Evolution of Taylor Swift

Credit: Adriana M. Barraza / WENN

by Altea

In Taylor Swift’s 2020 Netflix documentary Miss Americana, she stated that “female artists have reinvented themselves 20 times more than the male artists. They have to or else you’re out of a job. Constantly having to reinvent, constantly finding new facets of yourself that people find to be shiny.” Having been a prominent contributor to the music industry for over a decade, Taylor Swift’s history with the concept of reinvention as a woman in music has become almost synonymous with her public persona.

Most Swifties would utilize Taylor’s albums as markers for the adjustment of that persona or personal aesthetic, referring to them as “eras.” (For example, reputation era, Lover era, 1989 era, folklore era, etc.) However, for the sake of timeliness in this article, I’ve chosen to separate her sixteen-year-long career into three broader categories: Yeehaw Taylor, Unhinged Taylor, and Well-Adjusted Taylor.

Yeehaw Taylor:

Via Associated Press

In 2006, Taylor Swift made her debut with a self-titled country pop studio album. Taylor Swift set a precedent for her three future country albums (Fearless, Speak Now, and Red) and cemented her presence as a country pop darling. At the 2010 Grammy Awards, Fearless won Album of the Year, making Taylor the youngest person to receive the award.

Some common motifs of the Yeehaw Taylor era include small towns (“White Horse,” “Mine”) young love and teenage heartbreak (“Last Kiss,” “Teardrops On My Guitar,” “Sad Beautiful Tragic”), and country themes such as pickup trucks (“Picture to Burn,” “Tim McGraw”). Fashionwise, Taylor’s red carpet looks evolved from cowboy boots and boho dresses to more twee-inspired looks as red lipstick and bangs introduced themselves in the Red era.

This era’s biggest controversy, Kanye West’s interruption at the VMAs, will follow her for years to come. While Taylor was accepting her Best Female Video award for the “You Belong With Me” music video, West got up on stage to interrupt her speech and inform the audience that Beyoncé’s was “one of the best videos of all time.” However, it was not this incident that catapulted Taylor into her next era, but rather a combination of various controversies.

Throughout the Yeehaw era, Taylor faced significant backlash and controversy from the press surrounding the topics of her songs. She earned a rather misogynistic reputation of only singing about her romantic life and publicly flaming her ex-boyfriends. In an attempt to combat the opinions of the public, Taylor went on to release “Blank Space” in her 1989 album, a tongue-in-cheek response. Additionally, the loss of the 2014 Grammys inspired the decision that Red would be her final country album.

Unhinged Taylor:

Via Billboard

I choose to group both 1989 and reputation together not because I find them to be thematically similar in terms of content, but because the way that Taylor behaved in both of these eras functioned largely the same. The fixation with public perception that was forced on her throughout her Yeehaw Era manifested in a disregard for appealing to the public, and instead choosing to utilize each album as a statement. While 1989 is, at its core, a breakup album, and reputation is a love album, both albums are drastically different from any of their predecessors. Even though 1989 takes inspiration from the music produced during the year of its namesake and reputation takes a darker side, both albums seek to fundamentally destroy and recreate Taylor’s persona. Gone are the days of a starry-eyed Taylor who saw the music industry as a welcoming environment. No, these are the days of a hardened Taylor who’s fearful of both of her critics and fans, but with good reason.

As expected, 1989’s comeback cemented Taylor Swift as a real pop star, and won Album of the Year at the 2016 Grammy Awards. However, controversy with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West brought a return of negative media attention, resulting in the reputation era. After Kim Kardashian repeatedly referred to Taylor as a snake, she went on to include snakes as one of her most prominent motifs on the reputation album, referencing the issues she had with Kim and Kanye on songs such as “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.” 

However, the era came to an end with the release of Lover, which aesthetically couldn’t be further from reputation. The choice to end this era is unclear, and can’t be specifically pinpointed to any public catalyst, but I personally suspect that Taylor made her point and didn’t see a need to continue the dramatic thematic overhaul every few years.

Well-Adjusted Taylor:

Via Billboard

With the release of Lover came a new age for Taylor: a time in which she was, for once, largely out of the public eye. This decision to lead a private life grew more private with her 2020 folklore album, her first (but not last) surprise album. folklore took a different route yet again, this time introducing a more alternative sound, something previously unheard of from Taylor outside of songs like “It’s Nice To Have A Friend” and “The Last Time (feat. Gary Lightbody).” evermore continued this theme, as a sister album to folklore.

Thematically, Lover is much more lighthearted than folklore and evermore, as it largely focuses on Taylor’s relationship with her long-term boyfriend Joe Alwyn, while folklore and evermore focus more on imaginary relationships and characters (“no body no crime (feat. HAIM),” “betty,” “august,” “cardigan”). 

This era is now almost three years long, spanning from August 2019 to present day, and I don’t expect it to end any time soon, especially with the re-recordings of the Taylor’s Version albums. Personally, I think the Well-Adjusted Taylor era is a symptom of her growing maturity, and we might even need to expect it to be her longest era yet. 

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