A few weeks ago I found myself sitting amongst a most unique crowd: 20-somethings women dressed in over-sized white t-shirts with nerdy glasses (think, “You Belong with Me,” Taylor fans), 15-year-old girls who somehow rigged up signs proclaiming their adoration of the pop star in Christmas lights, and parents in their 30s singing along happily with arms around their small, ecstatic children. All 15,000 of these people were gathered together to see Swift’s 1989 show in Edmonton. It was beautiful, to say the least, and I did not expect anything less than that from the singer/songwriter. I have long admired her for the following nine things – and if you want to reach your own version of Taylor Swift epicness, take heed.
1. Never Stop Evolving
Taylor has grown from a fifteen-year-old strumming her guitar as an opening act for big names in country music into a pop star diva dominating the market and even producing her own music videos; this woman is clearly in a pursuit of progress, and you should be too.
The same friend and I saw Taylor on her Red tour and just before her 1989 show, my comrade remarked, “I hope she seems more natural at this show. I appreciate the way she relates to the audience, but it all seemed quite rehearsed last time.”
We found our seats and braced ourselves to be amazed. As we were entertained by costume change after costume change, complex choreography, and Taylor’s luminous persona, it was clear the whole thing was meticulously planned, and rehearsed to a glossy sheen.Yet this time around, the performer’s demeanor was noticeably more genuine and calm. Her words, although obviously practiced, did not seem as such and she shared stories, (including an account of meeting the mayor of Edmonton) that could not have been overly rehearsed, with equal parts of eloquence and candor. It was evident: this was an evolved version of the artist we had seen two years prior, and her demeanor is not even the most apparent way she has changed.
Taylor’s transformation is indisputable in her music. Listening to just one track from each of Swift’s albums should alone be adequate indication of her artistic evolution. Take note as the twang in her voice gradually subsides from “Teardrops on my Guitar” on her debut album, Taylor Swift to no presence whatsoever in any single from her most recent release 1989.
This is not the same woman who composed love songs like “Fearless” and “Love Story.” Her views on relationships and romance have matured. Taylor shared at her show that she now believes even loneliness can be romantic. In a 2014 interview about her song “Style” she comments that, “My previous albums have also been sort of like, ‘I was right, you were wrong…a righteous sense of right and wrong in a relationship. What happens when you grow up is you realize the rules in a relationship are very blurred and that it gets very complicated very quickly, and there’s not a case of who was right or who was wrong.” Her views on dating have evolved and she shares this in her songwriting.[i]
Even a greater indicator of her constant pursuit of excellence: the video for one of her latest singles, “Bad Blood” where Taylor continued to challenge her limits and produced it herself, involving many of her badass gal pals.In watching it, you will not question that this woman is pursuing growth beyond many in her field, and like her, you should find your own ways to continually advance at your craft, and as a human being.
Click the link to watch “Bad Blood” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcIy9NiNbmo
2. Stay Focused, and Be Yourself to Silence Haters
If you have any connection to pop culture whatsoever you have heard the hate thrown at this artist: “She only sings about breakups,” or perhaps even, “Taylor Swift is a cat lady.” Do these things bother her? More than likely – she is human after all. “People throw rocks at things that shine” perhaps Taylor writes her own affirmation in her songs, but does she let ill-intentioned words slow her down? If she does, it clearly does not last any longer than a moment, and once it’s passed these taunts seem to simply add fuel to her focus.
What did she do when criticized, “She only sings songs about breakups?” Well, she replied she was “happy to be your go-to break-up musician,” and even attributes much of her success to it, as she feels this is why fans can often relate to her. People like music when they are happy, but they really need it when they are heartbroken, she states, and adds that this is when she will be there to “hold your hand.”[ii] She expanded on this topic with Rolling Stone: “I think that for me, when you experience something that’s worth writing a song about, chances are it’s the same kind of intense feeling that someone else has felt, and it has led them to be sitting on a bedroom floor crying, or walking through a crowded room feeling alone or feeling misunderstood by the person who’s supposed to know them better than anybody else. Those are things that make you feel really alone, and if someone’s singing a song about that feeling, then you feel bonded to that person, and I guess that’s the only way I can find an explanation why 55,000 people would want to come see me sing.”[iii]
So what did Swift do when the critics cried out about her break-up ballads? She realized she had found a niche and kept doing it, but she also continued to do what she does best – she wrote more songs – this time about other things.
Check out the video I have shared where she speaks briefly about this at the concert in Edmonton:
She remained true to herself and did what made her own heart sing, and guess what? People liked it!
