Some were surprised that Time magazine made Taylor Swift their person of the year for 2023. A pop star? Are you serious?
Last year’s choice for this prestigious accolade was Ukraine‘s Volodymyr Zelensky, honoured as a wartime leader because ‘courage is contagious’.
The year before it was Elon Musk for ‘reshaping life on Earth’ while other past recipients include John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jnr, Winston Churchill, Queen Elizabeth II and Nelson Mandela.
An entertainer has never been so honoured – but there has never been an entertainer quite like Taylor Swift.
Not even Madonna in her pomp nor Michael Jackson at his peak come close to the heights Swift has scaled in 2023; her crystal-studded Louboutin boots climbing ever steadily up the ladder, rung after golden rung, to a stratosphere previously unknown in the pop galaxy.
The most concert tickets sold, the highest-grossing concert tour of all time, the top artist on Spotify, huge sales of multiple albums and even the hit film of her Eras concert tour, which she produced herself, already nominated for a Golden Globe.
Taylor Swift performs onstage during ‘Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour’
Taylor Swift performs onstage during ‘Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour’ at Estadio Olimpico Nilton Santos, Rio de Janeiro
Taylor Swift fans known as ‘Swifties’ at a Taylor Swift concert
Singer Taylor Swift attends the ‘Charles James: Beyond Fashion’ Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City
Not even Madonna in her pomp nor Michael Jackson at his peak come close to the heights Swift has scaled in 2023
Taylor Swift’s 34th birthday bash! Superstar stuns in black dress
Radio stations play her music, universities teach courses about her lyrics, stadiums could sell her tour tickets three times over, cinemas are screening her films and her fans, known as Swifties, love her with a passion undimmed.
This year has been the year of living Taylorly, a time when it seemed that someone somewhere was always listening to her songs or talking about her music or beading a bracelet in her honour.
‘Taylor Swift I love you, thank you for being everything we ever needed! Ever,’ tweeted actress Julia Roberts in the spring.
‘She’s huge,’ said singer Billy Joel. ‘You have to give her high marks. She knows music and she knows how to write.’
Even Rishi Sunak is a closet Swiftie, attending both a fitness class themed around her music and one of her concerts while on a Californian holiday in August.
Once you know all this, you appreciate her reach and power, and think: how could Taylor Swift not be Time’s Person of the Year?
And that is only half of the story.
Taylor turned 34 last week, celebrating her birthday alongside her new cultural dominance as the biggest pop star on the planet. How did she get here?
Taylor turned 34 last week, celebrating her birthday alongside her new cultural dominance as the biggest pop star on the planet
The flirty frock had a stunning nightscape design that included a large silver sequin moon on the front as well as sparkly starburst and cloud appliques
From a country performer who got her first recording contract when only 14 to becoming an award-winning crossover pop artist who has sold 114 million albums worldwide, it is her skill as a songwriter that is her most championed gift.
Taylor is the queen of heartbreak, the mighty empath who sings about her break-ups and setbacks – or sometimes about the sheer joy of living – in a way that deeply connects with her fanbase.
Her navigation of girlhood in early songs such as Love Story and You Belong With Me transitioned into more sophisticated and thoughtful recent tracks such as Champagne Problems or even The Last Great American Dynasty, lyrical story-telling which finds Swift at her most Joni Mitchell-esque.
However, it is not only the vagaries of her key romantic relationships with men such as Harry Styles, Jake Gyllenhaal and actor Joe Alwyn that spark such deep emotional reactions from listeners.
For here is a woman who has suffered public humiliation and personal travails in her route to the top, but somehow triumphed over it all.
‘I’ve been given a tiara, then had it taken away,’ is how she puts it.
Yet her resilience and her ambition have coalesced into this perfect flame amid a firestorm of pure, molten success. ‘It feels like the breakthrough moment of my career,’ she told Time magazine. ‘And for the first time in my life, I was mentally tough enough to take what comes with that.’
The bedrock of all this is her Eras tour, a celebration of her ten studio albums and her life’s work to date that has become the most lucrative concert-run in American history.
Starting in March, the North American leg of the tour found Swift and her band perform 53 sell-out shows in 20 different cities, before moving on to South America last month.
Not only did Swift outshine other major artists and break attendance records in several US stadiums, she created an impact that was not just artistic and emotional, but financial.
Swift told the magazine of the intense training she undertook to prepare for her Eras tour, which is set to be the biggest of all time
Taylor Swift speaks to her fans at The Eras Tour movie premiere
The American segment of the Eras tour was so massive that conservative estimates suggest it gave a £3.6 billion bump to the American economy – with some claiming Swift had single-handedly stopped the US from falling into recession.
