Unlike some years, the 2016 Grammy Awards did not launch some brand new artist into the stratosphere or have a clear cut frontrunner who completely dominated the night. It was a rather democratic and diverse set of winners who represented most facets of popular music. But if there was one clear victor you had to name, it would be Taylor Swift. Along with her two early, non-televised awards for Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Music Video, she walked away with the top prize of the night, Album of the Year for her blockbuster 1989.
Though some thought that Kendrick Lamar was the one who released the most groundbreaking album in music over the last year or so, the Alabama Shakes have become the underdog everybody wants to root for, and Chris Stapleton appeared to be the dark horse who could have risen out of the shadows to shock everyone, the commercial prowess of 1989 was just too hard to deny for Grammy voters.
Since Swift released 1989 well over a calendar year ago, it’s hard to recall just what a game changer the album was upon its release. Before 1989, everybody believed the album concept and the physical copy was dead in music. 1989 changed all of that by accruing sales nobody thought were even possible in music anymore. Since then, Adele has nearly doubled Taylor Swift’s numbers, reshaping the paradigm once again. But it was 1989 that laid the groundwork and proved that blockbuster, ubiquitous albums were still possible. Were there better albums released over the last 15 months? That’s a matter of taste, but of course there were. But 1989 was the album to blame for saving the commercial enterprise of recorded music. And as much as the award was for her music, it was also for the leadership Taylor showed in taking on Apple, and making a stand that music has value and should be paid for.
As Taylor Swift strode to the stage to accept her award for Album of the Year Monday night, in a dress with an open crease so deep it purposefully revealed the close crotch cut of her undergarments, she must have felt a sense of not just victory, but relief. Given the commercial feat of 1989, if she couldn’t win Album of the Year now, she may never win again. “I remember not going to after parties. I went home and I cried a little bit and I got In-N-Out burger and ate a lot,” is what Taylor Swift said after her previous album Red missed out on the Album of the Year Grammy.
And then Swift took center stage and gave a speech.
“As the first woman to win album of the year at the Grammys twice, I want to say to all the young women out there: there are going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame,” Swift said. “But if you just focus on the work and you don’t let those people sidetrack you, someday when you get where you’re going. You’ll look around and you’ll know it was you and the people who love you who put you there and that will be the greatest feeling in the world.”
Immediately, the media and many fans ran with the idea that Taylor’s speech was a dig at Kanye West. In Kanye’s new album, he refers to Taylor Swift as a “bitch,” and references the moment early in Swift’s career when he stormed the stage at the VMA’s, stealing the mic from Taylor and saying that Beyonce deserved the distinction more. A media storm ensued, and some have circled the 2009 VMA’s moment as the point when Taylor Swift became a superstar from the sympathy that arose. “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. Why? I made that bitch famous,” is what Kanye West says as part of his new album.
The media loves a good feud story, but Taylor Swift’s speech wasn’t just meant for one person. Kanye West may have been the inspiration for Swift’s speech, but it wasn’t the target. The target was young women all across the world who are forced or coerced to having all their accomplishments measured by the men who also happened to be involved, and many times leech off of women’s hard work and talents to build their own successes.
1989 was not very well received by Saving Country Music. I would consider it Taylor’s weakest album, and the grandstanding and accolades over the record—including the Ryan Adams tribute and arguably even the Album of the Year Grammy—are way overshooting the album’s intrinsic value to music.
But who in 2016 can question Taylor Swift’s hard work, persistence, and resonance in culture that she has been won through her own sweat and perseverance? Think what you want about Swift’s music. If you see what she has done with her stage shows, all the work she does behind the scenes, how she writes most of her own music, plays producer, makes so many of the management and marketing calls, you can’t say that she isn’t her own woman.
Taylor Swift didn’t get here just because of the powerful men behind her. In some respects she got her in spite of them. Scott Borchetta wanted Taylor Swift to stay country for 1989. But she stuck to her own vision, and wanted to move forward with her career with honesty to herself, and her fans. And the result was reaching the highest plateau of her career so far.
Kanye West is a garbage human being. He sponged off Taylor Swift’s moment at the VMA’s in 2009, and he sponged off of Taylor Swift by insulting her to gain attention for his new album. Don’t diminish the powerfulness of Taylor Swift’s Grammy speech and message by only making it relevant to one man, especially if that man is Kanye West. Taylor Swift’s speech was for everyone.