How Taylor Swift Masterminded Global Success, Explained by SOMD Experts

By Kristen Hudgins

Taylor Swift Story Header

Karma is working overtime for Taylor Swift. Between her wildly popular Eras Tour, mastery of the Billboard charts, billion-dollar fortune, twelve Grammy Awards, domination of the pop culture headlines, and reclamation of her previous albums, there is no denying Swift’s monumental fame and success.  

And it’s no fluke.  

Three School of Music and Dance experts break down how she has masterminded global success.  


“We can’t talk about Taylor Swift’s success without acknowledging her preternatural ability to write songs that are familiar yet distinctive, accessible but not trite,” Associate Professor and Chair of Popular Music, Toby Koenigsberg, says. “It’s important to emphasize that it’s incredibly difficult to write a song like the songs Taylor writes,” he adds. “It's difficult to do even one time. To do it across an entire album is much harder still, and she has been doing it on album after album for close to two decades now.”

“Taylor Swift is really good at writing music,” Associate Professor of Music Theory Drew Nobile notes. “That's indisputable. She knows how to craft a melody. The subjects of her songs are very relatable. I’m a 38-year-old male and I can listen to her songs, even those she wrote when she was 20, and connect with them.”


From country, to pop, to indie folk, Swift has expertly navigated switching genres throughout her career. Nobile and Koenigsberg say this ability to evolve is difficult to master, yet she did, and managed to still sound like “Taylor.”  

Originally a country artist, she first dipped her toe into pop with the album, Red. She collaborated with Max Martin, a highly respected producer and songwriter, on the album. With a resume packed with megahits such as Britney Spears’ “...Baby One More Time” and The Backstreet Boys’ “I Want it That Way,” Martin co-wrote and produced three songs on Red, including Swift’s number-one pop hit “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” While pop in nature, Red still incorporated banjo instrumentation and Swift maintained her country twang.  

In an unprecedented move, Swift almost entirely abandoned the country genre with her next record, 1989, Koenigsberg notes. “Rather than the gradual evolution over a period of a few albums that you might expect, she transitioned quickly,” he observes. “And when she did it, she knocked it out of the park. A new Taylor in a new genre emerged fully formed, and already at its artistic zenith.”

Swift, however, continues to tap into her country roots through her expert storytelling, a hallmark of country music. “She is a great storyteller whether she is telling a fictional story about someone who has murdered her husband or a story about her own breakup,” Nobile said. “She can weave that narrative in her lyrics and that has allowed the fans who liked her because she was a country singer to stick around.”

When evermore and folklore were released in 2020, the world witnessed Swift, once again, mastering a genre switch, from pop to indie folk. “Oftentimes fans will rebel if artists stray from their original genre, and somehow, she’s avoided that and it’s incredible,” Nobile added.  


Success in the music industry isn’t merely about music, it’s about business, and “Taylor’s business skills are prodigious,” says Koenigsberg. From her ability to expertly craft her brand to her strategic moves, she has proven to be both a successful artist and businesswoman.  

For example, her decision to produce a film of her Eras Tour had phenomenal results. The movie, that went to the theatres in October, is the “highest grossing concert film” (Forbes) earning $92.8 million in its opening weekend. “People are continually surprised by the results being so successful, and I think that speaks to the special capabilities she has to predict such things,” Koenigsberg says of Swift’s ability to know how her fans would respond to a concert film.  

Swift’s social media marketing also launches her into the upper echelon of music artists as she is able to craft a brand that is relatable and authentic to fans. She did it from the beginning-- connecting with her fan base on social media in the country era, which was unusual at the time.  

In a more recent move, she partnered with Google to create a puzzle to reveal the track titles of new songs released from the “vault,” expertly publicizing her music and by requiring fans to Google her to see the titles, boosting her standing in search-engine trends.  


Swift’s move to re-record and re-release her early albums is widely lauded as a genius decision. Thus, it deserves its own category.  

The decision stems from a public dispute Swift had with her previous record company, Big Machine, and its owner, Scooter Braun. In 2020, Braun sold the master rights to Taylor Swift’s recordings, and in an unprecedented retaliatory move, Swift re-recorded her albums thereby gaining personal control over the master rights to the new records.  

SOMD Senior Instructor and music industry author, Larry Wayte, notes that making a new recording that is identical in every respect to an existing recording does not violate the copyright of the older recording — they are two separately-copyrighted recordings, even though they may sound the same in every respect.