The jolt of money for sold-out stadiums was one thing but it was the spending power of the Swifties that helped to water the parched, post-pandemic US economy – locally and nationally – with a trickle-down flow of cash. Fans spent big on travel, hotels, shopping, merchandise and meals out when attending her concerts.
Fortune magazine’s financial analysts called the singer’s economic effect the ‘TSwift Lift’, while the Wall Street Journal prefers ‘Taylornomics’ in honour of the Swifties’ superior spending habits.
In a run of six shows in Los Angeles, for example, Swift played to half a million people bringing in an estimated £250 million boost to the GDP of the city.
After a winter break, her tour resumes in February in Asia before reaching Europe in the summer.
In the UK she will play sold-out dates in Edinburgh, Liverpool and Cardiff, alongside eight nights at Wembley stadium.
By the time the tour ends, after another run through North America next autumn, the Washington Post estimates Swift’s personal earnings will be £3.2 billion. No one has done that before. Like ever.
It is to her credit that she spreads her good fortune around. Swift donates generously to food banks and charities in each city she plays in.
At the end of the US tour, she gave bonuses totalling £43million to the dancers and crew who helped her put on the shows, including £75,000 to each of the 50 truck drivers who hauled her massive stage set from coast to coast.
That’s the other thing about Taylor Swift. In a world of decadence and excess, she remains a moral force for good, an inspiration to all the young women and girls who form the majority of her fanbase.
Who else but Taylor could write about the advice her grandmother once passed on. ‘Never be so kind you forget to be clever, never be so clever you forget to be kind,’ she sings in a song called Marjorie, named after her granny. Her granny! You won’t catch most mega stars going down that particular domestic route any time soon.
Who else but Taylor could pinpoint so precisely the delicate lattice of unconscious gaslighting that thoughtless boys imprint on hopeful girls when good love goes bad.
‘You call me up again just to break me like a promise, so casually cruel in the name of being honest,’ she sings in All Too Well, the ten-minute takedown of former beau Jake Gyllenhaal that has become a fan favourite.
Am I gushing? I can’t help it. I don’t just love Taylor Swift’s music, I admire her as a woman who has triumphed over some torrid times and forged her own path in a male-dominated industry.
Her friend and contemporary Ed Sheeran doesn’t even brush his hair and only pops on another pair of dungarees to go on tour or appear on television.
As a woman, Taylor has to keep reinventing herself, glossing her image, perfecting her look, always polishing that red lip, classic thing that you like – and smiling through the tears.
Who could forget the ghastly Kanye West saga in 2009, when the rapper insulted Swift onstage at a televised awards ceremony. Later, he wrote a song with vulgar lyrics about her and claimed Swift had consented to it, which she denied.
West’s then wife, Kim Kardashian, released a tape of a conversation between West and Swift which had been edited to suggest that Swift had agreed to the song – a pathetic lie that became a worldwide degradation and forced Swift into hiding for a year.
‘It took me down psychologically to a place I’ve never been before,’ she told Time.
Comfort came from an unlikely source: Sir Paul McCartney. He sent Swift a handwritten note with one of his lyrics – take those broken wings and learn to fly – which she had framed and hangs in the bathroom of her Manhattan apartment.
And while West’s star has faded, hers continues to shine like a diamond. ‘Trash takes itself out every time,’ is how she puts it.
The pop megastar, whose massive tour earned her billionaire status this year, beat Vladimir Putin , Barbie and Sam Altman for the honor
Swift spoke of her NFL star boyfriend Travis Kelce for the first time publicly in an interview for the magazine’s cover story. She is pictured with her cat Benjamin Button
Taylor Swift runs to Travis Kelce and kisses him after her show
She is also in the mammoth process of re-recording her first six albums and wrestling back her own artistic power after the rights to her back catalogue were bought by Scooter Braun, a music industry executive she loathes.
She is someone who sticks by her principles and this resonates with women, young and old.
‘She came back from all that negativity and that inspires us,’ a fan told me when I went to one of Swift’s concerts in Los Angeles earlier this year.
It was an incredible night. Yes, the tickets are expensive but Swift gives value for money, just like you’d expect her to. She is onstage, without a break, for three hours – a unique feat in the she-dome of pop.
Beyonce takes long breaks from the stage during her shows, Adele has a troubled relationship with the physical and emotional toil of touring while, during her current tour, Madonna has been known to appear nearly three hours late and make long rambling speeches onstage. You get none of that nonsense with Taylor Swift.
Under the spotlight in her spangled bodysuit and glitter boots, a superstar dressed as a super heroine, she is an unstoppable force of nature in a spectacle that shimmers with an intensity of emotion.
It doesn’t just feel exuberant because of the delight of her music or years of lockdown isolation, it feels like watching history being made – because that is exactly what is happening.