Entertainment & Arts

Five ways Taylor Swift is changing the world

Taylor Swift Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Swift is currently on a world tour that reaches the UK this week

Hit albums, record-breaking tours, 59 million Twitter followers: Taylor Swift's list of achievements speak for themselves.

Yet the 25-year-old entertainer may have pulled off her biggest coup to date in persuading tech giant Apple to reverse the payment policy of its new streaming service.

Her decision to withhold her latest album 1989 in protest at Apple's intention not to remunerate artists during a three-month trial period prompted a humiliating public climb-down that will send tremors throughout the industry.

It is a testament to the power Swift now wields as a singer, a businesswoman and a cultural force. Here are five ways her influence has manifested itself.

1) Challenging assumptions about streaming music

Apple Music is not the first streaming service with which Swift has taken issue. Last year she withdrew her entire back catalogue from Spotify, saying she felt it did not adequately reward artists.

Some accused her of greed or opportunism in denying its users access to her material. British singer Billy Bragg also accused her of double standards, because she allowed her music to appear on YouTube and other streaming services.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Billy Bragg accused Swift of "choosing sides" with regards to streaming

Yet Swift defended what Bragg described as "nothing more than a corporate power play", insisting she was making a principled stand on behalf of artists in general.

"The landscape of the music industry itself is changing so quickly, that everything new, like Spotify, all feels to me a bit like a grand experiment," she told Yahoo Music last November.

"I'm not willing to contribute my life's work to an experiment that I don't feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music."

Central to the debate is whether streaming services should offer new music at a premium to their users, maximising the return for artists and producers, or make it as freely accessible as any other part of the artist's back catalogue - the current Spotify model.

Taylor is of the opinion "that music should not be free". And by selectively hand-picking which streaming services do and do not have access to her material, she is actively shaping how streaming itself operates.

2) Paving the way for 'crossover' artists

Taylor Swift is also forging a path for artists who no longer wish to be ghettoised into arbitrarily separated musical genres.

Image caption Swift's first record, a self-titled album released in 2006, was a moderate success

The Pennsylvania native started out as a country artist, even persuading her parents to relocate to Tennessee when she was 14 in order to be closer to Nashville, country's spiritual home.

With the release of Red in 2012, however, her music entered a more experimental phase, combining traditional country stylings with pop, folk and even dubstep.

Swift has described 1989 as her "first documented and official pop album", saying she wants "to make music that reflects all of my influences".

"I think in the coming decades the idea of genres will become less of a career-defining path and more of an organisational tool," she wrote in The Wall Street Journal last July.

How many other artists in future might benefit from her refusal to be pigeon-holed?

3) Taking fan interaction to the next level

Every artist has a social media profile. Yet Swift's decision to host personalised playbacks of 1989 for some of her most devoted fans was a game-changer that could usher in a new era of one-on-one fan interaction.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Swift greets fans at a 2012 awards event in Australia

A perfect combination of teenage slumber party and exclusive media event, Taylor's "secret sessions" saw her merging the roles of girl next door, domestic homebody and stealth marketer to devastating effect.

If the aim was to get the word out, she could have hardly planned it better. Yet it also served to circumvent the traditional model of having the press be the sole arbiters of a new release's worth.

The 25-year-old has become something akin to a fairy godmother to the fans she calls "Swifties".

She helped Rebekah Bortnicker pay off her college tuition fees; flew to Ohio to attend Gena Gabrielle's bridal shower; and sent dozens of fans personally-wrapped Christmas presents.

A gauntlet has been thrown down to the One Directions and Justin Biebers of this world, both of whose followings will doubtless be expecting something similar or better the next time they have a record to push.

4) Bucking the trend in CD sales

Those who claim the CD is dead should take a look at Swift's sales, which have remained stubbornly buoyant despite the overall downturn in physical format sales.

Her stance on streaming is doubtless a factor. Ask Taylor herself, though, and it comes down to the value of the material itself - not just in monetary terms, but also "on an emotional level".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Swift's latest world tour kicked off in Tokyo in May

"People are still buying albums, but now they're buying just a few of them," she wrote in her Wall Street Journal piece.

"They are buying only the ones that hit them like an arrow through the heart or have made them feel strong or allowed them to feel like they really aren't alone."

"More than anyone else, Swift knows how to create albums people will pay for," wrote Time magazine last year in a cover story profile entitled The Power of Taylor Swift.

Swift may not be changing the world with regards to album sales. Yet she may be stopping a little part of it from changing completely.

5) Standing up for feminism

Since she first came to widespread prominence in 2008, Swift's love life and list of celebrity boyfriends has been a source of near-constant media interest and speculation.

Recently, though, the singer has publicly bridled against the way she has been defined by those she is dating, calling foul on an article in OK! Magazine that described her as "Harry Styles' ex-girlfriend" and "Calvin Harris' rumoured girlfriend".

Image copyright AP
Image caption Swift accepts a kiss from Calvin Harris at the Billboard Music Awards in May

"This misleading headline and your choice of words in label[l]ing me are why we need feminism in 2015," she tweeted in response to a piece promoted on Twitter with the words "Taylor Swift has made a pregnancy announcement".

(Swift, it should be noted, was not announcing her own pregnancy, but merely helping a couple at one of her recent concerts share their happy news.)

It is not the first time Taylor has used the F-word. In an interview with men's magazine Maxim last month, she said feminism was "probably the most important movement that you could embrace, because it's just basically another word for equality."

She puts those words into practice, too, by supporting and championing fellow female artists, with Ellie Goulding, Haim and Lorde all receiving a helping hand from the planet's top pop star.

"She definitely brought me into this amazing world of supportive female friendship," said Lorde in a recent interview with Dazed magazine.

Swift allying herself to the feminist cause probably won't change the world. There's every chance, though, that it might change the conversation.

Taylor Swift performs in Glasgow, Manchester and London this week.

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