In recent days, Bloomberg reported that Taylor Swift has joined the merry band of the USA’s music billionaires. Unlike other members of this band (Rihanna, Beyoncé, Jay-Z), who have business ventures outside the music industry, Swift has achieved this financial success through only music and performing. To put this success into context, her current Eras Tour is set to gross “well over $1 billion” and has added $4.3 billion to America’s GDP. So how exactly has she amassed so much wealth?
From the country-girl-with-a-guitar persona of her early career to selling out the most highly grossing pop concert of all time, Swift’s career seems as though it should have spanned half a century, but she is still only 33. With 10 original albums since the age of 15 (not including re-released music), Swift is a speedy and highly prolific musician. Unlike many artists who take several years to produce an album, Swift churns them out consistently and, since 2020, has produced three original albums in three years. As a result, her music never leaves the public eye (or ear, rather) and her new music is released while you’re still getting through her previous album.
Her music is undoubtedly catchy as, during the summer, she had four albums in the US top 10 at once, matching a record that was last set in 1966 by Herb Alpert. But it takes more than catchy music to become a billionaire. Like many artists and bands who have experienced the largest and most crazed success, Swift has procured and sustained a frenziedly loyal fanbase. These fans are more than just people who like Taylor Swift’s music, ‘swifties’ - as the penning of a collective noun suggests - are a strong community of like-minded and like-committed adorers who likely buy far more merch and albums than many other fans for other artists.
There are many artists and bands for whom there is no ‘type’ of fan: a Coldplay fan, for instance, could just as easily be a 17-year-old-boy as a 42-year-old woman (although to be told you looked like a Coldplay fan would still feel like a veiled insult even though I couldn’t say why…) The public mental image of Taylor Swift fans, however, much like those of One Direction, is a flock of hysterical teenage girls; the idea of a balding man in his late 30s going to a Taylor Swift concert furrows the brow. A study by Forbes, however, shows that this stereotype is untrue.
Though only 16% of American adults said they were “avid” fans of Taylor Swift, a whopping 53% said they were fans. That 53% is also pretty evenly split between the genders (48% are male and 52% female). Perhaps the most surprising statistic, however, is that 45% of her avid fans are between the ages of 27 and 42, and only 11% are under 26. This means a balding man in his late 30s is actually very likely to attend a Taylor Swift concert (men with hair are also welcome). As a result, there is a huge quantity of the population who buy her music, concert tickets, and merch as stealthy fans. All of which add up to billions of dollars.
So why do we have this misconception of her fans? The stereotyped shrill young woman profile of her average supporter comes from her most fiercely loyal fans who discuss and praise Swift most publicly on social media. These are the fans whose in-studio screams deafen viewers of the Ellen Show even as they sit in their own homes and release teary videos of themselves professing their love for her. Understandably, this demographic of fan overshadows the vast amount of other demographics who also enjoy and buy her music.
It is with these committed fans that Swift makes most effort. She is unique in her commitment to her fans, trying to build a community amongst them and a pseudo-close relationship with them. She manages to maintain near-permanent levels of excitement and hype amongst fans by releasing album ‘easter eggs’ and hints about new music. She rewards her most loyal fans by inviting them to invite-only ‘secret sessions’ in her home in which she gives private performances of new music, makes food, buys them gifts, and chats with them. The first instance of these parties was before the release of her album 1989 in 2014, giving fans a preview of music that was yet to be publicly released. She did the same for the album Reputation and for the album Lover. As well as this, in the weeks before Christmas in 2014, she had Christmas gifts delivered to her biggest fans along with handwritten notes.
It is up to you to decide whether this is a clever marketing campaign or genuine kindness but, either way, it succeeds in building a fiercely loyal fanbase willing to pay the average ticket price of $254 for her latest tour (or pay to see it in the cinema, meaning the film made $34 million on its first day) as well as buy the masses of special edition merchandise that she offers. In a nod to her current Eras tour, some have said that Swift is currently in her “capitalist era” due to the “endless stream” of her special-edition merchandise. In a fit of marketing genius, it was widely publicised that the release of her latest album Midnight would occur at midnight but with a surprise. The surprise came at 3am when she released another album, ‘Midnight (3am edition)’ which contained several bonus tracks. As a financially fortunate result, all the fans that had stayed up to buy the first album as soon as it was released then parted with yet more of their cash to purchase the deluxe version of the same album. This record is also available in several colourways, each with a sleeve portraying a different segment of a clock face. As a result, these records, when bought as a set, come together to make an entire clock face pointing to midnight. Very clever, Taylor.
As well as all the merchandise, social media content, and private love-ins, marketing can be found in her music itself. Unlike many celebrities who keep their personal lives private, Swift sticks a tune to hers and sells it. The fact that she sings about real emotions, perceptions and relationships means fans can identify their own emotions and experiences in hers and feel close to and understood by her. In fact, 42% of fans cite her reliability as the reason for their support and love for her, showing its importance in her career. Wearing her heart so publicly on her sleeve means that the course of Swift’s life can be tracked through each of her albums, making fans feel like they know her which contributes to the pseudo-close relationship Swift strives to have with her fans. She is pop star and reality star rolled into one; a potent combination of Miley Cyrus and Kim Kardashian, especially so since the release of her documentary on Netflix. As a result, her life and music can be categorised into distinct eras based on her life’s events and emotions, there was Country Taylor, Teen-pop Taylor, Rebellious Taylor, Indie Taylor, and now a Very Rich Taylor.
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