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The Taylor Swift Era

2006-2008

Taylor started her career as an unlikely country contender, defying industry wisdom about what would sell. By the time she arrived on the Nashville scene in the mid-’00s, the pop-country divas who’d been so dominant throughout the ’90s had largely receded from view, and those programming the radio format had it in their heads that their core demographic of grown women preferred to hear grown male singers. The country-music business didn’t yet see the point in courting younger listeners, major labels had a lock on radio airplay, and Nashville’s old-school division of creative labor, which defined “singer” and “songwriter” as two separate jobs, was still the rule.
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After School Songwriter

Taylor was only 14 when she was signed by the Sony/ATV Tree Publishing house. She’s the youngest songwriter to ever be hired by the music industry giant. She showed up to co-writing appointments with seasoned Music Row pros such as Troy Verges, Brett Beavers, Brett James, Mac McAnally, and The Warren Brothers expecting to be underestimated, then persuaded them of her seriousness by presenting a dozen song ideas prepared in advance. She eventually formed a lasting working relationship with Liz Rose. They began meeting for two-hour writing sessions every Tuesday afternoon after school. Rose thought that the sessions were “some of the easiest I’ve ever done. Basically, I was just her editor. She’d write about what happened in school that day. She had such a clear vision of what she was trying to say. And she’d come in with the most incredible hooks”. Taylor told The New York Times in 2008:

«I knew every writer I wrote with was pretty much going to think, ‘I’m going to write a song for a 14-year-old today. So I would come into each meeting with 5 to 10 ideas that were solid. I wanted them to look at me as a person they were writing with, not a little kid.»

Taylor Swift

Signing With Big Machine Records

Taylor also had a development deal with RCA, which she left voluntarily when they didn’t offer her a record deal after one year. The company wanted to keep her in development until she was 18. She later recalled: “I genuinely felt that I was running out of time. I wanted to capture these years of my life on an album while they still represented what I was going through”. Taylor also stated that she didn’t feel like RCA wanted her to sing her own songs. She told Entertainment Weekly in 2007:

«I didn’t want to just be another girl singer. I wanted there to be something that set me apart. And I knew that had to be my writing. I just did not want it to happen with the method of, 'Let’s throw this up against the wall and see if it sticks, and if it doesn’t, we’ll just walk away.' I wanted a record label that needed me, that absolutely was counting on me to succeed. I love that pressure.»

Taylor Swift
At an industry showcase at Nashville’s famous Bluebird Café in 2005, Taylor caught the attention of Scott Borchetta, a DreamWorks Records executive who was preparing to form his own independent record label, Big Machine Records. She became one of the first signings, and her father, Scott Swift, purchased a three percent stake in the fledgling company at an estimated cost of $120,000. Taylor began working on her eponymous debut album shortly after signing the record deal. She persuaded Big Machine to hire her demo producer Nathan Chapman, with whom she felt she had the right “chemistry”. Taylor wrote three of the album’s songs alone, and co-wrote the remaining eight with writers Rose, Robert Ellis Orrall, Brian Maher, and Angelo Petraglia.

A Place In This World

Big Machine Records was still in its infancy on the release of the lead single, “Tim McGraw“, in June 2006, and Taylor and her mother Andrea helped “stuff the CD singles into envelopes to send to radio”. At this point, she transitioned from Hendersonville High School to homeschooling. She was a straight A student and got her high school diploma one year early.

Taylor Swift was finally released on October 24, 2006. As fans soon found out, it was best listened to on CD, because you could flip through its scrapbook-style booklet. The printed lyrics contained easy-to-crack codes (strategically capitalized letters that spelled out the names of song subjects), and the acknowledgements ended with a postscript that captured the cheeky specificity of the autobiographical authority Taylor claimed: “To all the boys who thought they would be cool and break my heart, guess what? Here are 14 songs written about you. HA.”

