With the release of Taylor Swift’s latest album, “Reputation” comes an onslaught of reviews, opinions about the singer-songwriter, and of course the sheer glee of fans—Swifties—everywhere. Even though it’s been three years since she released her previous album, “1989,” the singer proves with “Reputation’s” $1.2 million in album sales so far that the free market responds well to her particular brand of hard work, talent, and luck.
Her heart might be that of a romantic songwriter, but her head is more like a supply-side economist, who proves over and over she is a capitalist clairvoyant.
1. Taylor Swift Produces Killah Music
When Swift went quiet after “1989” we worried she was losing her edge. Even when Swift finally released “Look What You Made Me Do,” a song from her newest album “Reputation,” I wasn’t sure I liked it and even thought, If that’s the prologue to the album, surely she’s hit her peak and heading downhill.
Boy, was I wrong. “Reputation” is a fantastic album musically. Dozens of reviewers from Billboard to Rolling Stone are gushing over it. “No pop star of the modern era has communicated the contours of her disappointment with such emotional precision and melodic sophistication,” writes Jon Caramanica of The New York Times. Randy Lewis at The Los Angeles Times said “Swift’s talent remains intact on ‘Reputation,’ her most focused, most cohesive album yet.”
Swift has so many fans, and enough time had passed, they’d probably be thrilled with anything. But that wasn’t good enough for Swift. Her standards for herself remain high despite Grammys and record-sales that could cause one to rest on her laurels. She successfully gives her fans the best of herself in her art. She eschews laziness, tries new sounds, and tests the limits of her ability to articulate her pain, heartache, and joy.
We, the public and the media, paraded her romantic flubs, mocking her publicly. So look what we made her do: Come back three years later with a professional, talented piece of art about which any capitalist-loving entrepreneur could boast.
2. She Markets Like a Boss
Over time, Swift has learned to think like a shrewd businesswoman. Unlike many of her pop star counterparts, she appears to take the business side of her music as seriously as the artistic side. Her number one rule: Never give away your art for free. If that’s not capitalism clairvoyance, I don’t know what is.
She took Apple to task a couple years ago when the tech giant decided to offer a three-month trial to new subscribers without paying the artists, writers, or producers during that time. She wrote it was “shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company.” She refused to place her album “1989” there and even now “Reputation” is not available via streaming. Fans must purchase the album to hear it.
Such ability to put monetary value on her work has paid off: She sold more albums in four days than any other album has sold the entire year. This is the free market at its finest.
Swift often sells so many albums because of her otherworldly ability to market herself and her work. By withholding “Reputation” strategically, allowing fans peeks into the album via an Instagram post here, a Tumblr post there, she creates a thirst for her art that, by the time it’s released, fans are willing to pay to fully hear.
She also invites a handpicked crowd of fans for “Secret Sessions”—the selected group gets to go to one of her homes around the world (yes, world) and hear the new album before its release. This is not only brilliant marketing, but it’s the most basic capitalist concept ever. As Adam Smith said, “The propensity to truck, barter and exchange one thing for another is common to all men, and to be found in no other race of animals.”
3. Taylor Swift Is Generous
Swift might be making loads of money, but she doesn’t hoard it. She’s known for giving back to her fans and to complete strangers. After Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, Swift donated a large amount in honor of her mother, who graduated from the University of Houston. After winning a symbolic $1 from her countersuit against a Denver DJ who had groped her, she made a “generous” pledge to a nonprofit that helps sexual assault survivors. After the flooding in Louisiana last year, she donated $50,000 to a food bank.
Grant it, one could say, well, she’s making a ton of money—what it’s to her to donate $1 million? But not every millionaire or billionaire is generous, and I’ve seen poor people who have a Scrooge-like spirit too. Swift seems to follow the adage, “To whom much is given, much is required.”
Benevolence toward others in need is common among trait for capitalists, particularly because capitalism generates excess wealth that can then be donated to those in need. Such deeds not only benefit the giver and receiver but society at large.
4. She Takes a Step Back to Move Forward
Success comes to entrepreneurs through talent, hard work, and a little luck. But rather than work 24/7 in the public eye, Swift knows herself and how she best creates music, and took more than a year off from the public realm to dig deep, focus, and likely to allow time to herself to create. Her social media channels, which most Hollywood stars keep buzzing all the time, have been relatively quiet, until she began to prepare for the release of “Reputation.”
This kind of deep, quiet work ethic reaps great rewards in the private sphere, where she’s competing against hundreds of other talented artists. It has allowed her time to focus on building her strengths, and she’s surrounded herself with a team of like-minded, similarly talented people within the music industry, like Max Martin and Jack Antonoff, to help her complete her vision. While social media has its place—and she has used it strategically as well—she knows when to dial it back, really breathe deep, and dig in.
5. Taylor Swift Doesn’t Care What Naysayers Think
An undertone of Swift’s work generally, which she emphasized even more in “Reputation,” is that she doesn’t care what you think. When she does care, it’s selective and purposeful, and she handles her responses to people’s opinions via her music. In other words, when she cares, she makes money off caring. Of course, the 2014 hit “Shake It Off” epitomized her attitude toward her “haters,” but it’s this new album that really capitalizes on that idea.
This prologue, which you can find in her physical album, showcases this well. She says no one really knows the real her and often, because of that, people jump to conclusions that may be false. A portion reads,
When this album comes out, gossip blogs will scour the lyrics for the men they can attribute to each song, as if the inspiration for music is as simple and basic as a paternity test. There will be slideshows of photos backing up each incorrect theory, because it’s 2017 and if you didn’t see a picture of it, it couldn’t have happened right?
Let me say it again, louder for those in the back . . .
We think we know someone, but the truth is that we only know the version of them that they have chosen to show us.
There will be no further explanation.
There will be just reputation.
Swift cares about what strangers think only to the extent that she takes its effects and weaves it into her music. Like a novelist who puts her pain into her fictional characters, Swift doesn’t let criticism deter her work but rather inspire. Swift’s incredible success shows the upside to capitalism. If there’s a downside, like all good entrepreneurs, she’s profited from that too.