100 Greatest Women, #31: Taylor Swift

100 Greatest Women: 10th Anniversary Edition

#31

Taylor Swift

2008 Edition: New Entry

In the twelve years since releasing her debut album at age fifteen, Taylor Swift has become one of the most successful female singers and songwriters in the history of recorded music.

Born and raised in Pennsylvania, Swift demonstrated musical talent at an early age, traveling to New York City for vocal lessons.  Through the influence of Shania Twain and Faith Hill, Swift shifted her attention to country music, recording a demo of Dolly Parton and Dixie Chicks covers at age twelve. Realizing she needed to stand out, she began working on her songwriting craft, and by age twelve, she had an artist development deal with RCA, prompting her family to relocate to the Nashville area.

She worked with several local songwriters, finding particular success with Liz Rose. She signed a publishing deal with Sony/ATV Tree at age fourteen, and feeling like she wasn’t making any progress on the label, exited her deal with RCA.  A showcase at the Bluebird Cafe caught the attention of Scott Borchetta, who signed her to his new label, Big Machine Records. In 2006, she released her debut album, Taylor Swift, to massive success.  Led by single “Tim McGraw,” the album would go on to sell over seven million copies on the strength of the hits “Teardrops On My Guitar,” “Our Song,” “Should’ve Said No,” and “Picture to Burn.”

Swift had her biggest commercial success to date with her sophomore set, Fearless, which released in 2008. In addition to winning a slew of awards, including the Grammy Award for Album of the Year, she became the first female solo artist since Shania Twain to win Entertainer of the Year at the CMA Awards.  The album sold more than ten million copies, and established her as a force to be reckoned with at pop radio, with “You Belong With Me” and “Love Story” crossing over to the mainstream audience.

Swift’s success continued with a pair of albums that were successful in both the country and pop markets. Speak Now was released in 2010, and featured the big hits “Mine” and “Back to December.”  “Mean,” arguably her purest country performance to date, was the first of three compositions to win her a Grammy for her songwriting.  Red followed in 2012, and thanks to a new rule that included pop airplay and streaming on the country singles chart, she spent ten weeks at #1 on Hot Country Songs with “We are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” which also became her first #1 pop hit.

In 2013, Swift had another big country hit with “Highway Don’t Care,” a duet with Tim McGraw that featured Keith Urban on guitar.  It won her several industry awards and is her most recent big country hit as a performer.  Relocating to New York that same year, Swift made a conscious choice to focus on the pop market, with spectacular results. Her 2014 album 1989 became her biggest release since Fearless, spawning three #1 pop hits.  When it won Album of the Year at the 2016 Grammy Awards, Swift became the first female artist in history to win that award twice with solo projects.

In 2017, Swift resurfaced in the country market as a songwriter, penning a #1 hit for Little Big Town. “Better Man” earned her a CMA Award for Song of the Year.  She followed this success with her sixth studio album, Reputation, which became her fourth consecutive set to sell more than a million copies in its debut week. Its lead single, “Look What You Made Me Do,” became her fifth #1 pop hit, tying Olivia Newton-John’s record for the most #1 singles by a country crossover artist.  In 2018, as she launched a massive stadium tour that may become the top grossing female tour of all time, she returned to the country charts once again, writing and providing guest vocals on Sugarland’s “Babe.”

Essential Singles

  • Teardrops On My Guitar, 2007
  • Our Song, 2007
  • White Horse, 2008
  • You Belong With Me, 2009
  • Back to December, 2010
  • Mean, 2011
  • Safe and Sound (with the Civil Wars), 2011
  • We are Never Ever Getting Back Together, 2012
  • Highway Don’t Care (with Tim McGraw and Keith Urban), 2013
  • Better Man (Little Big Town), 2017

Essential Albums

  • Taylor Swift, 2006
  • Fearless, 2008
  • Speak Now, 2010
  • Red, 2012
  • 1989, 2014

