When Taylor Swift released her third rerecorded album – Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) – this month, there was no doubt it would debut at No. 1. The only question, says The New York Times, is “how forcefully it would smash records”. Here are two for starters. Swift has now become the first female artist to notch up 12 No. 1 albums. She’s also the first living act to have four albums in the top ten since Herb Alpert in 1966.
Now in the midst of her year-long Eras Tour, Swiftie-mania is running so high that demand caused a Ticketmaster meltdown. Safe to say, says Time, that at the halfway point of her re-recording project, it has “paid off big time”. Forbes reckons her net worth has multiplied to $740m this year.
The TSwift Lift
Analysts have noted a spike in local economies when Swift, 33, rolls into town, says the Financial Times. The so-called “TSwift Lift” is testament not just to the artist’s star power, but to the success of her long-running “battle to shake off the suits”. Swift began releasing re-recordings of her back catalogue in 2021 in a bid to reclaim her music after her record company, Big Machine Records – founded by Scott Borchetta, who “discovered” her as a 15-year-old in Nashville and with whom she’d fallen out – sold her masters to Scooter Braun’s Ithaca Holdings in 2019.
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Swift erupted, claiming it was “stripping” her of her life’s work. Faced with a “bitter, scorched-earth war”, Braun sold on her masters to Shamrock, an LA investment fund founded by the Disney family for $300m. Shamrock made one major miscalculation – “her commitment to revenge”.
Swift’s reputation as “a one-woman industry disruptor” was sealed in her early 20s when she took on Spotify (temporarily removing her back catalogue in 2014) and Apple Music, in a campaign for “the financial rights of musicians” in the era of “free” music, says You Magazine. But she has always been a force to be reckoned with. Born in Pennsylvania in 1989 – to Scott, a stockbroker with Merrill Lynch, and Andrea, a marketing executive – she was named after one of her mother’s favourite musicians, James Taylor.
As a child, Swift “believed in two things” – that she would become a successful singer-songwriter, and the importance of being a “good person”. An outsider at school, music was her solace and inspiration. A musical theatre performer at nine, she learned the guitar at 12, made demos of Dolly Parton covers and was soon writing her own songs.
Swift was just 14 when she persuaded her parents to move the family to Nashville so she could pursue a career in country music. Her debut album, released in 2006, knocked the socks off the critics with its energy, “girl-next-door charm”, and “emotional talking points”, says udiscovermusic.com. It was a perfect fusion of pop and country, and over the next decade, Swift evolved from a “doe-eyed prodigy” to a “global superstar”.
Controversy followed, says Vanity Fair, not least because of her habit of writing “songs about the guys she dates” and sending “fans on scavenger hunts to find out who they are”. Matters reached a head in 2016 when she became embroiled in a big spat with Kanye West and his then wife Kim Kardashian. Swift disappeared for a year, says You. She bounced back in 2017.
Savvy business brain
“Don’t let the romantic lyrics fool you,” says Entrepreneur.com. Swift is one of the sharpest entrepreneurs in the music business. Her countless endorsement deals and savvy merchandising are evidence of that. So, too, is the careful record deal struck with Universal, which ensures she now owns her own masters.
Swift’s reputation for forensic financial analysis was boosted last year when it was claimed she had turned down a partnership deal with crypto exchange FTX, after reportedly asking it “to explain why its listed assets were not considered unregistered securities”, says CNBC.
Her “due diligence” was lauded – even though it later transpired that Swift had, in fact, signed the deal and it was FTX that pulled the plug. Perhaps Sam Bankman-Fried had wised up to a fact long acknowledged in the music industry: it doesn’t pay to mess with Taylor Swift.
Jane writes profiles for MoneyWeek and is city editor of The Week. A former British Society of Magazine Editors editor of the year, she cut her teeth in journalism editing The Daily Telegraph’s Letters page and writing gossip for the London Evening Standard – while contributing to a kaleidoscopic range of business magazines including Personnel Today, Edge, Microscope, Computing, PC Business World, and Business & Finance.
She has edited corporate publications for accountants BDO, business psychologists YSC Consulting, and the law firm Stephenson Harwood – also enjoying a stint as a researcher for the due diligence department of a global risk advisory firm.
Her sole book to date, Stay or Go? (2016), rehearsed the arguments on both sides of the EU referendum.
She lives in north London, has a degree in modern history from Trinity College, Oxford, and is currently learning to play the drums.
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