Swift was born on December 13, 1989 in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania. She is the daughter of Andrea Gardner (née Finlay), a homemaker, and Scott Kingsley Swift, a stockbroker. Her maternal grandmother, Marjorie Finlay, was an opera singer. Swift has a younger brother, Austin.
When Swift was in fourth grade, she won a national poetry contest with a three-page poem, “Monster In My Closet”. At the age of ten, a computer repairman showed her how to play three chords on a guitar, sparking her interest in learning the instrument. Afterwards, Swift wrote her first song, “Lucky You”. When Swift was 12, she devoted an entire summer to writing a 350-page novel, which remains unpublished. She began writing songs regularly and used it as an outlet to help her with her pain from not fitting in at school. Swift was a victim of bullying, and spent her time writing songs to express her emotions. She also started performing at local karaoke contests, festivals, and fairs.
Swift began to regularly visit Nashville, Tennessee, and work with local songwriters. When she was 14, her family relocated to Nashville. Her first major show was a well-received performance at the Bloomsburg Fair. In Tennessee, Swift attended Hendersonville High School, but was subsequently homeschooled for her junior and senior years. In 2008, she earned her high school diploma.
Swift’s greatest musical influence is Shania Twain. Her other influences include LeAnn Rimes, Tina Turner, Dolly Parton, and Swift’s grandmother. Although her grandmother was a professional opera singer, Swift’s tastes always leaned more toward country music. In her younger years, she developed a love for Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton. She also credits the Dixie Chicks for demonstrating the impact that one can have by “stretching boundaries”.
2000–05: Musical beginnings
At age 11, Swift made her first trip to Nashville, hoping to obtain a record deal by distributing a demo tape of her singing with karaoke songs. She gave a copy to every label in town, but was rejected. After Swift returned to Pennsylvania, she was asked to sing at the U.S. Open tennis tournament, where her rendition of the national anthem received much attention.
When Swift was 15, she rejected RCA Records because the company wanted to keep her on an artist development deal. After performing at Nashville’s songwriters’ venue, The Bluebird Café, she caught the attention of Scott Borchetta, who signed her to his newly formed record label, Big Machine Records. At age 14, she became the youngest staff songwriter ever hired by the Sony/ATV Tree publishing house.
Swift performing at a café with a koa wood guitar in June 2006. Swift continues to perform with custom-made Taylor guitars.
2006–08: Taylor Swift
Swift released her debut single, “Tim McGraw”, in mid-2006, reaching No.6 on Billboard magazine’s Hot Country Songs chart. Her self-titled debut album was later released on October 24, 2006. Debuting high on the Billboard 200, the album sold 39,000 copies during its first week. It peaked at No.1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums and No.5 on the Billboard 200. Her debut album spent eight consecutive weeks at the top of the Top Country Albums charts and remained at the top for 24 out of 91 weeks. The only other country artists this decade to achieve the number-one sales position for 20 weeks or more are The Dixie Chicks and Carrie Underwood. The music video for “Tim McGraw” won Swift an award for Breakthrough Video of the Year at the 2007 CMT Music Awards. Her pursuit of country music stardom was the subject of “GAC Short Cuts”, a part-documentary, part-music-video series airing since the summer of 2006. On May 15, 2007, Swift performed “Tim McGraw” at the Academy of Country Music Awards. Swift has been an opening act for Tim McGraw and Faith Hill on their Soul2Soul 2007 tour. She has opened in the past for George Strait, Brad Paisley and Rascal Flatts as well. The second single from the Taylor Swift album, “Teardrops on My Guitar”, was released February 24, 2007. In mid-2007, the song peaked at No.2 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart and No.33 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was re-released with a pop remix that brought “Teardrops on My Guitar” to No.13 on the Hot 100 and No.11 on the Pop 100. In October 2007, Swift was awarded Songwriter/Artist of the Year by the Nashville Songwriters Assn. Intl., making her the youngest artist ever to win the award. Her third song off her debut album, “Our Song” spent six weeks at No.1 on the Country charts, peaked at No.16 on the Billboard Hot 100, and rose to No.24 on the Billboard Pop 100. Swift recorded a holiday album, Sounds of the Season: The Taylor Swift Holiday Collection, which was released exclusively at Target in late 2007. Swift was nominated for a 2008 Grammy Award in the category of Best New Artist, but lost to Amy Winehouse. Swift’s successful single, “Picture to Burn”, was the fourth single from her debut album. The song debuted and soon peaked at No.3 on the Billboard Country chart in spring 2008.
