News Update: Elvis? Madonna? Michael Jackson? What Makes Taylor Swift the Pop Icon She Is?

News Update: Elvis? Madonna? Michael Jackson? What Makes Taylor Swift the Pop Icon She Is?

News Update: Elvis? Madonna? Michael Jackson? What Makes Taylor Swift the Pop Icon She Is?

Can we now put Taylor Swift in the same pop icon stratosphere as Elvis, Michael Jackson, and Madonna? Or too soon? (For perspective, Madonna was 26 when “Like a Virgin” came out in 1984; Swift turns 34 in December.)


News Update: Elvis? Madonna? Michael Jackson? What Makes Taylor Swift the Pop Icon She Is?
Harvey Young, dean of the College of Fine Arts, says yes, it’s time—she is most definitely a generational talent. “She’s certainly the equivalent of the Beatles or at the least, Paul McCartney at the height of his Beatles fame,” he says. “People forget that she’s been releasing music for 17 years—which means that like her, an army of former teenagers are now heading toward middle-age. Her music was literally the soundtrack to a generation’s most formative years, similar to Madonna or Michael Jackson for folks in their 50s.”

Even if you’re not a Swiftie, you can’t help but be awed by Swift’s achievements:

She is the first and only woman solo artist to win the Grammy for Album of the Year three times (for her solo recordings).

Her ongoing Eras Tour is expected to rake in $1.4 billion in sales. Its popularity shut down Ticketmaster temporarily and boosted tourism across the country, as fans traveled to multiple cities to follow her shows. Forbes estimates her wealth at $1.1 billion.

Her new movie, Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour, features footage from her LA concerts and has raked in $149 million to date and been credited with reviving AMC Theaters.
Her new album, 1989 (Taylor’s Version), became Spotify’s most-streamed album in a single day, breaking her own record.
“She’s an advocate, a style icon, a marketing wiz, a prolific songwriter, a pusher of visual boundaries and a record-breaking road warrior,” Billboard writes, summing up the Swift phenomenon. “And she sells a ton of albums… It’s rare to ascend to the pinnacle of pop stardom, as Swift has, and rarer still to impact the business so profoundly.”

We asked BU experts in law, music, and marketing what most impresses them about Swift.


News Update: Elvis? Madonna? Michael Jackson? What Makes Taylor Swift the Pop Icon She Is?
Gareth Dylan Smith, a College of Fine Arts assistant professor of music and of music education, has the bragging rights of seeing a then-unknown 18-year old Swift perform in Nashville in 2007, when she opened for country music star Kathy Mattea. He saw her live again in 2011 and 2014, both times noting an improvement, and today, Smith says, her voice has grown only more robust and mature. “She has put the work in and has improved as a singer and musician,” he says. “Yeah, she’s ridiculously successful and wealthy, but she also works really damn hard.”

And he finds Swift’s songs well crafted from a technical standpoint, he says: they have catchy, memorable choruses, carefully crafted lyrics, good dynamics (how loud or soft the music is), and are thoughtfully placed throughout the album. The songs have “different feels and styles that are equally successful,” he says.

On stage, Swift pulls out the banjo and guitar and plays the piano, as well as singing and dancing, with multiple outfit changes. “There’s a lot going on, and she kills it on stage,” Smith says. “And it’s very impressive to do it night after night. You could be good at one of those, and I’d be impressed, but doing all at the same time…definitely impressive.”

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