What about being called a cat lady? Well, the now New Yorker asked her gal pals if she should get another cat, to which they quipped, “No. Three cats is a cat lady, two cats is a party.”[iv] Taylor laughs as she recounts this story, and then she continued to post selfies with her cats, selfies in a cat robe with her name embellished on the back, and even did a Keds campaign with her feline friends. Clearly, she does not care and can chuckle at the concept. If you want Taylor in your life, you get her cats (Olivia Benson and Meredith Grey, who arguably have as distinct personalities as the artist herself) as well. Taylor knows that the opinion that matters most at the end of the day is the one you have of yourself, and she does what makes her happy.
Regardless, if any of the critics have not yet been quieted by Swift’s staying power, any number of them could certainly be silenced if they got a quick look at her bank statement.
Do what makes you happy and let the haters throw their stones. The only way you will be able to get exceptionally good at anything is if you truly love what you are doing and can engross yourself in it, and the sure method of doing that is to stay true to you. Take a lesson from Taylor: be yourself and pursue your passions despite what critics convey and success is sure to find you – you will be a breath of fresh air in a marketplace saturated with conformity.
3. Be Kinder than Expected
Watch the video I have shared. Listen to how Swift speaks to her fans; this world-famous musician could easily think she is better than them but she doesn’t! She shares, humbly and honestly how, like anyone would, she feared releasing her latest album due to its dramatic difference from her previous work. Tears well up in the artist’s eyes as she expresses her gratitude to her fans for receiving 1989 so well. Swift could plausibly walk out, play a few songs with an air of presumption, and collect her paycheck. But does she? Absolutely not!
Instead she finds ways to relate to her following. Although we know this is evident in her music (as we discussed with her breakup tracks) she brings this to another level entirely. Here is another video that shares a letter she wrote to a fan who lost her mother to cancer. She responds to the fan with compassion and care beyond what anyone might expect, “I love you so much and can’t imagine what you must be feeling today…You’ve lived through my worst fear…It’s not fair, and there’s no reason why you should feel okay about it…Sending you a huge hug today.”
At the 1989 tour there was yet another way the musician demonstrated her care for each of her fans: taped to each seat upon arrival was a light-up wristband. Swift shared that when each audience member wore it, it transformed what is usually a mass of darkness into thousands of people who are all individuals with their own life story. She stated that when she looked out, she could see each one of us, and that every person in that audience mattered.. Her stage changed into a platform that rotated her around the stadium, and she waved to each of her adoring fans with a grin of gratitude.
When Taylor speaks to her followers, whether in concert, or online, they cannot help but be filled with a sense of value that can only come from words shared authentically from a thankful heart – learn to be as grateful as Swift, and always be kinder than expected; you and those around you will be filled with a renewed sense of your duty to be considerate of humankind.
4. Assemble Your Own “Sisterhood”
“Strong ladies together – there’s nothing like it,” Cara Delevingne, fashion model and friend of the musician, states in a video featuring Swift’s associates; the short film was aired at the 1989 tour. Other powerful women featured in the video are Selena Gomez, Karlie Kloss, Jaime King, Lily Aldridge, Lena Dunham, the Haim sisters, and her longtime friend, Abigail Anderson.
In a recent interview, Taylor described why it is so essential to have the friend group that she does, “It’s almost like the sisterhood has such a higher place on the list of priorities for us,” she shared. “When you’ve got this group of girls who need each other as much as we need each other, in this climate, when it’s so hard for women to be understood and portrayed the right way in the media… now more than ever we need to be good and kind to each other and not judge each other.”
In the same discussion, Taylor shared how she chooses friends, “I judge people based on their moral code; I think someone is nothing without a moral code. I don’t care if you’re talented or celebrated or successful or rich or popular, if you have no moral code.”
She tells of the type of people she does not tolerate, “If you will betray your friend, if you will talk about them badly behind their back, if you will try to humiliate them or talk down to them, I have no interest in having a person like that in my life.”
Choose your friends wisely based on people who understand you and your struggle and who will support you through it. Be real with the friends you have and share your special moments and your deepest heartbreaks with them. Don’t be afraid to cut out the negative people from your life; you aren’t doing yourself or them a favour by allowing yourself to be pulled down. Surround yourself with a sorority of strength. Together, develop an impenetrable group of excellence towards the outside world, and you will inspire each other and the rest of us to become better as a result.
5. Realize Everyone You Meet is a Teacher
At the show, Taylor told us a story of a kind couple she had encountered at the meet and greet. The man told her, “I hope you know, as soon as you arrive in Edmonton, you are welcome here. Our home is your home.” “How nice!” she thought. She later found out this man was the mayor, “How cool is it that he didn’t introduce himself immediately, ‘Hello, my name is _______. I am the mayor of Edmonton.’” She exclaimed as a smile graced her face.
Similarly, how cool is it that Taylor can approach people at a meet and greet with an attitude of learning? She could very well think, “I am Taylor Swift. I am awesome. This meet and greet is for my fans and not for me,” and say her hellos and goodbyes with her adorable grin and learn nothing. Instead she uncovered an example of humility (as if she needed it!) and shared it with her audience.