Swift performing at Yahoo HQ in 2007.
“Should’ve Said No” became Swift’s second No.1 single. In Summer 2008, Swift released Beautiful Eyes, an EP sold exclusively at Wal-Mart. In its first week of release, the album sold 45,000 copies, debuting at No.1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart and No.9 on the Billboard 200. With her self-titled debut album sitting at No.2 during the same week, Swift became the first artist since 1997 to hold the Top 2 positions of the Top Country Albums chart. In October 2008, Swift performed a duet with best selling rock band Def Leppard in a taped show in Nashville, Tennessee, and their collaboration was up for both Performance of the Year and Wide Open Country Video of the Year at the CMT Music Awards in 2009.
2008–2010: Fearless and MTV VMA incident
Swift’s second studio album, Fearless, was released in the United States on November 11, 2008. The album debuted at No.1 on the Billboard 200 Album Chart. Its sales of 592,304 were the highest debut of any country artist in 2008. This is also the largest opening U.S. sales week in 2008 by a female artist in all genres of music, and the fourth biggest overall behind Lil Wayne, AC/DC and Coldplay. Its lead single “Love Story” became a hit on both the country and pop charts. During the first week of release, more than 129,000 of Swift’s sales were sold digitally. This gives Swift the best online start for any country album in history. It also makes Swift the fourth biggest week for a digital album since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking them in 2004. Through its eighth week of release, Fearless has sold more than 338,467 downloads, making it the bestselling country album in digital history. In second place is Swift’s debut Taylor Swift with sales of 236,046 downloads as of April 18, 2009. In its debut week, seven songs in total on Fearless were charted on Billboard Hot 100, tying Swift with Miley Cyrus for the most by a female artist in a single week. With “White Horse” charted at #13, this gave Swift her sixth top 20 debut of 2008, a calendar year record for any artist in the history of the Billboard Hot 100. Of the 13 tracks on Fearless, 11 have already spent time on the Hot 100. “Change”, a song from the album, was selected as part of a soundtrack supporting Team USA’s efforts in the 2008 Summer Olympics. The song was also featured as part of the soundtrack of NBC’s broadcast package of the Olympics. The lead single from the album, “Love Story”, was released on September 12, 2008. The Fearless album includes the “Love Story” music video which is based on Romeo and Juliet. The song has reached No.2 on iTunes Store Top Downloaded Songs and No.4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Fifteen weeks after being added to pop radio, “Love Story” also became the first country crossover recording to hit number one on the Nielsen BDS CHR/Top 40 chart in the 16-year-history of the list, as well as number one on the Mediabase Top 40 Chart. The second single from Fearless, “White Horse”, was released on December 8, 2008. The music video for the song premiered on CMT on February 7, 2009. Though it missed the No.1 spot on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs as of the week April 11, 2009, “White Horse” claimed the No.1 spot atop the USA Today/Country Aircheck chart (powered by Mediabase) in that week. “Forever & Always”, another song from the album, was based on Swift’s relationship with singer Joe Jonas. She was the first artist in the history of Nielsen SoundScan to have two different albums in the Top 10 on the year end album chart. It also was the first album by a female artist in country music history to log eight weeks at No.1 on The Billboard 200. In mid-January 2009, Swift became the first country artist to top the 2 million mark in paid downloads with three different songs. Swift is Billboard’s Top Country Artist and Hot Country Songwriter of 2008; she is also country music’s best-selling artist of 2008. Swift ranked seventh on Nielsen SoundScan Canada’s top-10 selling artists across all genres in 2008. Fearless and Taylor Swift took the No.1 and No.2 slots on 2008 Year-End Canadian Country Albums Chart. Swift sang the Star-Spangled Banner at game three of the World Series in Philadelphia on October 25, 2008.
Swift performing as the headlining act at the 2010 Cavendish Beach Music Festival in Prince Edward Island, Canada.
