The Phenomenon That Is Taylor Swift's 1989 Era
It's been two years since the release of Taylor Swift's last album, Red, and the anticipation for her recently released record entitled 1989 was treacherous. In the past the focus of Swift's song writing has been honed in on love and the fairy tale, idealistic perception of love. Taylor Swift her debut album was release back in 2006 and was filled with songs of heartbreak and the unrequited love of a 16 year old girl. Two years later, Fearless made it's way into our hearts in November of 2008. Fearless was a more mature look at love and how things don't work out, but when they do it can be magical. In 2010, Swift wrote a entire album on her own entitled Speak Now where her level of sass and "I want you and I don't care what anyone says" attitude made a triumphant appearance. The experience she gave us with Red, however, opened our eyes to true pain, devastation and complete and utter heartbreak. It was an immense album with an incredible amount of emotional depth. It was hard to imagine her topping the masterpiece that was Red. On October 27 Swift proved us wrong.
"1989 turned me into a Taylor Swift fan!"
"Taylor Swift's 1989 Saving the Music Industry."
"Taylor Swift is the new Princess of Pop!"
These are just a few of the many and numerous headlines and comments that have poured out since October of last year. Swift's latest album sold over 1.287 million copies in its first week alone, that of which made it the first million selling album of 2014.
Being in the Taylor Swift fandom before April of 2014 there was one thing we were all sure of: Taylor didn't interact with fans online, not since her days on Myspace that is. Until, she did. It was a few pictures here and there. Fans would tag her in their posts and she'd casually click the like button. Soon enough it became a daily thing. Fans started posting their stories, and Taylor? She started not only liking the pictures, but leaving comments. Twitter interaction was rare and random but that was happening too. April was also around the time when her team made her a tumblr. It wouldn't be until September 13th however that she herself was using tumblr, following fan blogs and liking/reblogging/commenting on posts.
August 2014. It was the second week of the month, a Monday, and I was getting ready for another day of work. I had checked my phone and saw a tweet from Ms. Swift herself. It contained a screenshot from her website. There was to be a livestream the following Monday and a contest to enter to win for those who lived in New York and the surrounding areas. I quickly went to the site and clicked the link. I had to include my information, social media links and a 500 character count of how I support Taylor. I submitted my entry as quickly as possible and waited. And waited. I was full of nerves the entire week. By Thursday night, I assumed it was over. I hadn't won, just as I thought I wouldn't, and I accepted that fact. A couple of hours went by and as I was cleaning up at work I looked up and my phone was ringing. After the phone call ended I had a date, a time, an address and a emergency number. All I knew was that I won and I couldn't tell a soul.
Monday finally arrived and I was anxious as ever to find out what would unfold that day. It didn't take long before I found myself at the designated meeting place. I got in line, checked in and made my way up a few floors with the other 88 lucky fans chosen. We were given no information as to what would happen that day. We waited for four hours in that hotel: talking, bonding, singing, dancing. When it was finally time we made our way across the street to ABC studios. We waited some more in the studio where the livestream would be shot. We were still utterly clueless as to what would happen next. After the anticipation of the long awaited arrival of Taylor Swift herself, she was suddenly walking past me. I reached out my hand as she passed by. That was my first interaction with her that day.
During the livestream we found out all about the new album and the it's first single. Afterward she did an interview with GMA and we took group pictures. As she made her way over to mine the first thing that I thought to say was"Taylor, you are so beautiful." She looked at me and smiled as she gushed "Thank you! So are are you! I love how tall you are!" We took our picture and she walked away saying see you guys later. They then loaded us onto a bus and as we anxiously deciphered where we were headed there was a common theme of an idea: Taylor's apartment. She had done it before, it's not like it would be a new thing for her. Where would we go that would fit 89 people? Sure enough as we pulled down a street we all suddenly became aware of where we were.We had arrived at Taylor Swift's NYC apartment. We were going inside of Taylor Swift's NYC apartment with Taylor Swift.
As we made our way up the stairs and into the hallway towards her apartment we waited as she greeted three people at a time and talked to each and every one of us. She hugged, she mingled, she joked and then had a spontaneous dance party freak out after hearing her song on the radio for the first time. By the time it got to me I was utterly overwhelmed. She asked me and the two other people standing with me where we were from. I stood back as the guy next to me had his time with her and then I made my move.
