Is Taylor Swift A World Leader? Not In The Traditional Sense, But Don't Underestimate Her Business Savvy
It's an interesting choice, to be sure: Taylor Swift is #6 on the World's Greatest Leaders list from Fortune. It's also sure to be a controversial choice: She's up there with humanitarians, rulers of nations, and the CEO of Google. This will not please everyone, that much is guaranteed — but let's look at Swift, and, more specifically, the things that she's doing that put her in the position to be put on this list. Because she may be one of the top musical acts in the world, but Taylor Swift is still underestimated — and her tact highly underrated. She does deserve this spot, and here's why.
First, do I think that Taylor Swift is the most important person on this list of important people? No way. Do I think she's the person doing the most good in the world, on this list that includes noted human rights activists? Absolutely not. Do I even think it's a little wacky that she's on a list with people like Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi? Sure.
But do I think that Swift is influential — or, even more than that, savvy — in a way it would be negligible to ignore? Absolutely.
The key to understanding why Swift is on this list, whether or not you agree with the choice, seems to lie largely in our society's tendency to raise our entertainers to heights of iconicity that often surpass our politicians. There's no denying the importance in our lives of the people passing our laws — but there's also no denying the amount of influence our entertainers have when more people know their name than know who currently sits on the Supreme Court. It says a lot about our society, and it's not something you can just shrug off.
Another key step in getting over having a pop star side to side with so many human rights activists tirelessly trying to stop the world's horrors? The parameters of Forbes' list:
These extraordinary men and women are transforming business, government, philanthropy, and so much more.
It's that description that brings up something that most people are more than happy to ignore about Swift in favor of highlighting, say, her list of best friends or alleged ex-lovers or even her love of cats:
Taylor Swift is a master business woman.
It's something that gets glossed over when it comes to a lot of our entertainers, but it's true: Our top pop stars are often also our top business people. If they're not then they don't tend to stay our top pop stars for long, and Swift's only gained power in the years since her rise to prominence. If you don't think Beyonce, Kim Kardashian (not a pop star but certainly a top figure of the Internet age), and Taylor Swift alike don't have mountains of business skill then I'm sorry, but you have not been paying attention.
Considering that this list does not limit their "world leaders" to politicians and humanitarians and instead actively includes business people making landmark decisions that affect their culture and their world, Swift's inclusion starts to make a lot more sense.
She's Made A Stand For the Future Of Music
Swift has spoken publicly about her status as a businesswoman before, while accepting the 2014 Billboard Music Award For Women Of the Year (emphasis ours):
This year, I feel, has been important to me in a lot of ways. But honestly I feel the most important way that this year has changed my life and the way I've lived it is that I've taken this year to stand up for my value as a songwriter, as a business woman, and as a content creator. You know, I'm very well aware that the music industry is changing, and that it will continue to change — and I am open to that change, and open to progress. I am not open to the financial model that is currently in place. I really think that we in the music industry can work together to find a way to bond technology with integrity.
So what did she do about that? Well, for one she pulled all of her music off of Spotify, and showed the world it was the right decision for her (and, as she argues, the rest of the music industry) by still making, to put it gently, mad bank. She is actively trying to change the music industry and chart a future for it, and she's using herself as an example.
She's Seized Control Of Her Branding
This is a massive one. Remember: There was a time (a long time) after Swift's initial rise wherein her name was often followed by gossip around who she was rumored to be dating and what songs she may or may not write about that person. It was rampant, and present in virtually every article discussing her and her work. This hasn't 100 percent dissipated (see: Discussion of Harry Styles in relation to her most recent album), but the contrast between then and now is undeniable — and incredible. Swift very actively made the decision to stop giving the media material for the narrative they'd decided to assign to her, instead reshaping that narrative to be about female friendship, her status as a pop powerhouse, and occasionally cats. This cannot be underestimated: She is steering this ship.
The issue of branding also goes into this next one:
She's Balanced Practical Business Matters With An Intimate Relationship With the Public
This is a very, very tricky, impressive thing she and her team have done. Swift is a very shrewd businesswoman — one who prioritizes things like earnings (see: Trademarking lyrics for merchandise, pulling out of Spotify, teaming with mega-corporations for sponsorship) and still manages to nurture an intimate relationship with her fans. She sends them handmade, handpicked, sometimes hand-painted gifts, she gives them complements and advice on Instagram, she talks to them on Tumblr and hangs out with them at awards shows. She understands something crucial to the business of being Taylor Swift: Her relationship with the public has always been just as important to record sales and longevity as the music itself. It's sweet, but it's also damn smart.
It's not the fact that everyone knows her name that makes Swift a world leader, and it's not that "world leader" equates her with the people doing the work to pass legislation or create the technology to make our societies better places to exist in. It's that Swift is ruling over her little slice of the world by making decisions that will potentially make waves for years to come. It's easy to get distracted by the glitz, but let's not forget the very savvy young woman at its center.