Taylor Swift released her self-titled debut album in 2006 at only 16 years old. In a way that no one could have predicted, Swift emerged as the ruler of the pop and country music charts for the next fifteen years, all the way up to her most recent release, evermore, in December 2020. In the past two years or so, especially since the release of Lover in 2019, I have been finding myself wondering how I have been able to so consistently enjoy Swift’s music, as far back as “Should’ve Said No” and as recent as “willow.” What is it about her or her music that makes her stand out so vividly from all her contemporaries?

Swift knows how to keep people interested, not only in the music she’s releasing but also in her personal life. From her earliest albums, speculation about who she writes her songs about (e.g., “All Too Well” and the now-infamous Jake Gyllenhaal scarf) has circulated around each album. The world, regardless of whether they hate or love her, knows about her and who she surrounds herself with. 

From new boyfriends and heartbreak to best friends and betrayals, Swift’s life has been aggressively public for as long as she’s been a part of the music industry. Many would argue that her public relationships and feuds are what keeps her so relevant. As Kanye West so famously stated, “I made that bitch famous.” But I disagree. Strongly. So many prominent musicians have maintained relevance due to their publicity stunts, but so many of those artists don’t continue to get bigger. With every album Swift releases, her fanbase and critical acclaim grow.

I’ve realized that Taylor Swift is the perfect example of an artist who changes with her audience. I’m now 19, but when “Love Story” came out, eight-year-old me couldn’t have been more obsessed. And while I still listen back to tracks like “Love Story” and “You Belong With Me,” even 11 years later those songs are filled with nostalgia. Swift not only matures with every release, but she changes her entire image. 

Taylor Swift was her country girl debut release, clean and fun. Fearless was a slightly matured version of that, and Speak Now was her ballad-filled heartbreaker, where Swift became the music industry’s princess. Red was her subtle transition into pop music, marked by the iconic red lipstick. 1989, in my opinion, redefined pop as Swift fully pulled away from her country roots. I also believe that Reputation was the most important comeback in 21st-century music, and she fully committed to the bad-girl persona. Lover was a complete 180, in which Swift became a pastel martyr for true love (minus her usual side of heartbreak), and sister albums folklore and evermore showed the most raw, artsy and matured version that anyone had ever seen from her. 

While not every era of Swift has been widely loved by fans, they were at least all appreciated. Her constant changes, not only in the sound of her music but also in her public image as it relates to each era, are what has allowed her to continue flourishing well past what would be most artists’ prime. 

Something about Taylor Swift has stuck with me for years. From the 8-year-old who loved her early singles to the 19-year-old me sitting here now writing this article, she has maintained a place in my mind and heart that no other artist has ever done. I find myself constantly floored by the intricacy of her lyrics combined with the ever-changing sound of her music. She has made a song for every single tough or beautiful moment in my life, whether it be my first heartbreak, growing up, moving out or being in love. When people say Taylor Swift is their mother, it’s not an exaggeration. We’ve grown up with her and she continues to nurture us through music in ways I didn’t think were possible. 

Daily Arts writer Gigi Ciulla can be reached at gigishea@umich.edu

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