Flashback to May, two months prior to our meeting. Taylor had been liking and commenting on fans Instagram's. Her involvement on social media had increased dramatically. I had gotten a few likes but getting personal words of advice, that was something I yearned for. I wrote her a paragraph describing what I was feeling/going through and the picture I was using wasn't seeming to get her attention. I needed something to stick out to her. So I went through my pictures and found the perfect shot. What better way to show her my love for dance while asking for her thoughts on my current situation than a picture of me performing? As I continued to post and wait as nothing was happening, I got a notification "taylorswift commented on your photo." I swiped the screen and to my utter disbelief Taylor not only shared her thoughts but she shared a long paragraph worth of words of encouragement and understanding.
Flash forward to me standing right before the woman who I've supported, loved and admired for eight years. The young woman who took the time to read my story and offer up words that I carry with me to this day. I knew I had to mention it to her. I didn't know if she would even remember me, but I had to try. "I just want to say something," I spit out, she looked at me and waited. I continued "You left a comment on my Instagram, my dance pict-" she cut me off right there proclaiming "YES, it was beautiful." I had confirmation. Taylor Swift knew who I was and she remembered me. I went on to explain how much her words meant to me, not forming the best of sentences being that I was standing in front of someone I had wanted to meet since I was 14. She thanked me, with a genuine smile on her face and again complimented me on my height. I told her I wasn't actually a fan of being so tall, but since we were close in height I didn't mind so much. I didn't say much but she went out of her way to say "You are beautiful." I'm not the most confident person in the room, and I was extremely overwhelmed in this moment. I like to think that she saw that and she understood that so she wanted me to know that. Thinking back on that moment now reminds me how grateful I am to have been given that opportunity. Maybe we don't really know celebrities. We don't know who they are behind the scenes. People like to say that maybe Taylor's actually not as nice as she portray's herself. Maybe it's all just an act for her good girl image. Having watched her grow up, listening and buying every album, reading and watching every interview, I can't bring myself to believe that she's anyone but the girl that we all see.
This was Monday August 18th, the next Saturday Ms. Swift had even more surprises. It was the weekend of the iHeart Radio Music Festival. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Taylor performed a few songs including a new rendition of Love Story and once again blew us away. But that wasn't it. It wasn't until Sunday night when the secret was unleashed. Taylor had 89 fans come to her house in LA, without anyone knowing, to listen to her upcoming album 1989 before it's release in October.She baked them cookies, ordered them dinner, let them meet hold and cuddle her two cats and explore her home. They even got to meet her parents, Andrea and Scott. This, however was not a one time occurrence. Swift owns four homes in the states. She did this again in Nashville, Rhode Island and of course New York City. She even held one across the pond at a hotel in London. Swift has always been known for going above and beyond for her fans but this was something they never expected. At this point she had found ways in which to utilize social media platforms like Instagram and tumblr to truly get to know her fans . This way not only was she sharing her life but we were sharing ours with her as well. And she was paying attention. Teresa Bissonette was one of the fortunate ones chosen to attend the Secret Session in Nashville. Her and her twin sister Liz traveled from Michigan to be there for this once in a lifetime opportunity. "Getting to tell someone how much they mean to you is one of the best feelings ever," she gushes. "And getting to do it in her family's home was a feeling that I could never explain." Teresa got the same genuine vibe from her that I did, and anyone who's met her would tell you the same. "While talking to her, you can see in her eyes how much she cares. She made me feel so welcome and happy and I'll never be able to thank her enough."
Liz goes into detail about the session describing: "They never told us what was happening or who we were seeing. All we knew was that it was being hosted in someone special's home." They hung out, ate, and mingled in suspense. "When Taylor walked through the door way in her parents living room I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I couldn’t believe it was actually real." Swift explained to them that she "had been stalking [them] online for 6 months," and as a result "knew that she would want to play [them] the album early." Like so many fans, Liz "never thought [she'd] meet her at all" and having gotten to "the way [she] did at the secret session was everything [she] could ever ask for and more." On having heard the album before the entire world Liz says "I never thought I'd have the problem of having a new unreleased Taylor Swift song stuck in my head. 1989 is the biggest secret I’ve ever kept and the fact that Taylor trusted me means the world."
Natasha Nielsen traveled all the way from Florida to attend the Secret Session in Nashville. For her, meeting Taylor "felt like reuniting with an old friend, not meeting a celebrity." What really struck her was how Taylor "really pays attention to you when you are with her. It's like you are the only person that matters and that [was] really important to [her]." Natasha believes that the 1989 era "has proved to fans and other artists that you can be on top and still be down to earth." With her presence on social media having grown she was "interacting with fans on a large yet intimate scale." But it wasn't just that Natasha was "reaching out and involving her into [her] life, [Taylor] was was reaching out to [her] and and involving herself."
