If you’ve ever wondered why I’m so fascinated with Taylor Swift, this recent feature from American TV show 60 Minutes should give you some insight. As you will see, she is totally in control of her own career and self-aware enough to see herself as a brand and sell herself for all she’s worth. In that way she’s not so different to a celebrity who knowingly sells their image, like Katie Price/Jordan for example, but the big difference is that she’s not selling herself as a sex object but instead as what you could call a friendship object.
A celebrity who positions themself primarily as a sex object limits the depth of engagement they can have with their fans and the amount of time they can remain popular – no matter how much plastic surgeons would like to tell these stars otherwise, they can’t stop themselves from ageing. However, for a celebrity like Taylor Swift who is idolised by her followers, the only limit to how many albums, concert tickets, magazines etc she can sell is based on how many white middle class teenage girls there are in the world. And when her music and marketing is good enough, she can even reach beyond that demographic.
There is a lot of pressure for female stars to give up being a friendship object in favour of becoming a sex object. The temptation is understandable when you consider the constant media attention given to a star like Rihanna, compared to Taylor Swift. But when it comes to selling records, you couldn’t bet on Rihanna’s next album to be a success, while Taylor will sell albums to her core fanbase for as long as she continues to be a friendship object, and continues the illusion that she is an ordinary girl just like her fans, who would surely become their best friend if they ever had the chance to spend some time together. It’s almost surprising she’s never been taken hostage by a 14-year-old female stalker.
Watching the concert footage in the video above, I was brought right back to the Taylor Swift gig I attended at Wembley a few years ago. Every little detail was the same, from the much-mocked shocked face (it’s annoying to watch, but it seems to work) to the walk through the audience and the screams that gave me goosebumps, a reaction you would expect teenage girls to reserve for boybands. As the presenter says, it’s more like a religious experience for these fans than a typical pop concert, and that sums up how Taylor approaches her career. Hers isn’t just a fanbase, it’s a cult, and she is its incredibly revered leader.
It sounds almost immoral when you describe it like that, but as long as she doesn’t become a scientologist I don’t think there’s anything wrong with manipulating young girls into loving some of the best pop songs of the decade so far at the most impressionable time of their lives. For me, it’s inspiring – the fact that one artist can connect with audiences on such an extreme, life-changing level through a precisely calculated combination of music and marketing is what makes me certain that I have to be part of the music industry. And I will be studying and learning from Taylor’s success for years to come.