In January 2009, Swift announced her North American Fearless Tour planned for 52 cities in 38 states and provinces in the US and Canada over the span of 6 months. The tour kicked off April 23 in Evansville, Indiana. In the same month, Swift made her first musical guest appearance on Saturday Night Live. On February 8, 2009, Swift performed her song “Fifteen” with Miley Cyrus at the 51st Grammy Awards. As of the week ending February 8, 2009, Swift’s single “Love Story” became the country song with the most paid downloads in history. Since the release of Swift’s second album, Fearless, she has released one new song “Crazier” for the soundtrack of the feature film Hannah Montana: The Movie. At the 44th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards, Swift picked up Album of the Year honors as a performer and producer for Fearless. Swift is the youngest artist in history to win the ACM Album of the Year award. The Academy lauded her for career achievements including selling more albums in 2008 than any other artist in any genre of music, the breakthrough success of her debut album, and the worldwide crossover success of her No.1 single “Love Story”. The Academy also cited Swift’s contribution to helping country music attract a younger audience. As of late April 2009, Swift has sold more than 14 million downloads, as well as three Gold Mobile Ringtones. On April 28, 2009, Swift gave a free, private concert to students at Bishop Ireton High School, a small Catholic school in Alexandria, Virginia after the school won a national “TXT 2 WIN” contest from Verizon Wireless. The students sent over 19,000 text messages to Verizon during a roughly one month long contest. Swift played for about an hour during the school’s field day, an annual day-long recess with games and activities. On October 8, 2009 Swift’s official website announced that her sold-out Fearless Tour would return to North America for 37 additional dates in 2010.
West taking the microphone from Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.
Scheduled to perform on September 13, 2009, Swift attended the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. This was her first VMA performance, where she became the first country music artist to win an MTV Video Music Award. During the show, as Swift was on stage accepting the award for Best Female Video for “You Belong with Me,” singer/rapper Kanye West came on stage and took the microphone from Swift, saying that Beyoncé’s video for “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)”, nominated for the same award, was “one of the best videos of all time,” an action that caused the many audience members to boo West. He handed the microphone back to a stunned and reportedly upset Swift, who did not finish her acceptance speech. When Beyoncé later won the award for Best Video of the Year for “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)”, she called Swift up on stage so that she could finish her acceptance speech. Following the awards show, West apologized for his verbal outburst in a blog entry (which was subsequently removed). He was criticized by various celebrities for the outburst, and even by President Barack Obama in an “off the record” comment. He later posted a second apology on his blog and made his first public apology one day after the incident on the debut episode of The Jay Leno Show. On September 15, 2009, Swift talked about the matter on The View, where she said she was at first excited to see West on stage and then disappointed once he acted out. She said West had not spoken to her following the incident. Following her appearance on The View, West contacted her to apologize personally; Swift said she accepted his apology. However, on November 8, 2010, in an interview with a Minnesota radio station, West seemed to recant a bit of his past apologies by attempting to describe the act at the 2009 awards show as “selfless” and downgrade the perception of disrespect it created. Swift would later perform a song at the 2010 VMA called “Innocent” which is about the incident and in the song she absolves West of his actions.
Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards with her award.
On November 11, 2009, Swift became the youngest artist ever to win the Country Music Association Award for Entertainer of the year, and is one of only six women to win the Country Music Association’s highest honor. On the chart week of November 14, 2009, Swift set a record for the most songs on the Billboard Hot 100 by a female artist at the same time with eight singles from the re-release of her 2008 album Fearless namely five debut new songs in the top 30: “Jump Then Fall” at #10, “Untouchable” at #19, “The Other Side of the Door” at #22, “Superstar” at No.27 and “Come in With the Rain” at No.30 and three already-charted songs that were released as singles—”You Belong with Me” (#14), “Forever & Always” which re-entered the chart at #34, and “Fifteen” (#46). In addition, the song “Two Is Better Than One” by Boys Like Girls which features Swift, debuted at No.80 in the same issue. This gives Swift six debuts in one week, the biggest number of debuts by any female artist of all time. It also lifts the number of her simultaneously-charting songs to nine, setting another record for the biggest number of charting songs by the same female artist in the same week. When “Fifteen” reached No.38 on the chart week of November 21, 2009, Swift became the female artist with the most Top 40 singles this decade, surpassing Beyoncé. “Fifteen” became Swift’s twentieth Top 40 single overall. “Two Is Better Than One” by Boys Like Girls and John Mayer’s “Half of My Heart” both featured Swift, peaking at No.40 and No.25 respectively. The two songs are her 21st and 22nd Top 40 singles. Fearless was the best-selling album of 2009 in the US with more than 3.2 millions copies sold in that year. Swift claimed both the No.1 and No.2 positions atop Nielsen’s BDS Top 10 Most Played Songs chart (all genres), with “You Belong With Me” and “Love Story,” respectively. She also topped the all format 2009 Top 10 Artist Airplay chart with over 1.29 million song detections, and the Top 10 Artist Internet Streams chart with more than 46 million song plays.
