October 24, 2006
Taylor grew up in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania and developed an early interest in country music and songwriting. When she was eleven, she and her family made their first visit to Nashville, Tennessee, in peruse of a record deal, though nothing came out of it. Taylor was often judged and neglected by record labels for being too young. In regards to labels rejecting her, she later said:
“I can understand. They were afraid to put out a 13-year-old. They were afraid to put out a 14-year-old. Then they were afraid to put out a 15-year-old. Then they were nervous about putting out a 16-year-old. And I’m sure if I hadn’t signed with Scott Borchetta [head of Big Machine Records], everybody would be afraid to put out a 17-year-old.” — Taylor Swift
Two years later, in 2004, the Swift family moved to Nashville because Taylor got offered a development deal with RCA Records, which she ultimately rejected because she refused to be on an artist development deal. At the age of 14, she received a publishing contract with Sony/ATV Music. In 2005, while performing at The Bluebird Café, she finally caught the attention of Scott Borchetta, CEO of Big Machine Records; a short while later, she signed with the label.
THEMES AND INSPIRATION
Taylor began working on her debut album in the same year she was signed to Big Machine Records. She described “Taylor Swift” as “[her] diary from [her] early teens” and said she wrote the songs featured on the album “in real time”, as she was experiencing them. As a result, the songs on “Taylor Swift” describe coming of age experiences such as insecurity, young love, and teenage angst. Most songs on the album were written during Taylor’s freshman year of high school:
“You listen to my album and it sounds like I’ve had 500 boyfriends. But that’s really not the case. I found that you don’t have to date someone to write a song about them […] I was going through a really tough time in school and facing a lot of rejection among my peers. I found that I was alone a lot of the time, kind of on the outside looking into their discussions and the things they were saying to each other. They really didn’t talk to me. In the process of coming to that realization, I started developing this really keen sense of observation — of how to watch people and see what they did. From that sense, I was able to write songs about relationships when I was thirteen but not in relationships.” — Taylor Swift
DEVELOPMENT AND MUSIC
When her debut album was released, Taylor had found her artistic identity, balancing diaristic purging with savvy pop craft, chaste romanticism with scolding wit, and amplifying small slights into high drama. She’d have many occasions to gently correct interviewers who tried to peg her narration as literal reportage.
When pressed about the scenario that inspired her first single, “Tim McGraw,” she redirected: “The song is not about a huge, intense relationship. It’s about an innocent one.” Invoking McGraw as the singer of a song that conjured nostalgia was also a very smart use of the contemporary country practice of referencing performers of earlier generations as a way of claiming connection to the genre’s lineage. Taylor wrote “Tim McGraw” in math class during her freshman year, knowing that she and her senior boyfriend, Brandon Borello, would break up at the end of the year when he left for college. Liz Rose said Taylor showed up at her job (writing songs for Sony/ATV) after school, “With the idea and the melody. She knew exactly what she wanted”. The nostalgic song describes a summer romance and Taylor’s hope that when Borello “think[s] Tim McGraw” he would “think [her] favorite song” – Tim McGraw’s “Can’t Tell Me Nothin” – and remember her.
For tween and teen girls, Taylor was a defender of feeling deeply and unapologetically. One of the album’s sharpest lines was from “Cold As You,” a parting shot at a callous former love interest: “You come away with a great little story of a mess of a dreamer with the nerve to adore you.”
Taylor penned the autobiographical song “The Outside” as an outlet at age twelve, the year she began writing her own songs. Like many of the other songs she wrote early on, the song describes the unhappiness and loneliness she felt when her love of country music alienated her from her peers.
In “Our Song,” Taylor animated her storytelling with frisky conversational phrasing. She wrote “Our Song” for her freshman year high school talent show with no intentions of including it on the album. She claimed she, “Just knew there was something about it” and chose to include it on “Taylor Swift”. “I wrote it about this guy I was dating, and how we didn’t have a song. So I went ahead and wrote us one.” That was among the album’s sunniest tracks. Beneath her singing, the bright acoustic picking and strumming was goosed by a lightweight, programmed loop, a prescient pop-country update that she achieved with her then-producer Nathan Chapman. “Our Song” is placed at the end of the standard edition of the album due to its closing lyrics, a clever request to “play it again”.
While recording her demo album, Taylor worked with demo producer Nathan Chapman, who she met in a little shed behind a publishing company she was at. She said: “I’d always go in there and play him some new songs, and the next week he would have this awesome track, on which he played every instrument, and it sounded like a record. We did this for a period of a year to two years before I got my record deal.”
