Taylor's world: How Swift became pop's reigning queen
Pop superstar at the peak of her powers plays Ford Field on Saturday
It's Taylor Swift's world, we're just living in it.
Swift is hands down the biggest pop star in the universe; Rihanna, Beyonce, Katy and Miley don't even come close. She's a one-woman cultural force, knocking over everything in her path, and this is her moment.
Swift swoops into Ford Field on Saturday riding a massive wave of momentum from her "1989" album, released in October and still firmly entrenched inside Billboard's Top 10. The record continues to make waves; last week she released the fourth video from the set, the action-packed, star-studded clip for "Bad Blood," and it racked up 20 million views its first day, setting a new record for video service Vevo.
Swift's rise has been a steady climb that started with her debut single "Tim McGraw," a starry-eyed tribute to the country singer, in 2006. (In November of that year, Swift made her first appearance at Ford Field, singing the National Anthem at the Detroit Lions' Thanksgiving Day game.)
She began crossing over to the pop world as early as 2008, but didn't fully plant her feet in pop until the "1989" project. That is when she fully leveraged the power she'd built up over the course of her career and became the juggernaut she is today.
Yes, Taylor Swift is on top of the world. This is how she got there.
THE MUSIC. Swift is not just a huge star, she has the hits to back her up.
Her knack for writing catchy, relatable pop songs was evident from the beginning, but 2008's "Love Story," a classic star-cross'd tale packed with references to princes, princesses and Romeo and Juliet, was stratospheric. She never looked back: "You Belong With Me," which positioned Swift as the plain girl looked over by the object of her affection, was even bigger, and solidified her audience of teenage girls.
By 2012, she was teaming with Max Martin and Shellback, the two biggest pop songwriters working today, and she transcended country music and aimed square at bubblegum pop with "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" (her first No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart) and "I Knew You Were Trouble."
The slickly produced dance pop of "1989" has the broadest appeal of anything she's ever done, and it sent her back to No. 1 with both the silly-fun dance-floor romp "Shake It Off" and the kooky lover's tale "Blank Space," which deftly tweaked her boy-crazy tabloid persona.
THE VIDEOS. Swift has always understood the importance of a good visual, and her music videos spell out her lyrics and feature lush visuals and clear-cut storylines. The numbers are colossal: 866 million for "Black Space," 814 million for "Shake It Off," 432 million for "You Belong With Me," 300 million for "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together." Her recent video for "Style" was a disappointment, racking up a mere 171 million views. Better luck next time, slugger.
THE PERSONA. Taylor Swift is your friend, she's your pal. She has built up a strong relationship with her fans, even inviting some of them over to her home to listen to "1989" before its release (!), and she's been known to go the extra mile at meet-and-greets and during backstage interactions.
She plays up her modesty to a fault; eventually, all those "Who, ME?!" surprise-faces she made while cleaning up at awards shows became a running joke. But she does her best to appear normal: She's always seen dancing in the crowd at awards shows, like she can't believe she has such cool seats to such cool events; her social media posts are anti-glam, and a recent Instagram video showed her hunting for Easter eggs in her backyard with her brother.
And, her squeaky-clean image seems genuine, not a front. And she's always the first to pass on credit to whom its due; when "Bad Blood" broke the Vevo record, she sent a gushing tweet to her fans, thanking them for clicking on it so many times.
THE FRIENDSHIPS. When her tabloid-ready relationships with a string of high-profile boyfriends (including Harry Styles, John Mayer, Jake Gyllenhaal, Taylor Lautner and Conor Kennedy) threatened to dominate the narrative of her private life, Swift publicly swore off dudes and doubled down on her relationships with her gal pals.
She became the ultimate girls-girl, and was rarely seen without her pals Selena Gomez, Lorde or the Haim sisters at her side. She presented a powerful image of female solidarity, which she ratcheted up a notch with her "Bad Blood" video, which includes a nearly all-female cast including Lena Dunham, Hayley Williams, Ellie Goulding, Jessica Alba, Hailee Steinfeld and more. (Rapper Kendrick Lamar, whom she has gushed about in multiple interviews, is the lone male star in the clip.)
She's now preaching about feminism in interviews and is harnessing what the Spice Girls once referred to as "girl power."
THE TRANSITION. In order to take over the world, Swift had to leave country music behind.
Songs like "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" and "I Knew You Were Trouble" were pretty far from Patsy Cline to begin with, though her 2012 album "Red" still straddled the line between Nashville and the rest of the pop world.
But in the lead-up to "1989," she made it very clear that she was saying goodbye to country music and going for a straightforward pop sound, which suddenly made the entire pop landscape her playground. And guess what, country music still loves her: At last month's Academy of Country Music Awards, Swift received a Milestone Award.
THE HATERS. In this day and age, any star worth their salt knows they've gotta give it up to their haters. Swift has her share, and in her infamous interaction with Kanye West at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, she was on the receiving end of one of the biggest hater moves in memory when he took her award for Best Female Video and said it deserved to go to Beyonce.
Swift is no doormat: When industry critic Bob Lefsetz bombed Swift in a piece, she fired back with the song "Mean," and when Katy Perry allegedly stole some of Swift's dancers for her live tour, Swift hit back with the damning "Bad Blood." She even made up with Kanye West, and the two are reportedly hashing out plans to record together. Like Swift herself says, "haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate, I'm just gonna shake it off."
THE POWER. Now that Swift is in charge — "1989" is a lock for an Album of the Year nomination at next year's Grammys, and does anyone think she won't be headlining the Super Bowl halftime show next year? — she is flexing her muscles.
When she suddenly yanked her songs of the streaming service Spotify last year, she set off a culture-wide debate about the merits of streaming, the value of art and the future of music consumption. She's largely stayed out of the political realm, but that could be the next place she makes her influence felt.
She won't stay the biggest pop star in the world forever; it's a title that is constantly shifting. But right now it's hers alone, and there's no one else that is threatening to shake it off of her.
with Vance Joy and Shawn Mendes
7 p.m. Saturday
Ford Field, 2000 Brush, Detroit