Taylor Swift is an incredibly talented songwriter and musician, but she’s also an expert in branding herself. From day one, Taylor mastered the art of appealing to a pop audience, while staying true to her music. It doesn’t hurt that Taylor’s songs are inextricably entwined with her own life.
However, as the singer matures, so does her image. With each new album, she takes a step toward adulthood, re-crafting her style and sound along the way. Even Taylor says she is constantly evolving.
“I never want to make the same album twice,” Taylor told CMT about her upcoming fifth album. “I never want them to be the same. I think people like change. I think people like something fresh and new!”
As the release of her fifth, yet untitled album draws closer, Taylor is once again undergoing the process of rebranding herself. The biggest signal so far is her long, blonde hair being chopped into a short, above-the-shoulder bob.
But what does this indicate about what we can expect from the new album? We took a look back at Taylor’s evolution over the past eight years to determine what this latest image tells us about her music.
Oh, I’m Just a Girl, Trying to Find a Place in This World
By now, music fans are familiar with Taylor Swift’s meteoric rise to fame. Signed to Big Machine Records at just 16 years of age, Taylor embodied the sweet girl next door who whole-heartedly understood the adolescent struggles of her listeners. With her crystal blue eyes, long blonde curls and penchant for floral dresses, Taylor tapped into a market who favored her putting her heart on her sleeve over provocative performances.
Most pictures of Taylor from this period find her dressed in some combination of sweet sundresses, cowboy boots, sparkly accessories and unruly, voluminous hair. She also sported a fresh-faced look with minimal makeup that’s ideal for a girl gunning for the title of America’s Sweetheart.
Sure enough, her image circa the release of her debut album, ‘Taylor Swift,’ echoed the core of her music. Songs like ‘Tim McGraw,’ ‘Teardrops on My Guitar’ and ‘A Place in This World’ furthered the sentiment that Taylor was a sweet teen with a tendency to have her heart-broken. The image appealed to teens who found the singer’s attitude approachable and relatable.
In her video for ‘Teardrops on My Guitar,’ a hoodie-clad Taylor wanders the halls of her high school, loving “Drew” from afar. The visual played up the singer’s dorky side — a tactic she continually enlists, as if to remind fans that she’s just like them.
You Take My Hand and Drag Me Head First, Fearless
By the time Taylor released her sopfantastic friendre album, ‘Fearless,’ in 2008, she was 18 years old and had started to grow away from her high school sweetheart image. Following the massive success of her debut record, it was clear that Taylor was country royalty — and thus the agenda for ‘Fearless’ was set.
Ever the romantic, the metaphors fueling Taylor’s hits moved from classmate crushes to a more thematic fairy tale setting. ‘Fearless’ cast Taylor as a lovestruck Juliet in ‘Love Story,’ a damsel in deception in ‘You’re Not Sorry’ and a broken-hearted daydreamer in ‘White Horse.’
Taylor’s new princess-ified image is best illustrated in her music video for ‘Love Story.’ The video for the album’s lead single shows Taylor in a strapless ballgown, calling down to her prince. From the visual’s sweeping balcony shots to Taylor’s midnight rendezvous in the woods with her Romeo, it was clear the singer was taking things to a fantastical level.
Likewise, Taylor’s red carpet and performance outfits echoed this transformation. She shed her floral sundresses in favor of bedazzled floor-length gowns. Her iconic, unruly curls were also tamed into regal updos, giving Taylor a more sophisticated look. She was still holding onto the title of America’s Sweetheart — albeit with a fairy tale spin.
And They Said ‘Speak Now’
‘Speak Now’ marks Taylor’s departure from fantasy and foray into young adulthood. The singer was 20 years old when her third album dropped in 2010. The distance from adolescence, as well as her maturity as an artist, allowed her to explore themes beyond the walls of a high school or castle.
One of the standout accomplishments of ‘Speak Now’ is that it was penned solely by Taylor. Although she’s always had a strong hand in writing her own music, the album was without collaborators.
“That’s one of the things that makes me so proud of this new album, having written it all without [co-writers]. It’s very auto-biographical, just like all of my music has been,” Taylor said at the time on Live With Regis and Kelly. ”That’s one of my goals. It always has been since I started writing songs.”
Songs like ‘Mine,’ ‘Back to December’ and ‘Last Kiss’ showed Taylor in a new light. While the tracks still reflected her trademark unlucky-in-love themes, they were spun from the perspective of an adult woman. Even Scott Borchetta, the CEO of Taylor’s record label, noted her transformation.
“At one point, the record was not called ‘Speak Now.’ It was called ‘Enchanted,’” Borchetta told Billboard. “We were at lunch, and she had played me a bunch of the new songs. I looked at her and I’m like, ‘Taylor, this record isn’t about fairy tales and high school anymore. That’s not where you’re at. I don’t think the record should be called ‘Enchanted.””
Taylor’s evolving style also reflected her matured writing. Her gowns took on more neutral tones like blush and champagne, while her curls also loosened to waves. Taylor still kept a little sparkle in her ensembles, but also experimented with showing more skin. While she retained her signature fresh-faced look, she also embraced a dramatic cat eye.
In keeping with the maturity of her album, Taylor’s music videos exhibited her new, more adult lifestyle. Videos like ‘Mine,’ for instance, captured the singer in long-term relationships and getting engaged.