To record “Taylor Swift”, she had to choose which album producer she would work with: “Then, all of a sudden, it was, ‘OK, we’re going to use this producer’ or ‘We’re going to use that producer.'” After experimenting with different producers originating from Nashville, Taylor chose Chapman because of the unique sound he put into songs. Big Machine Records was skeptical about hiring Chapman because he had never done a studio album prior to “Taylor Swift”, only demos. Taylor described the songs he produced as “the right chemistry hit[ting]” and therefore, Big Machine Records accepted Chapman producing some of the album’s songs. In the end, Chapman produced all but one of the tracks on “Taylor Swift”. Recording was executed during a four month period in 2006.
PACKAGING AND RELEASE
“Taylor Swift” was released on October 24, 2006 with eleven tracks. Taylor was highly involved in the album packaging, designing doodle graphics herself. She also personally capitalized specific letters in the lyrics from each song to spell out hidden messages, a feat she would also execute for her succeeding four albums.
On November 6, 2007, the album was re-released under the title “Taylor Swift (Deluxe Edition)” for a limited time. The deluxe edition contained three new songs: “I’m Only Me When I’m with You“, “Invisible” and “A Perfectly Good Heart“, the radio edits for “Teardrops on My Guitar“, and “Our Song”, and Taylor’s first phone conversation with Tim McGraw. The re-release also bared new artwork and a bonus DVD with all of Taylor’s music videos at the time (“Tim McGraw”, “Teardrops On My Guitar”, and “Our Song”), behind-the-scenes footage of “Teardrops On My Guitar” and “Our Song” music videos, and a performance of “Picture To Burn“, among other material. Target released an exclusive version of “Taylor Swift (Deluxe Edition)”, with performances of Taylor during McGraw and Faith Hill’s “Soul2Soul II Tour”.
A third and final re-release appeared on March 18, 2008 with the original album artwork, including the three new songs from the “Taylor Swift (Deluxe Edition)”, as well as the radio edit of “Picture To Burn,” and an additional pop remix of “Teardrops On My Guitar”. This version of the album was also released on vinyl in 2016. A karaoke version of “Taylor Swift” was released on January 27, 2009, containing the first fourteen tracks from the album on both CD+G and DVD.
Five singles were released from the album, all of which have been certified at least platinum by the RIAA. “Tim McGraw” was released as the lead single and reached the top ten on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs. “Teardrops On My Guitar” was released as the second single and was the album’s best-charting song on the Billboard Hot 100, reaching No. 13. “Our Song” was released as the third single from the album and was Taylor’s first No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. It made her the youngest person to single-handedly write and perform a No. 1 song on the Hot Country Songs chart. “Picture To Burn” and “Should’ve Said No” were released as the fourth and fifth singles from the album respectively, and both were successful on the country charts in the United States.
Taylor promoted the album by performing on tour as the opening act for artists such as Rascal Flatts, George Strait, Brad Paisley, and Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. In addition to touring and traditional radio promotion, she extensively used her MySpace profile to communicate with her audiences, sharing her daily blogs and song information. Her online marketing strategy boosted the album’s popularity among teenagers and young adults. For example, Taylor and Big Machine decided to release “Our Song” as a single because of the positive feedback it received on MySpace.
COMMERCIAL PERFORMANCE AND CRITICAL RECEPTION
“Taylor Swift” was received positively by contemporary critics, who praised Taylor’s talent at such a young age. The album enjoyed commercial success and launched Taylor’s career in country music. In the United States, it topped the Top Country Albums Chart for 24 non-consecutive weeks. The album was also successful outside of Taylor’s native country, especially in Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom.
The album has sold over 9,3 million copies worldwide as of December 2018. It is the longest charting album released in the 2000s on the Billboard 200 chart.
10 YEARS LATER
On October 24, 2016, in honor of the album’s 10th anniversary and her transition into super stardom, Taylor posted a photo of herself that was taken when she was a teenager, along with a caption thanking her then over 92 million Instagram followers for their support:
“10 years ago today, my first album came out. I couldn’t be more grateful today, thinking back on how much fun we’ve had and how you’ve encouraged me to change and grow. It’s been such an adventure, guys. Thank you for all of it.” — Taylor Swift
|Released||October 24, 2006|
The Castles Studios
|Label||Big Machine Records|
Robert Ellis Orrall