Industry Awards

  • Academy of Country Music Awards
    • Album of the Year
      • Fearless, 2009
    • Entertainer of the Year, 2011, 2012
    • Jim Reeves International Award, 2011
    • Top New Female Vocalist, 2008
    • Video of the Year
      • Highway Don’t Care (with Tim McGraw and Keith Urban), 2014
  • Canadian Country Music Association Awards
    • Generation Award, 2012
    • Top Selling Album
      • Fearless, 2009, 2010
      • Speak Now, 2011
      • Red, 2013
  • Country Music Association Awards
    • Album of the Year
      • Fearless, 2009
    • Entertainer of the Year, 2009, 2011
    • Female Vocalist of the Year, 2009
    • Horizon Award, 2007
    • International Artist Achievement Award, 2009, 2013
    • Music Video of the Year
      • Love Story, 2009
      • Highway Don’t Care (with Tim McGraw and Keith Urban), 2013
    • Musical Event of the Year
      • Highway Don’t Care (with Tim McGraw and Keith Urban), 2013
    • Pinnacle Award, 2013
    • Song of the Year
      • Better Man, 2017
  • Grammy Awards
    • Album of the Year
      • Fearless, 2010
      • 1989, 2016
    • Best Country Album
      • Fearless, 2010
    • Best Country Solo Vocal Performance
      • Mean, 2012
    • Best Country Song
      • White Horse, 2010
      • Mean, 2012
    • Best Female Country Vocal Performance
      • White Horse, 2010
    • Best Music Video
      • Bad Blood, 2016
    • Best Pop Vocal Album
      • 1989, 2016
    • Best Song Written For Visual Media
      • Safe and Sound, 2013

100 Greatest Women: 10th Anniversary Edition

Next: #30. Kathy Mattea

Previous: #32. Anne Murray

 

18 Comments

  1. Please tell me this is a joke. I never liked Taylor back when she was starting out, but honestly, gimme that stuff over what she’s doing now (pun not intended). It says a lot about how much I detest (a lot of) the 2014-onward stuff that the only thing of hers I’ve got is 1989… as in, Ryan Adams’ full-length cover.

  2. Love her or hate her, you can’t deny Taylor Swift’s impact on country and mainstream music. I always had a love hate relationship with Taylor’s music. I’ve always loved her songwriting because she know how to connect to the listener and her audience. I never mind her voice. While Taylor’s voice is not for everybody, it has some warmth and sincerity to it. The one thing I always had mixed feelings of how many breakup songs she’ll write about. I would say: “you have so much potential of being a all time great songwriter, write about other things.” With the exception of Reputation, Taylor has been very consistent with putting out solid albums. I still regard Speak Now as her best album. That album showcased maturity, artistic growth, and her songwriting was at a all time best.

  3. I can see why her “style” doesn’t appeal to certain sectors of country fans, but objectively it’s hard not to look at her contributions to country music history in addition to her actual writing. I’m quite fond of her debut, Speak Now and Red (which, while inconsistent features some great songs IMO).

  4. I don’t think any reasonable person would dispute that T-Swift is savvy when it comes to business and marketing herself to the world, regardless of what genre it is, be it country (more or less) or pop. You don’t get to be that big nowadays without that ability. As such, it would have been practically impossible for her NOT to be on the list.

    The issue I still have with her is that she does not seem to have done a whole lot in terms of growing as a singer in terms of her voice. It’s not just that I think she’s still stuck in her teens in terms of subject matter, it’s that her voice is still irritating to listen to. I’ve said it before that the voice is something that she really HAS to work on improving if she expects to be around in another five to ten years, because all of the surface flash isn’t going to help her without the voice and the substance to back it up.

  5. I agree with Erik that TS’s voice is still irritating to listen to but I doubt that she can improve it any. Some people just don’t have a good voice – like me. I really liked “Better Man” so kudos to TS for her writing. If she was the vocalist, I would have passed on buying the song.

  6. I am not saying she doesn’t belong on the list but if you look at the others behind her on this list, I would argue she should be much lower. Seems to me personal taste got her this high on your list There is nothing wrong with that btw, but it seems a bit obvious to me. Just an opinion.

  7. @Tom P,
    I have to laugh at you suggesting that our personal taste is what got Taylor Swift so high on this list considering that long time readers of Country Universe knows that we’re not exactly Taylor Swift enthusiasts (especially Kevin), but her influence on the genre is undeniable!

  8. @Leeann, it’s just an opinion. No need to be laughing. My opinion was based on the fact of other’s listed below her that I feel is or will be more influential to the history of country music. Again, simply an opinion.

