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Taylor Swift is a ten-time GRAMMY winner, and the youngest recipient in history of the music industry’s highest honor, the GRAMMY Award for Album of the Year. She is the only artist in history to have an album hit the 1 million first-week sales figure three times (2010’s Speak Now, 2012’s RED and 2014’s 1989). She’s a household name whose insanely catchy yet deeply personal self-penned songs transcend music genres, and a savvy businesswoman who has built a childhood dream into an empire.
But the numbers don’t tell Taylor’s story half as well as she could. After all, it’s the intangibles that elevate Swift into the stratosphere of our pop culture planet, allowing the 25-year old singer-songwriter to orbit in a more rarified air. Her large-scale charitable contributions are one thing, but it’s in the small gestures – the notes of compassion she posts on the Instagram photos of lovelorn fans, the genuine hugs she distributes without discretion – where Swift proves time and time again that platinum-selling, record-setting success has not changed her inherent nature. She is awkwardly honest and powerfully empathetic; a brazen superfan, loyal friend, fierce protector of hearts; and one of the world’s greatest ambassadors for the power of just being yourself.
Granted, for Taylor, “being herself” tends towards shimmering, gossamer perfection – but that’s an image regularly blown whenever she dons fake braces and a tri-pony to clown around on late night TV. She’s the first artist since the Beatles (and the only female artist in history) to log six or more weeks at #1 with three consecutive studio albums, and while she’s been named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World and one of only eight candidates for their most prestigious honor, 2014 Person of the Year, she’s probably the only person on these lists who uses social media to post notes to her best friends and videos of her cats.
As Billboard Magazine’s Woman of the Year (only artist to receive this nod twice, and youngest-ever honoree) released her critically acclaimed fifth album, 1989, she astounded the world by selling almost 1.3 million albums in its debut week. A fete that had been called impossible in 2014, Taylor proved it was possible. She calls 1989 her most sonically cohesive collection, it is a touchstone; Taylor’s songwriting and sonic evolution surprises us more than ever before. Heavily keyboard and beat driven, the pop sensibilities that have always been the hallmark of Taylor’s music now move front and center. On 1989 she finds herself, as always, in the glare of a blinding spotlight – but if you think that scares her, you haven’t been paying attention. She’s ready to blaze into the next phase of her still-young career, where she’ll continue to dance like no one’s watching, write like she stole our collective diary, and inevitably soar to ever-greater heights. All that’s left to wonder is how many more lives she’ll lift in the process.