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Happy Birthday, Taylor Swift, Not Just Another Pop Princess

Last updated: February 14, 2023

As she turns 21, Taylor Swift considers one of the most gratifying years a solo artist has ever had, and ponders her future.

Taylor Swift’s Childhood

Taylor Alison Swift was born on Dec. 13, 1989, in Wyomissing, Penn. As the older of two children of Andrea and Scott Swift, she spent her childhood roaming around the Christmas tree farm they lived on. As a young girl, she excelled at singing karaoke, getting her musical talent from her opera singer grandmother. Swift learned to appreciate country music by listening to the music of LeeAnn Rimes and Shania Twain.

She learned that most of the country record labels were in Nashville, and relentlessly begged her parents to take her there. The Swift family made its first trip to Nashville when Taylor was 11, distributing her tapes along Music Row. Swift soon realized that she needed something to set her apart from the crowd of wannabes that regularly descended on Music Row. A family friend taught her a few strings on the guitar, and she wrote her first song that same night.

Swift began to sing the National Anthem at professional sporting events. Soon she signed a development deal with RCA records. Swift’s parents realized that her dream was not going to fade, and that she had real talent, so the family moved to Nashville when Taylor was 13. When offered a chance to renew her deal with RCA, she balked because the company didn’t want her to write her own songs. Instead, she signed as the first artist of Big Machine Records.

Her self-titled first album was released when she was 16, quickly rose to the top of the charts, and has sold more than 4 million copies. Two years later, in 2008, Swift released her sophomore album, Fearless, which became the top-selling album in the United States in 2008. Swift won the ultimate award for a musician when Fearless won the Grammy Award as Album of the Year in February 2010, making Swift the youngest artist ever to win the award.

Swift's third album, "Speak Now," was released in the fall of 2010 and has already "gone triple platinum," or sold more than three million copies. In an interview with CMT, she spoke of her decision to write all the songs herself, and how she approached more mature topics than her audience was accustomed to.

Swift’s Musical Career

Sources in this Story

  • Grammy Awards 2010: Beyonce, Taylor Swift Win Big
  • CMT: Taylor Swift Speaks About Speak Now
  • Hulu: SNL Taylor Swift Monologue
  • MSNBC: NBC's People of the Year
  • Rolling Stone: Taylor Swift Raps With T-Pain, Rocks with Def Lappard at CMTs
  • Rolling Stone: Taylor Swift, The Story Behind the Cover Story
  • Rolling Stone: The Very Pink, Very Perfect Life of Taylor Swift
  • The Washington Post: Her Song: Talking Taylor Swift

Swift was not content merely to sell a lot of records and concert tickets. She acted in the hit television series “CSI.” But her impressive range came into full view at the 2008 Country Music Awards. 

She opened the show with “Thug Story,” a rap video co-starring T-Pain that Rolling Stone deemed “a clip worthy of a Saturday Night Live Digital Short.” She then sang her hits in the middle, and closed the show singing with Def Leppard on its classic hard-rock song “Photograph,” one of her many collaborations with Def Leppard.

Swift is sometimes dismissed as a teen girl singing about boy trouble. But she considers “Best Day,” about her relationship with her mother, to be one of her finest songs. And her very first tune, an appreciation of the music of Tim McGraw, so moved the country singer and his wife, Faith Hill, that they invited her to stay with them in Los Angeles while she shot the episode of CSI.

In response to those wondering if Swift is too good to be true, those who have gotten to know her call her the real thing. Her record producer, Scott Borchetta, explained to the Washington Post, “She's remarkably and extraordinarily media savvy, but it's very natural and innocent. It's real. She comes at you with such a transparent point of view. When she's in the media, she allows herself to really open up and be in the moment. It's like she's talking to you on a different level. You can't teach that." 

Rolling Stone’s Vanessa Grigoriadis spent ample time with Swift in Los Angeles, New York and at her home in Nashville. Her conclusion: “For whatever reason she’s never felt a need to rebel from those values and that’s cool…. She really is that girl in the tiny little bedroom at home writing songs about the things she hopes and dreams and feels.”

Swift hosted “Saturday Night Live” in 2009. She earned praise from “SNL” producer Lorne Michaels for arriving with her monologue already written, set to song, thoroughly rehearsed and as funny as any he’d seen in awhile.

In an interview for NBC’s “People of the Year” Matt Lauer told Swift how Michaels had gushed about the monologue and the fact that Swift wrote it. Her response? “That's so cool that he said that. Well, I just thought that you write your monologue if you host SNL.”  Swift’s take-charge approach came as no surprise to those who watched her direct her own career from early childhood.

The Rest of the Story

In an age where most teen careers are closely managed by large corporations, Swift, working closely with her ever-present parents, calls her own shots. Her astonishing self-confidence allows her to move beyond the typical path of a young country singer and to poke fun at her squeaky clean image, as she did to great effect in “Thug Story.” It also allows her to show her vulnerability in her songs, and to make decisions in the interests of her fans, rather than her label.

Swift takes her relationship with her large young fan base very seriously.  She told Rolling Stone, “When you lose someone's trust, it's lost, and there are a lot of people out there who are counting on me right now."

She further explained to the Washington Post, “My career is … stronger than any alcohol, stronger than any drug … so why should I do those things, you know? … I go out every night and have to look my fans in the eye. I know that I need to set a good example for them.… I see those little girls and their moms and it's a constant reminder of why I want to live this way."  True to her word, when Swift won the 2009 Country Music Artist of the Year Award, she celebrated with a cereal party in her parents’ kitchen.

When Matt Lauer asked Swift what she was thankful for, she replied that she was thankful that when she goes to sleep at night, she knows that she was herself that day and all of the days before. Her legions of fans can only hope that Taylor Swift keeps being herself.

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