Robin Sharma underscores this Swift lesson, “Every person you meet has a story to tell and a lesson to teach, don’t let them leave without learning it.”
6. Mistakes are Our Greatest Teachers
Taylor admitted in the same ET interview that she makes mistakes, “But usually I don’t make the same mistake twice. I make new ones, but I don’t usually repeat my old ones,” she added. In this particular instance, she was talking about relationships. In every failed relationship, she states she learns new lessons about the person with whom things might actually work. “I swore I would never ever get in another relationship if it meant changing who I was, or taking me out of that mode where my friends are everything to me.” Taylor continues, “If you’re a people pleaser, like most of us are, you try to adapt to what signals that person is giving off…It’s not about changing the fact that you’re a people pleaser; it’s about finding someone [to date] who is not critical. That can be the most painful thing, trying to love someone who is critical in their nature.”[v]
Although Taylor shares about making mistakes with respect to relationships, this lesson can lead to dramatic results if we can apply it to life in its entirety. Author C.S. Lewis shares, “Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.” With each failure or mistake we can choose to learn more about what will, or won’t get us to where we long to be. “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work,” said Thomas Edison, inventor of the movie camera and developer of the light bulb. It would seem that these greats, like Taylor, knew that mistakes and failures are important teachers to help us in discovering the right way to live, and if you look at it that way, slip-ups are what lead to our ultimate success. Modify your view of mistakes, and embrace them, to reach Swift’s level of epicness.
7. Women can Keep their Clothes on, and Succeed
It’s clear that the same Taylor who said in the aforementioned ET interview, “it’s so hard for women to be understood and portrayed the right way in the media” cares immensely about what she stands for. From the beginning of her career, the artist has taken pride in writing her own songs. She wants this to be what people remember about her: “…that I write my own songs, not that I have great abs.”[vi] It is almost hard to believe – in society today – a woman can succeed in the entertainment industry without taking her clothes off. Taylor, however, the most successful of all, shows us it can be done with extreme class.
Taylor also takes her role model status very seriously and is considerate of her impact on future generations, “The reality is what you wear matters. If you’re a singer and on TV in the living room of some 12-year-old girl, she’s watching what you’re wearing and saying and doing … For me, when Faith Hill performed on an awards show, everything mattered – everything she said, did, wore, I tried to copy it. That’s what little girls do, so there is a big responsibility and I take it very seriously.”[vii]
From country roots to pop-star status, Taylor has not compromised on her values and has reached success above all others; the same can be true of you in your field.
8. Red Lipstick will Never go out of Style and High Waists are Sexy
I saw a tweet the other day: “Women should never wear high waists. They make an attractive woman look terrible.” Uhh… hello?! This human was obviously not in the crowd when Taylor’s 1989 tour trucked (literally, with dozens of semi-trucks) through his town. Just take a look at her dazzling wardrobe, and you will agree: red lipstick is not going anywhere, and a properly placed high waist can be astoundingly attractive.
Do an image search of “Taylor Swift 1989 Tour Costumes” and see for yourself now.
9. Be Yourself to Attract your Audience
Many people today are looking for an “audience” in one form or another: perhaps you are running your own business – your clients and potential clients are your spectators; or maybe you just want more Instagram followers. Could Taylor promote herself better if she was concerned about maximizing her fans in the traditional marketing sense? Absolutely! She probably wouldn’t post selfies in a robe adorned with cats. But Swift does the same as any outstanding artist, and she uses her creative endeavors to express her true self. Do you think when Taylor was writing her break-up jams she was wondering what her audience was going through? No, or at least not at first; she was simply being herself and sharing her story and her heartache in a way that satisfied her desires, and thus, her fans selected themselves once they realized they could relate. Whether you are a businessperson or aspire to be the next Twitter star, learn to see yourself as a creative and find ways to craft something that is beautiful and uniquely yours (this is what Steve Job’s role was with Apple).
And who is the Taylor Swift audience? It is the 20-somethings who have grown up with her, who have evolved alongside her, and who have experienced romance and heartbreak (in love and in life) just like she has. It is the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed four-year-olds who have learned all of the words to “Shake it Off” just because they like to dance to its catchy beat. It is the parents of these little ones, who see the sparkle in the eyes of their child as they belt out Taylor’s tracks, cherish these moments, and hope that their little ones “never grow up.”
And it is all of these people who sat in the seats surrounding me, inspired by a twenty-five year old who has squeezed more out of her quarter century than many people do in their entire lifetimes. How did she do it? By practicing the lessons aforementioned. So get out your red lipstick and high-waists, ladies, but more importantly take a Swift lesson and develop fierce focus, surround yourself with your own sisterhood, and let the haters try to hate as you manage to do what few can: constantly evolve while remaining right with yourself and developing classic staying-power.