“Her decision to re-record the records plays into Swift’s image as a strong, independent woman determined not to let herself be a victim to the men who control the recording industry,” Wayte says. “Also not surprisingly, record companies have recently begun to include language in newly signed record contracts forbidding artists from re-recording their records for a set period of time after the end of the contract.”

While Swift notes this has all been in the name of artists’ rights, it has also proven to be a brilliant business decision, according to Nobile. The newly recorded albums have been wildly popular and have supported the Eras Tour, getting fans excited about her old songs, not to mention the massive increase in royalties she will now receive, he says.  

“I think that is one of the most genius branding moves anyone has ever done,” Nobile acclaims. “I can’t think of another way you can be so ruthlessly capitalistic, while also reclaiming power for artists and drawing a blueprint for other musicians in the future.”


Swift has an innate understanding of what her audience wants, says Nobile, and that ability can help explain why she has garnered much success. He breaks down three moments over the course of the decade that have led us to the Swiftie “mania” of today:


When 1989 was released in 2014, it was during a time when Electronic Dance Music (EDM) began to take over the top 40. Songs by Zedd and Calvin Harris were topping the charts with their computer-processed songs and synthesized sound. Due to EDM’s increased popularity, Nobile says music lovers were craving something that satisfied a desire for “dance-y” pop music yet was also an authentic expression of an artist’s persona. He argues that was achieved in Swift’s 1989 album.  

2020 Lockdown

During the 2020 pandemic lockdown, Nobile says Swift captured the entire nation’s mood with her surprise release of the indie folk albums, folklore and evermore. A clear departure from pop music, Swift sought out collaborators with experience in the new genres to work on the albums—another artistic decision that was also a business decision. “It ended up being exactly what the culture needed at that time-- a pensive, reflective album mirroring the prevailing sense of social isolation,” Koenigsberg says.

Folklore went on to become the bestselling album in the U.S. in 2020, and as Nobile explains, that success was no accident. “Many of us were outside re-exploring nature’s beauty and then she drops these two albums that have a rustic sound and talk about rivers and trees,” he said. “She’s always been able to tap into what we all crave.”  

The Eras Tour

Nobile says two cultural forces can be examined as evidence for the success of The Eras Tour. One, in the post-pandemic world, people were starved for live concert experiences. Two, as a society, we are craving communal experiences amid our increasing isolation due to remote work, social media, and growing secularization. “There is a church-like aspect of going to concerts with mega artists like Swift,” he says. “It ends up being this pilgrimage. She is not a God-like figure but it’s all about community.”

Attending a concert with tens of thousands of other people who also grew up following Taylor Swift goes much deeper than an appreciation for her music—rather, “you are part of a movement,” he says.



Nobile believes Swift has crafted every move to meet a particular moment, and if they had been made at different times, she likely would not have enjoyed the same success. For example, folklore would not have had the same impact had it been released in 2019. And Nobile believes that’s bad news for artists seeking to emulate Swift’s success. “It’s not that she is better than anyone else,” he says. “She is in a category that very few people are in. Her ability to write great music combined with these cultural moments is a rare combination.”

Nobile argues that Beyoncé is one artist who comes close and explains that race has much to do with why her impact hasn’t been as widely seen. "There is this idea that whiteness is the lack of race,” he explains. “When Taylor Swift talks about her breakups, the idea is that she is talking about breakups in general. When Beyonce talked about her husband cheating on her and how she dealt with that, it’s viewed as a look into Black relationships. The reason we can see Taylor Swift representing all of us is because she is blond and white and ‘raceless.’ Beyoncé is Black and has a race.”

Therefore, he says American culture would have a harder time seeing a Black woman as a central cultural figure. “It will be interesting to see if that evolves over the next 50 years,” Nobile said.  


This one is a bit harder to answer, Koenigsberg and Nobile agree. She is one of the most significant popular music artists of our age, with respect to the mania that has developed around her music and celebrity, Koenigsberg says, but saying she is the “Greatest of All Time” in this regard is harder because the competition for that title includes artists like the Beatles, a group that occupies a high position in a music historian’s estimation due to the singular Beatlemania of the 1960s.  

What’s not up for debate, they say, is that the pop genre is in its Taylor Swift era, a love story of chart-topping hits and enchanting success that underscores her brilliance as a businesswoman, strategically navigating the music industry with both artistry and acumen. 

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