Country Music From a Teenage Girl

On paper, Taylor seemed poorly positioned to carve out a place for herself in the thoroughly adult world of country music. But she wanted to prove that a young, female perspective could carry emotional weight in country music. She spent much of the year on the road with her mom, promoting Taylor Swift with a radio tour and television appearances. Once she had her debut collection of 11 songs to discuss, she was fond of pointing out that she’d dreamed one up in math class (“Tim McGraw”) and written another for a school talent show (“Our Song”). Borchetta has said that record industry peers disliked his signing of a 16-year-old singer-songwriter at first but that Taylor tapped into a previously unknown market — teenage girls who listen to country music.

«I’ve never wanted to use my age as a gimmick, as something that would get me ahead of other people. I’ve wanted the music to do that. So we’ve never hidden the fact that I’m 17, but we’ve never wanted it to be the headline. Because I want the music to win. I think the actual truth of the matter is that being 17 has been sort of an obstacle, just in proving yourself to radio and proving yourself to middle-aged people listening to the radio. It’s just a number on my birth certificate. But I’m very respectful of that number, you know?»

Taylor Swift
A lot of Taylor’s fans discovered her on MySpace, where she famously did her own posting and personally answered messages. Country artists had long been known for their accessibility, but she took the impulse further, projecting something more like chummy, confiding friendship. The fact that she’d amassed so many online followers helped persuade country-radio programmers to play her songs; not only did she pledge fealty to the format, she was on to something way too big and important for them to ignore. Her online popularity also landed Taylor several touring gigs. She promoted her debut album extensively as the opening act for country music’s biggest artists, including Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, George Strait and Rascal Flatts. Another country superstar, Brad Paisley, said: “Taylor Swift was one that I called my manager when I heard her album and said, ‘We have to get her out on tour.’ And for her to have written that record at 16, it’s crazy how good it is. I figured I’d hear it and think, ‘Well, it’s good for 16’ — but it’s just flat-out good for any age.” Taylor told Entertainment Weekly in 2007 that she knew exactly what her appeal was and where it came from:

«MySpace is one of the main reasons I’m here, along with radio and and word of mouth. And MySpace is pretty much a younger thing, at the moment. We just crossed over like 14 million plays on my MySpace page since June of last year. So yeah, definitely, it’s bringing a completely different audience to country music. And I am so grateful for that. I don’t know what I did to make that happen, because everybody was talking about it. I would go to CRS [Country Radio Seminar] before I was ever signed to a record deal, and I would listen to people say, 'Someone needs to bring in that younger demographic.' And what I’m hearing is that we’ve done that, and we kind of stumbled upon it. I wasn’t trying to be exclusive as to who would like it.»

Taylor Swift

Pop Crossover Appeal

Jon Caramanica of The New York Times described Taylor Swift as “a small masterpiece of pop-minded country, both wide-eyed and cynical, held together by Taylor’s firm, pleading voice”. Following “Tim McGraw”, four more singles were released throughout 2007 and 2008: “Teardrops On My Guitar“, “Our Song”, “Picture to Burn” and “Should’ve Said No“. All were highly successful on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, with “Our Song” and “Should’ve Said No” both reaching number one. For the former, Taylor became the youngest person to single-handedly write and perform a number-one song on the chart. “Teardrops On My Guitar” became a moderate commercial success, reaching No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100. It signaled her pop crossover appeal.

The Longest Charting Album of the 2000s

Taylor Swift peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 and has the longest stay on the chart by any release in the 2000s. As of August 2016 the album has sold over 7.75 million copies worldwide. Taylor also released the holiday EP The Taylor Swift Holiday Collection in October 2007 . A second EP, Beautiful Eyesfollowed in July 2008.

Nashville's New Superstar

Taylor won many accolades for Taylor Swift. She was one of the recipients of the Nashville Songwriters Association‘s “Songwriter/Artist of the Year” in 2007, becoming the youngest person to be honored with the title. She also won the Country Music Association‘s “Horizon Award” for “Best New Artist”, the Academy of Country Music Awards‘ “Top New Female Vocalist”, and the American Music Awards‘ “Favorite Country Female Artist” honor. She was further nominated for “Best New Artist” at the 2008 Grammy Awards. Nashville knew: Taylor was country music’s new superstar.
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Taylor Swift Era

Taylor Swift Album

Taylor Swift Songs

Tour Opening Act

Taylor Swift: A Place In This World

Taylor's Discography