Having suddenly discovered a social and political voice – though as one cynic noted, only after she had sold her American tour tickets – to add to her status as a pop music juggernaut, Taylor Swift begins her Australian tour next week with more than just platitudes about solidarity with the sisterhood.
The shows will be big of course – and for a reminder of what she can produce here’s a Wind Back Wednesday reminding you of that spectacular tour in 2015.
But in this story from 2013, when Ms Swift still deigned to talk to the media because those mega shows didn’t entirely sell themselves, yet, Wind Back Wednesday asks how did she get here? And why?
IF I HAVE TO, I CAN DO ANYTHING
When your fourth album becomes the third of your records to reach number one in the USA – and the second to sell more than one million in a single week - and then repeats its chart topping action around the world, you know you are a star.
When you made nearly $60 million last year and your romantic travails, real or imagined by the tabloids, become widely understood jokes even at film and TV awards shows, you know you’ve made it into the zeitgeist.
But when you find yourself being compared to Madonna, not because you’ve shocked a pope or donned an inappropriate leotard – not even for adopting an English accent and an African child almost simultaneously – but because you are the first female artist to be big enough to fill stadiums in Australia since Ms Ciccone did it 20 years, then even the most cloth-eared among us must know something special’s happening here.
Taylor Swift’s coming tour of Australia and New Zealand will be in territory reserved for the likes of Rolling Stones, U2 and Bon Jovi. While Beyonce and One Direction (featuring one ex boyfriend) fill arenas and John Mayer (another ex boyfriend) is just stepping up to that level, Swift is leaving them behind in a great rush.
It’s not just wishful thinking on her behalf either. Her current tour promoter, Michael Gudinski told trade magazine Billboard “I can honestly think of only a tiny handful of solo artists – male or female – who could fill stadium venues today.” And it’s his money he’s gambling with remember.
Her previous tour promoter, Michael Coppel, told the same magazine nearly two years ago that Swift is one of the “biggest-selling pop artists to tour Australia” and predicted that her tour would ”sell more tickets than Beyonce, Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry have on any of their Australian tours." And that was his money he was counting at the end of that tour remember.
A review of an American stadium show on this tour had Rolling Stone magazine gushing (“Seeing Taylor Swift live in 2013 is seeing a maestro at the top of her or anyone's game”), even amid the snarky comments. So much so that the review ended by describing Swift as “a true arena-rock goddess at an amazing peak”.
This may be heady territory but it’s not surprising really. The 23-year-old has been working towards this for nearly 10 years. She was 14 when she convinced her parents (both of whom have backgrounds in finance) to move from the Pennsylvania town of Wyomissing to Nashville, Tennessee so that she could pursue a career in country music.
A career? Well, she’d already been writing songs for two years by this point in a style which would eventually become her signature: direct, personal and unafraid to tell those who had done her wrong that they were marked.
"When I started writing songs it was all to help me simplify really complicated emotions," Swift told Fairfax Media last year. “I would have a really hard day at school and you are dealing with like, rejection and insecurity and loneliness and all these really complicated things and I would say to myself, it's okay, you can write a song about this later when you get home.”
Some people punch walls, she writes a song.
"Yeah," she said with a dry delivery that suggested a sense of humour behind the immaculately presented veneer. "I don't think I could get away with punching walls; I wouldn't be able to play guitar for very long."
Those songs, even when she was to occasionally write with others later, remained true to the teenage life her first and strongest audience – teenage girls like her - knew all too well. That it was country music soon became a secondary issue for the young women – and often enough, 20 and 30-somethings who connected – who found an outlet in the songs Swift was herself using as an outlet.
She was the first country artist to win one of those essentially stupid but also manifestly pop world-focused MTV Video Music Awards. And the Grammy Awards which were piling up soon didn’t have to have “country” included in the title – including one for best video which encouraged Kanye West to make a fool of himself when he jumped on her stage during her acceptance speech to claim Beyonce should have won.
Nonetheless, the shift into a clear, fiddle-free, electronics-enhanced, bouncy-and-danceable style on her most recent album, Red, was still startling to many.
"I was 22 when I was making my fourth record so I think at that point you have two choices," she said. "You can either continue to make music the same way that you've done it the first three records or you can change and you can evolve.”
The audiences have gone with her as the sales and number one record confirm. And it’s a varied audience too.
“It's amazing to look out into the crowds and as time has gone by there are more and more people all over the place, age wise, and all different types of people: guys, like dudes, frat bros, all kinds of different people that you wouldn't necessarily expect to see out there. I don't know what's happening but it's kind of blowing me away."
That is probably a bit of an exaggeration as not being blown away but rather being in control remains one of her strongest characteristics. She doesn't drink, swear or blaspheme but neither does she pontificate about any of them. She writes or co-writes all her songs and not just in the “we’ll let her put a word in the chorus and give her a credit” way of some of her contemporaries (and many pop stars going back to Elvis Presley). Her songwriting has been publicly praised by Stevie Nicks and Kris Kristofferson and even the artist after whom she was named, James Taylor.
Not every ex boyfriend who has figured in one of those songs would necessarily agree with the sentiment, though even they would have to concede the success. But even using that sentence says something about how Swift is both of the culture but also redefining it.
As she told Vanity Fair, there’s a double standard going on here and she’s not buying into it.
“For a female to write about her feelings,” she said. “And then be portrayed as some clingy, insane, desperate girlfriend in need of making you marry her and have kids with her, I think that’s taking something that potentially should be celebrated—a woman writing about her feelings in a confessional way— taking it and turning it and twisting it into something that is frankly a little sexist.”
There’s a song or two in that answer. And you know Taylor Swift could write it. And sell it. And then perform it in a stadium halfway around the world.
Taylor Swift will play Optus Stadium, Perth, October 19; Marvel Stadium, Melbourne, October 26; ANZ Stadium, Sydney, November 2; The Gabba, Brisbane, November 6