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It’s hard to figure out why someone- a single someone- so captivates an audience that they become a cultural icon seemingly overnight. It happened to Elizabeth Taylor in her day. It happened to Shirley Temple. It happened to Madonna. And now it’s happening to 20-year-old Taylor Swift. But why? What is it about her that has made fans around the world buy her music, (she earned $18 million last year, making her the 67th richest person in the United States) mob her shows, and want to know everything about her? Well, I don’t know the answer to that, and perhaps no one does. But Dish Magazine Staff Writer Chris Pilny has some thoughts on the matter, and we’d like to share them with you. Read On! - The Editor  

 

Taylor Swift with Roman White

Everyone has their crush. Whether it’s on someone in class, a co-worker, a professor, a random person who you always see at the coffee shop, or the person in the gym that you sneak looks at in the mirrors. Love knows no boundaries, as they say. And cupid is blind.  The worst is when that person—that crush—doesn’t even know your name.  That’s how it is for me. With Taylor Swift.

 

It was almost four years ago—in the Summer of 2006—when I was driving my car through town and a song came on the radio. The DJ said it was a new track called “Tim McGraw” by a new artist named Taylor Swift. I rolled my eyes at this. Suck up, I thought. I listened to the entire thing and decided that this Taylor Swift chick was never going to make it. Her songs were terrible.

 

But four years and ten million albums later, I have been proven terribly wrong. In the past year alone, Swift has walked away with four Grammy’s and a handful of number one songs on both the Billboard Pop and Country charts, hosted Saturday Night Live, made her acting debut in Valentine’s Day, and dated some of Hollywood’s most noteworthy men. Recently, she was also awarded the title of top-selling digital artist in music history with over 24.3 million digital tracks sold to date. Add to that the fact that she writes or co-writes all of her music and you can find her number sixty-nine on Forbes most powerful celebrity list with earnings of $18 million. 

 

Taylor Swift

It’s safe to say, she has it pretty good. (Not to mention that she is pretty good. After the recent floods that devastated Nashville, Swift donated $500,000 to a relief fund for victims.)

 

That’s why when I was given the chance to see her perform a private concert, I jumped on the opportunity. Not solely because I was curious to see if her numbers and numerous awards matched her stage presence, but also because it afforded me the chance to introduce myself. And maybe ask her to dinner. And a movie. And coffee afterwards.  And maybe a Fourth Meal from Taco Bell after that. Let’s just say I would make that date last at least until breakfast so I could know the answer to the question that would either MAKE or BREAK us:

 

Does Taylor Swift like Waffle House?

 

Don’t laugh.  It’s key.

 

As for her live performance, I really didn’t know what to expect. I have seen plenty of country acts before--some good and some great—but I felt like she was going to be different. I didn't know why. Maybe it was because as a 23-year-old male, I shouldn’t be excited about going to see an artist whose demographic is 12-16 year-old girls. But I was.  Mainly because it didn’t matter that her music wasn’t written for me—what mattered was that I was going to bear witness to the biggest thing in music right now. The eyes of the world are upon her and she was going to be singing only two feet in front of me.  That’s a cool feeling.

 

It was a relief to see that I wasn’t the only one of my kind.  As I walked in to the venue, I noticed the area around the stage was swollen with what seemed to be an entire college fraternity. Sure, some of them may have been there with their girlfriends, but I later saw them screaming during the show and diving for guitar picks she chucked from stage.  

 

I made my way stage left, where there was still an opening at the front, and parked myself between a group of ten-year old girls and four male cougars holding beers. Add that to the list of incredible feats performed by Swift; drawing a wide demographic.  Looking quickly around the room, I spotted frat boys, teen girls, prepubescent males, geriatric men, and middle-aged women. All of whom seemed to be excited about the show. The only demographic I witnessed not enjoying themselves was the mothers of the young girls. Perhaps it was because every time Swift did her signature head-bang, the girls followed suit. Or maybe it was the fact that the male cougars next to me were going just as crazy for her. Either way, I concluded that the industry has nothing to worry about.  She will have no problem crossing the gap between teen sensation and adult success. The audience is already there. She just has to write the songs.  

