This article has been updated.
You’ve got to hand it to her. Taylor Swift is a mad genius when it comes to marketing, and the timing of when and how to release new music. Please don’t take that as criticism, or a backhanded compliment. It’s her cunning, and her ability to get the planets to align for her releases that have made her this biggest pop star in the world.
If you’re scratching your head as to why Taylor Swift recently wiped her social feeds, you don’t belong in entertainment media, or marked as a true member of Taylor Swift fandom, or even a tacit observer of popular culture. Of course Taylor Swift is preparing to release a new album. And of course it will be a colossal blockbuster. Because she’s exuded patience and understanding about how the music marketplace works, and when the record hits shelves, she will have the undivided attention large swaths of the developed world all to herself.
For years Taylor Swift’s thing was to release a new record every other year, and right before the Christmas buying season. But last year she broke that pattern. What was happening this time last year into the run up to the October release cycle? It was her feud with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian over whether she gave Kanye approval to use the line, “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. Why? I made that bitch famous…” in one of his songs. Taylor said no, Kanye said yes, and then Kim Kardashian produced video evidence that Taylor had given at least some approval for the line, and had knowledge of it.
But what did Swift also say in that Instagram video? She said that she was worried about being overexposed. Nobody has better radar on when the world is tired of hearing about Taylor Swift bullshit than Taylor Swift. She’s all immersive for a short period to sell an incredible amount of records, and then she knows when to get lost, let the batteries recharge, and then re-emerge almost like out of nowhere to absolutely dominate the national narrative once again. It is this pattern that 1 ups her critics, and ingratiates her to an incredibly large portion of the population. Ryan Adams even loves her, and Ryan Adams hates everything.
Don’t think for a second that the timing of Taylor Swift’s groping trial was coincidental. Again, don’t take this as a criticism. Give her all of the credit in the world for standing up to a piece of shit who it was determined by a jury of our peers put his hand on Taylor’s butt in 2013. He deserved to be publicly rebuked. And through court procedure, she was able to delay resolution, bring it to trial (of which 90% of civil actions never get to), and score a victory in a national spectacle, including for the endearing court reward of $1 (because it was never about the money, right?) and do it all in the days right before she’s about to announce a new record.
Now the internet is full of stories about Taylor Swift standing up for female artists, women in the workplace, and how she’s an empowering force for good for women in the world, with one think piece after another showering plaudits upon her for her courage and leadership. Meanwhile, the memory that Taylor Swift was caught in a semi-lie this time last year by of all people, Kim Kardashian, and the world of entertainment media proceeded to dog pile Taylor, and get woke to how her entire career had been built upon manipulating the public to buy into her “America’s Sweetheart” branding and image has all but been forgotten.
Again, that’s not to discount Taylor’s efforts in the groping trial whatsoever. It was a big victory for women. It is a big issue in entertainment, and country music entertainment—how young women are treated and manipulated by the system. Taylor Swift was right to take a stand, and to fight for her personal freedoms, and for a symbolic victory for all the women who don’t have the power, money, time, or opportunity to achieve their own resolutions and victories in similar situations. It just happens to be that the timing all worked out absolutely spot on for Taylor to regain the national narrative for the positive right before she enters a new album release cycle, just like virtually all the happenstances of Taylor Swift’s career have fallen into place for her.
I hear you seething out there: What does any of this have to do with country music? It has everything to do with country music, because whenever Taylor Swift releases a record, it has an incredibly dominating effect on everything in entertainment media, and beyond. You damn well better be aware that Taylor Swift is releasing a new record this fall/winter if you, one of your favorite artists, or an artist you happen represent in the industry in some capacity is planning to release an album as well. It doesn’t mean you should delay your release, but it is certainly something you must ponder in the equation.
Three years deeper into the phenomenon of music streaming since Taylor Swift shocked the world with her sales for 1989, and how many copies of her new album can Taylor Swift shift out of the chute on release day? Two million? Three million? We’ll just have to see, and that footprint will have reverberations in country and beyond, not to mention the persistent rumors that Taylor Swift may be including some “country” material on the new record. Taylor Swift may have left country with 1989, but her influence remains, and her actions still affect what happens in Nashville where much of the new record was said to be recorded.
It will be an interesting next few months to see just what happens on the Taylor Swift front, and to see just how it will be received. But make no doubt, for the fall and winter of 2017, in music, it will be Taylor Swift’s world, with the rest of us just living in it. And it all comes down to the most persistently underrated element in music that has the most critical affects, and something Taylor Swift dominates while so many other artists, labels, and managers disregard or misunderstand: timing.