The pop music world is not the first place most of us would turn to for role models. But Taylor Swift proves you can be a mega-selling recording artist, a household name, perennial magazine cover, top-of-the-game entrepreneur and teen idol while also putting your best self forward.
The fact that Fortune named Swift, 25, to its list of most powerful women is not surprising. The business magazine describes her as a “music and technology disrupter,” and tells us she had the fastest-selling album of the past decade with “1989.”
She’s had four No. 1 hits this year and made piles of money on her North American tour. She grabbed headlines beyond the music arena for telling Spotify she was done with one of the world’s most popular music-streaming services because of its poor compensation. She stood up to Apple Music, criticizing it publicly for a free trial period for customers that penalized the “new artist,” “young songwriter” and “producer who works tirelessly to innovate.” With a pleasant but firm open letter (“We don’t ask you for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation”), Swift forced Apple to change the way it pays musicians.
Swift, the magazine says, is “shifting the power dynamic back toward the artists.”
In other words, Swift is serving the interests of others, not just herself. This is a generous — and little precedented — feat in an industry known for titanic egos and me-first-ishness. And she’s done that while maintaining a smooth consistency personally, professionally and artistically.
In other words, she wields her power with grace. This smoothness and consistency of her message, and her warmth toward fans and the music community, is what lends Swift the appearance of ease and grace.
For example, she even managed the hacking of her Twitter account (one of the largest on Earth) with unflappability, tweeting:
“PS any hackers saying they have ‘nudes’? Psssh you’d love that wouldn’t you! Have fun photoshopping cause you got NOTHING.”
Swift hasn’t whiplashed through fashion trends; she has maintained a polished, slightly retro style. She has continued to write uplifting songs about female empowerment and self-acceptance. She projects a sympathetic, classy image, rather than outrageousness, raunch or superiority.
She can also laugh at herself, an important mark of grace. Swift’s video for “Shake It Off” is a catalog of dance styles, showcasing terrific skill from an array of artists and ordinary folks alike, of all shapes and sizes. And Swift? Well, her dancing has greatly improved (another facet of her grace; she isn’t above working at it), but she knows she’s no pro. She joins the others with joyful exuberance and sass, and a lot of goofy Lucille Ball bungling.
With humility and wit, she embodies the meaning of her song: Don’t take life too seriously, shake off self-consciousness and those who try to bring you down, and jump into the dance. With your two beautiful left feet! It’s a powerful message, from a powerful young woman indeed, who demonstrates the great strength of fellow-feeling and grace.