 

Taylor Swift on stage

When she finally made her way to the stage, opening with “You Belong With Me,” the energy in the room exploded. Not because the fans were going crazy, but because Swift has a stage presence. With her hair flying around and her hips swinging, she owns it.  And behind her is a band that is an interesting expression of where the country music industry is headed. On lead guitar she has what looks like one of the members of Fall Out Boy. Mascara and all. On rhythm guitar she has what I deduced was an old member of Bon Jovi’s band—he had some wicked 80’s hairstyle. The rest of the band was an eclectic mix of punk and rock stylings. They were quite a departure from traditional country musicians. There was not a cowboy hat in sight—nor boots. It’s the kind of thing that would have had you run out of town twenty years ago. Even Faith Hill was labeled as too “pop” at one point. But Swift is redefining what country success is. And what is acceptable.   

 

One thing I was looking for as she performed was any indication of Auto Tune—some equipment off to the side that corrects off-pitch singing.  Because all I hear from people is how Taylor Swift can’t sing—and how that makes her less of an artist. My search though, turned up fruitless, nor did it sound as if she was off-key. And I didn’t care, really. The people who make those complaints are either musicians who will never make it or people just using what they’ve heard from others to make themselves sound educated on the subject. No one ever said that about Johnny Cash—and the guy was singing in an era dominated by crooners.  He didn’t have a smooth voice—nor a powerful one. But the man could tell a story like nobody else… and you would listen, really listen.  So who cares if Taylor Swift doesn’t have pipes like Faith Hill or Carrie Underwood?  She can tell a story. And people not only listen. They buy it.

 

Taylor Swift - Speak Now

For the next hour and a half, she belted out all her hit songs, throwing in a Justin Timberlake cover (“What Goes Around…Comes Around”), and played a twelve-string guitar, piano, and some Stomp-esque percussion on old oil drums.  It was entertaining, to say the least. In fact, if I took anything away from the concert, it was just that. Taylor Swift is an entertainer.  She has the ability to capture the attention of her audience and hold it.  People hang on every move she makes and some even imitate her (note the ten-year-old girls head banging).  I even caught myself with my hand in the air—though that was because she was standing a foot away and I wanted a high five.

 

I left the concert with several photos on my phone to show my friends that Taylor Swift had sung to me.  No, I didn’t get to meet her and introduce myself and take her on a grand, romantic date, but I left with something else, respect. I was skeptical of her ability before the show. Yes, she won all those awards and has all of those hit songs—but is she really that talented? My conclusion is yes. She is. She knows how to own a stage. She knows how to play several instruments. She knows how to write a good hook. Taylor Swift is the real thing. 

 

Taylor Swift - CMT

And her next big move is about to be made. After the first single, “Mine”, was leaked off her upcoming album, Speak Now (set to be released October 25th), it was released twelve days early on August 4th and quickly rose to the top of the Billboard charts. Now, in anticipation of the popularity of the music video, the sister networks CMT, MTV, VH1, and MTV International will team up for a television and online global premiere—in 160 countries—of the video on Friday, August 27 and Saturday, August 28. The order of events will go like this:

 

CMT and CMT.com will premiere the video, first, between 8:00-8:30PM ET/PT with a live half-hour special CMT PREMIERES TAYLOR SWIFT “MINE”.

 

At 8:30PM ET/PT, MTV.com, VH1.com, CMT.com, and MTV International sites will globally premiere the video. 

 

MTV will rebroadcast the CMT special Saturday, August 28th at 10:00AM ET/PT, followed by VH1 at 4:00PM ET/PT. 

 

A world premiere is more pressure than most people would want to handle. But if I’ve learned anything about Taylor Swift: she’s fearless.

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 116 - September 2018
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