnight from throughout her life. It is a sonic return to the electropop found on Reputation and Lover, but songs like “Maroon” and “The Great War”—the latter of which was released on the surprise extended edition, Midnights (3am Edition)—maintain the poetic lyricism that is prominent in Folklore and Evermore. Because of this, some critics view Midnights as a summation of her previous nine albums.
"Some critics view Taylor's album Midnights as a summation of her previous nine albums"
The album was a huge commercial success: it was certified as double-platinum in the UK, and in the US its songs made Swift the first artist to occupy the entire top 10 of the Billboard “Hot 100”. The album’s biggest hit was “Anti-Hero”, which has been streamed almost 1.5 billion times. Midnights won “Best Pop Vocal Album” and “Album of the Year” at the 66th Annual Grammy Awards—Taylor is the first artist in history to win the “Album of the Year” award four times.

4. The “Eras Tour” and Taylor’s economic impact

By the end of 2022—largely as a result of the pandemic, which caused her to cancel her “Lover Fest” tour—Swift had not toured in four years, and she had four albums of new material which she had never played to fans. Thus, the announcement of the American leg of her “Eras Tour” on November 1, 2022, caused global excitement; Taylor described it as "a journey through the musical eras” of her career. Taylor spent 2023 touring the US, Mexico and South America, and she performed in Japan, Australia and Singapore earlier this year: the European leg kicks off in France on May 9.
The tour setlist is separated into ten acts; most are dedicated to specific albums, while in the ninth act Taylor plays two acoustic “surprise songs”, which alternate each night and can be from any of her “eras”. Swifties attending the tour have taken this “eras” element to creative heights in their outfits, often dressing up in costumes that represent Taylor’s different songs and albums—for example, cowboy boots and hats are common sights as they signify her country origins. Another important element of the shows for fans is swapping homemade friendship bracelets with other attendees, based on a lyric in the Midnights song “You’re on Your Own Kid”.
"Political leaders publicly asked Swift to perform in their countries, such is her economic impact"
A surprising side-effect of the “Eras Tour” is the economic boom experienced in the regions it is staged within. US hotels and restaurants noted record profits when Taylor came to town, and public transport usage surged thanks to tour attendees. In fact, political leaders in Canada, Chile, and Hungary publicly asked Swift to perform in their countries, such is her tour’s impact on local economies. This staggering success has made the “Eras Tour” the highest-grossing tour in history—and she’s still got half of it left to perform!

5. Taylor’s effect on the NFL

After the brilliant success of her tour and latest albums, Swifties and the media alike have been keeping an even beadier eye on Taylor’s personal life. So, when she started attending the Kansas City Chiefs’ NFL games in September 2023, in the suite of their tight end player Travis Kelce, rumours swirled about a blossoming relationship between the pair.
As Taylor attends more NFL games to support Kelce, her impact on the Chiefs and the NFL continues. Some estimate that she has increased the team’s value by over £264 million, and regular-season viewership among women is at its highest since 2000; indeed, viewership from teenage girls has increased by 53 per cent. This “Taylor Swift effect” could be seen most clearly at the 2024 Super Bowl, which the Chiefs won and Swift attended—it became the most-viewed US broadcast since the Apollo 11 moon landing, with an average of 123.4 million viewers.
Banner photo: Five ways through which Taylor Swift's star has risen even higher over the past five years (credit: Tm (Wikimedia Commons))
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