On October 27,2014 it was time for the world to hear the phenomenon that is 1989. Taylor has always been open about absolutely everything with her songwriting. This time around, however, something was different. She wasn't just revealing her innermost thoughts, she was doing so with a carefree attitude. She was promoting her work unapologetically and letting the world know that this is who she is. She has no time for critics and people who don't believe in her, she believes in her and that's all that matters. With this album she had reached the mindset of this is what happened, this is how it affected me and no matter what, I'm going to be okay. Red was a complicated, messy roller coaster of emotional lyrics. Track after track you could feel every single emotion to its core. 1989 was when Taylor decided to take the reins and let the music lead her. Liz explains that "although before [Taylor] claimed she never really cared what people thought, this era she doesn't." When I asked around what people thought of the Taylor of the 1989 era the common answer was that she was learning to finally stick up for herself. "She doesn't let people make her feel bad anymore and people no longer look at her as the victim," adds Teresa.
A trend I had noticed begin to rise, after the release of 1989, was the wave of new fans. The change in Taylor, her attitude, and her musical style turned a lot of heads, in the most positive light. A friend of mine, Taylor Young, as well as a former DOY intern, shared with me her new found love for Taylor Swift and how it came about. She explains that "it was the creativity behind 1989" that drew her in. She had finally "winged herself from the country/pop title and went with what she felt compelled to do." Taylor's objection to Swift was with her previous album Red and it's being labeled a country album, which truthfully, it wasn't. Taylor, at that point was not strictly country anymore. Taylor Young puts it this way: "With genres, it's like looking for a good book. If you're looking for a good fiction book, you're not going to find it in the non-fiction section." 1989 was a game changer for Swift and it made an impact. Taylor could see that Swift was "ready to fiend off any negativity," Swift, in Taylor's eyes, was "secure and mature and ready to present this new sound to the world." She goes on to explain that she "[thinks] Taylor has always been honest - but with 1989 [she] feel[s] like she was unashamed. She was ready to take the world by storm, & that's what she did. [Taylor] respect[s] her artistry, [she] always has. But now [she] don't see her as the girl who didn't know what she wanted. [She] see a mature woman who is more comfortable than she has ever been, who is changing the music industry, & who is making a name - not only for herself, but for her fans as well."
Not only were the fans noticing the new found confidence Taylor was evoking, but so were the previous naysayers. The world could tell this was a whole new Taylor and it seemed they were willing to embrace it as much as she was willing to share it.
We've heard the first single, jammed to the album in its entirety: now it's time to experience it all live. She's been headlining tours since the release of her second album Fearless and they never cease to amaze. I got the chance to talk with Seth Rinehart, a musician and fellow Taylor Swift fan. The 1989 World Tour was his first ever Taylor Swift concert, and hopefully not his last. "Seeing Taylor Swift wasn't a concert in full honesty...it was a show," Seth reveals, "it was an experience." If you've ever seen Taylor Swift in concert you know he's right. Taylor isn't there to just sing her songs, she's there to take you on a journey. "She puts this story in this concert that just unravels into a literal masterpiece," he continues explaining that "it's intriguing and unique and keeps you interested for the entire two hours." For Seth though, "the best part was her speeches." Taylor's famous for her anecdotes before certain songs. "She took the time out of her songs to relate and make people understand what it was all about, the message behind the music." This is in part due to her fascination with the connection to her fans and letting them into her world. "She felt like it was important enough to tell young girls (and Seth) that their mistakes don't make them broken. She wanted to relate and change lives all while putting on THE most unique show ever." Not only is the concert itself a magical thing to experience live, but being with thousands of others, all of you with one common interest, it's an indescribable feeling of belonging. "It felt like a community of people who individually had their lives changed for the better...because of Taylor Swift."
Watching the music come to life before my eyes at a Taylor Swift concert is always my favorite part about her music. She's a performer, an entertainer, but she's also a friend. One that understands that we're all human and we all feel the same emotions of loss and heartbreak that she does. She also knows how much the lyrics in her songs mean to us and she knows how much her words can impact us. The fact that she takes all of this into consideration when putting together a show is incredible. I've never once been disappointed when seeing her in concert. Her ability to capture the essence of a song,or even the aesthetic of the album as a whole is truly captivating.
Natasha adds to this perfectly: "I go to the 1989 Tour and I don’t see an international superstar, I see the girl who has gotten me through my darkest times, likes my selfies, and wants to see how my life unfolds. I’ve always seen Taylor as a friend, but never in my eight years of being a fan have I felt closer to her than I do right now."