Suitably, Taylor’s wardrobe also reflected her departure from a fairy tale view of romance. ‘Mine’ shows the singer in decidedly less glam outfits, switching out sparkles for plaid. Although Taylor clearly wasn’t — and isn’t — in the stage where she’s having children, the video’s flash forward is definitive proof that she’s moving away from her own child-like persona.
But Loving Him Was Red
In the months before Taylor’s fourth studio album, ‘Red,’ dropped in 2012, she began her most dramatic physical transformation yet. During her shoot for the cover of the January 2013 issue of Vogue, Taylor agreed to chop her long hair into bangs and straighten her signature curls.
The retro look stuck and was played up for the ‘Red’ album art. Keeping with the vintage aesthetic — and fittingly, the record’s title — Taylor adopted a red lip, which she wore everywhere from the stage to the gym.
On stage, Taylor took to a sportier style, pairing high-waisted shorts (red, natch) with skintight tees. She switched out boots for glittery Keds (a brand she endorses), choosing to show off her long legs in a decidedly more mature fashion.
Likewise, the songs on ‘Red’ are her most mature to date. ‘State of Grace,’ ‘All Too Well’ and ‘Begin Again’ all recall relationships rooted in everyday ups and downs. One of the noteworthy aspects of the album is Taylor’s strong step away from country and toward pop. Although the album claims some folk ballads, tracks like ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ flirt with autotune in a way that shows Taylor’s comfortable in her own skin, but isn’t afraid to explore other sounds. Her ability to experiment with these elements while still staying true to her signature style is one of the strongest signs of her maturity as an artist.
Taylor’s retro aesthetic is clearly apparent in her video for ‘Begin Again,’ which shows the singer wandering around Paris in feminine A-line dresses. The visual itself is enough to separate Taylor from her image as a country music princess.
The song’s lyrics, which embrace moving on from a bad relationship, coupled with Taylor’s chic new style, set the tone for her ‘Red’ branding. Both on and off the stage, she stayed true to this style, proving that she is inseparably intertwined with each album she releases.
What We Can Expect Next
As Taylor gears up to release her fifth album, which is expected to drop in fall 2014, it’s clear that her rebranding process has begun again.
The first major sign was when she released ‘Sweeter Than Fiction,’ a track written with fun.’s Jack Antonoff, for the movie ‘One Chance.’ The song dabbled with synth-pop and new wave sounds, which is new territory for Swift. Although the track was penned specifically for the movie, it shows that Taylor is continuing to take leaps away from the guitar-heavy country sound of her early days.
The second major change occurred last month (February 2014) when Taylor chopped her signature long blonde locks into a trendy bob. Her daring (and well-documented) haircut coincided with the end of her ‘Red’ world tour. In other words, with a new album on the way, it was time for Taylor to change up her image.
So what does this haircut indicate about the new album? For starters, it’s Taylor taking a risk. Sonically, she increasingly takes more and more chances with each album, and if ‘Sweeter Than Fiction’ is any preview, we can expect Taylor to try a lot with the new music. However, the cut is still a classic look, and we expect that the singer will stay true to her catchy, narrative-based tracks.
It’s worth noting that in both her music and her sartorial choices, Taylor consistently plays up her femininity. Whether chanting about “spinning like a girl in a brand-new dress” or whipping her long blonde curls on stage, Taylor’s coy charm is a dominant aspect of her image. Her new, short ‘do is a major step in her rebranding because it shows that she can still retain the feminine elements of her style — without hiding behind her hair.
Taylor is known for the strong connection she has with her fans, so it makes sense that when she’s taken risks, she’s never ventured too far from her comfort zone. However, her hair is a pretty drastic change and is just one signifier that she’s ready to up the ante.
We were admittedly surprised when Taylor performed at the 2013 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Models in lingerie isn’t usually her scene, and we were even more taken aback when Taylor commanded a stage full of the world’s hottest supermodels, all while wearing a tiny silver dress. She looked amazing, but it certainly wasn’t a safe choice for the singer. It seems that as she grows older and more comfortable in her skin, she’s disregarding what critics may think of her.
When it comes to her music, this philosophy also applies. ‘Sweeter Than Fiction’ was a massive departure for Taylor, and we expect that her album will follow that course. By experimenting with different sounds (some reports hint that she’s leaning toward a rock vibe) and covering more adult topics, Taylor can seamlessly transition into a more mature narrative.
When she’s written about risque themes in the past, she usually glosses over them. (See: “We are alone, just you and me / Up in your room and our slates are clean” in ‘State of Grace,’ “After plaid shirt days and nights when you made me your own” in ‘All Too Well’ and “I’ll do anything you say / If you say it with your hands” in ‘Treacherous.’) Seeing as Taylor’s fashion choices are skewing toward the sexier end of the scale, we wouldn’t be surprised if her new lyrics will be equally revealing.
We don’t have a lot of info about Taylor’s upcoming fifth album yet, but we’re confident that despite an updated image, she will stay true to her followers. Taylor is a PR whiz in all aspects of her career. Her method of consistently rebranding works because she stays genuine to her core: a hopeless romantic, sincere to fans and — as always — an incredibly talented songwriter. Like her infamous relationships, she carries pieces of these images as she continues to evolve.