By Allison Antram, Staff Writer
When Taylor Swift first stepped on the music scene at the young age of 16, she had crazy, curly hair, strummed an acoustic guitar, and sang about high school heartbreak. Now, she has short, straight hair, wears a lot of red lipstick and has gone full-on pop super star. And with the release of her latest album, 1989, she’s about to take over the world. Popular belief and most factual evidence would display a decline in the music industry. According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, just from 2011 to 2012, physical format sales declined from accounting to 60% to 51% of music sales. However, Swift believes and her sales would imply otherwise, seeing as 1989 had the biggest album debut since Britney Spears in 2002.
So how exactly did she pull this off amidst the apparently poor circumstances, and what does this mean for the rest of the industry?
First and foremost, Swift has a massive, ever-growing and cult-esque fan following. In fact, the last album to sell over a million copies in its debut week was her Red album in 2012, according to Billboard.com. Her consistent pattern of album releases every two years had her fans anxious and on the edge of their seats awaiting her next release. In August, she posted clues on social media leading up to a livestream on Yahoo, where she announced 1989, and debuted her single “Shake It Off” along with the music video.
Not only did this irresistibly catchy song (if you disagree, you’re lying to yourself) soar to the top of the charts, but it also ushered in a new, completely pop style for Swift and set the tone for her album. The new sound brought a broader crowd to her fan base and caught the attention of even the “anti-Swifties.” Swift maintains her fan base with purpose; she even held “Secret Sessions,” prior to the release of the album where she just casually invited her fans to her various homes to hang out with her and preview 1989.
In an editorial Swift wrote that was published in the Wall Street Journal, she explained that she believed in a kind of bond an artist can create with their fans that will create the kind of loyalty that keeps them buying albums. She elaborates, “I think forming a bond with fans in the future will come in the form of constantly providing them with the element of surprise” – and that she does. Whether it be special guests on a tour, tweeting fan pictures, or posing for extra pictures, Swift always goes the extra mile for her fans in a way that no one else in the music industry has duplicated.
In this article, Swift mainly advocates her stance on music as an art and the “dying” industry. She establishes herself as an optimist, and as “one of the few living souls in the music industry who still believes that the music industry is not dying…it’s just coming alive.” Swift also voices her firm stance against the practice of offering music for free, and bases the value of an album off of the artist’s commitment and effort towards it. “Music is art,” she said, “and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free.” Her stance has been especially prominent as she recently removed all of her music from Spotify – a decision which, without a doubt, boosted her sales. She was also extraordinarily careful in guarding this album from being leaked. In an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, she explained that for a brief period, it only existed on her phone, and would only let people listen to it through headphones. As her success would imply, her efforts were not wasted.
Seeing as she advocates for the purchase of a tangible album so fervently, she also makes it worth it. The regular album includes the thirteen new songs, Polaroid pictures, and the opportunity to meet Taylor herself. The album was offered a multitude of locations, but only Target offers the deluxe edition, which includes three extra songs that are unavailable anywhere else. These schemes, in addition to Swift’s inescapable media presence as of late, have also encouraged her sales.
Prior to Miss Swift’s big debut, this year had a very real possibility of being the first no artist went platinum. It has been speculated whether there will ever be a debut of this magnitude, let alone a platinum album, again. While this is a lofty question, it is clear that Swift reached this goal by no mistake, but by definite intention and smart risks, and it’s paying off. In her article, she expresses her enthusiasm for the present music industry that so many are questioning. “In this moment in music, stepping out of your comfort zone is rewarded, and sonic evolution is not only accepted…it is celebrated,” she says, “the only real risk is being too afraid to take a risk at all.” The risks of this quirky twenty-four-year-old have set her on the path to dominate the music industry, and possibly, the world. Though there are those who hate on her style, cats, dramatics or dancing, she’s clearly doing something right, and she knows it. Keep shakin’ it off, Taylor.