  9. If it matters, I do somehow have two favorite T-Swift songs: “Begin Again” and “Back To December”. Those are songs that show where Taylor could go if she really had a burning ambition to be taken more seriously as a singer than simply as a marketing genius. They kind of put her in the, I guess you would call it an updating of the Laurel Canyon sound of the early 1970s, specifically Joni Mitchell and maybe even Linda Ronstadt (though, again, I still think Taylor has a ways to go to meet those lofty standards).

  10. @TomP,
    The nature of lists like this make such questions inevitable. I do think, if anything, that in 2008 I was more likely to overcompensate for personal taste by ranking artists that I like too low (See: Tillis, Pam.) I did that list completely by myself.

    The 2018 list featured input from the entire Country Universe staff and Taylor Swift’s placement was not a major point of contention. As far as personal bias goes, there isn’t another major female country artist from the past thirty years that I’m more indifferent to. Other than “Mean,” the only Swift song I have on any playlist, I don’t go out of my way to listen to her, though I do like a couple of the pop singles that I’ve heard. Just not enough to buy them.

    Writing this entry was like writing the ones on Rose Maddox and Patsy Montana. Just the facts.

  11. @Leeann, Regarding Swift’s influence, it boggles my mind that she’s been around long enough that she’s being named as a major influence on the (very few) mainstream female artists that have surfaced in the past few years. Seems like they’re all citing Shania and the Chicks, too. Reminds me of when the nineties ladies were always mentioning Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris.

  12. If anything I’d argue Swift is way too low. Her sales and industry awards are huge, with Fearless winning basically every country award. When she exploded on country radio she helped shift the sound of radio in a way that few acts did (and is the last female country singer do this). Her departure vastly changed country radio sound too.

    She only fully left the genre for 1989 and reputation and during that time scored a #1 and CMA for Better Man.

    Impact wise I would the two biggest female country singers to recently break out ,Kelsea Ballerini and Maren Morris, it’s very obvious where she has helped shape their careers.

    It was definitely taste that kept her lower as I’m expecting someone who is quite beloved on here for her music but comparatively small sales/impact on the genre as a whole to make the top ten ;)

  13. The response to this post is remarkable. Taylor Swift is more polarizing than I realized, if we can be accused of our bias leading her to be too low AND too high!

    Swift will continue to build on her legacy, I’m sure, and perhaps will rank higher if this list is revisited down the road. I don’t agree that she’s surfacing as much of an influence quite yet, but those who she influenced significantly should start to appear more frequently in the next couple of years.

    I don’t see a connection between Swift and Maren Morris. Morris seems more influenced by Sheryl Crow and the like. The influence on Kelsea Ballerini is definitely there, but I didn’t hold that against Swift when considering her ranking on this list.

  14. I think with 80’s Mercedes, The Middle, I Could Use A Love Song, Seeing Blind, and Once you can see a connection. Taylor’s move to pop I think has probably opened her up to doing a full pop song like The Middle. Especially in the way, they both have looked at late 90’s pop to create melodies at times as mentioned by both artist. There’s definitely a Sheryl influence too.

    Especially when you look just a few years earlier at Carrie Underwood where she almost went out of her way to not cross over as much when the pop market demand was there.

  15. Honestly, I was thinking she wouldn’t even show up on the list, but after reading over the write up and the comments, I will concede that she maybe she does deserve a spot based on her songwriting and marketing skills. That said, I guess when I think of the “greatest” women of country music, I tend to think of singing ability (a highly objective criterion) and contributions to the genre as a whole and not just commercial success. I think Swift has definitely earned her ranking based on the latter, but I’m not quite convinced about the former two.

  16. Regarding Kevin’s “perhaps will rank higher” comment, I am curious to see where the next 10 years takes Taylor Swift. If she continues hard into pop she may fade greatly with the next generation of country listeners. It seems she is trying to keep some country ties with her songwriting so I don’t really expect that to be the case.
    Am I the only one who finds the lyrics of Better Man to be terribly annoying? Our relationship failed, no fault of mine, you are entirely to blame because you were good enough. Perhaps I haven’t listened well enough but it has no depth, insight, or charm to me.

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