2010–present: Speak Now
Swift performing on Speak Now tour in 20th, July 2011
Swift released the track “Today Was a Fairytale” as a digital download on iTunes on January 19, 2010. The song was featured on the soundtrack for the film Valentine’s Day, in which she made her feature-film acting debut. The song debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 2, becoming her sixth Top 10 and 23rd Top 40 single on that chart. According to Nielsen SoundScan, with sales of “Today Was a Fairytale” more than 325,000 in its first week, Swift has broken the record for first-week download sales by a female artist. The song also debuted at number one on the Canadian Hot 100, making it Swift’s first number one hit in Canada. In February 2010, Swift brought her Fearless Tour to 5 cities in Australia. Opening acts included Gloriana. In mid-July 2010, Billboard revealed that Swift’s new album is called Speak Now. It was released on October 25, 2010. She has written the album completely by herself in Arkansas, New York, Boston and Nashville with Nathan Chapman serving as co-producer. On Wednesday, August 4, 2010, the lead single from the album, “Mine,” was leaked onto the internet. Big Machine Records decided to rush the release of the song to counteract the leak. Swift appeared at the 44th Annual Country Music Awards on November 10, 2010. In 2011, Swift visited Singapore as the first stop of the Asian leg of her first world tour. Hong Kong is the last stop of the Speak Now World Tour and Swift will begin the European and American leg afterwards. Released on her official site on July 6, many dates on the tour have been cancelled due to Swift suffering from bronchitis and was told she is unable to perform. Taylor Swift sold approximately 4,470,000 albums in the US in 2010 (more than any other artist) and sold 9.9 million digital tracks. She was ranked 2nd on Rolling Stones Magazines lists of Top 16 “Queen Of Pops” of the decade. Swift recently appeared on the Hamish & Andy show where she performed a new song called “Chaperone Dads” for a select group of her fans.
Swift’s lyrics are highly autobiographical; she has said that “If you listen to my albums, it’s like reading my diary.” For example, the song “Forever & Always” was inspired by her relationship with Joe Jonas, while the song “Hey Stephen” was written about a boy whom she toured with in the past. “Fifteen” was written about her freshman year of high school. It has been said that her lyrics “can be tinged with acid: the quiet loner girl getting one over on the cheerleaders, or a caustic payback for the boy who dumped her.” She has also indicated that she tries to write so her fans can relate to the lyrics, saying “My goal is to never write songs that my fans can’t relate to.” She parodied her confrontational style of songwriting during her appearance on Saturday Night Live; during her opening monologue, she performed an original song that featured lines such as “You might think I’d bring up Joe, that guy who broke up with me on the phone/ Hey, Joe, I’m doing real well, tonight I’m hosting ‘SNL'” referring to her highly publicized relationship with Joe Jonas.
The intensely personal nature of the songs has drawn her attention in the music industry. Swift once said, “I thought people might find them hard to relate to, but it turned out that the more personal my songs were, the more closely people could relate to them.” Due to the autobiographical nature of her songs, some fans have researched the songs’ origins. Swift once said, “Every single one of the guys that I’ve written songs about has been tracked down on MySpace by my fans.” The New York Times described Swift as “one of pop’s finest songwriters, country’s foremost pragmatist and more in touch with her inner life than most adults”.
In 2008, Swift made her acting debut in Brad Paisley’s music video “Online”. In that same year Swift filmed a documentary for MTV entitled MTV’s Once Upon a Prom and a documentary with Def Leppard for CMT entitled CMT Crossroads, which premiered on November 7, 2008. Swift collaborated with the Jonas Brothers in their 3D Concert Film, Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience. The film was released on February 27, 2009 in North America and brought in $12.7 million on its opening weekend. Swift made her primetime television acting debut on CBS’s CSI: Crime Scene Investigation “Turn, Turn, Turn” as Haley Jones on March 5, 2009 in the U.S. and Canada. The episode was watched by 20.8 million viewers. Swift made a cameo appearance in Kellie Pickler’s music video “Best Days of Your Life”. Swift also appeared in Hannah Montana: The Movie credited as herself. The film was released on April 10, 2009 in North America. The television show Dateline NBC showcased an hour on Swift on May 31, 2009. The episode titled Dateline NBC: On Tour With Taylor Swift included scenes from her tour bus, concert footage, and rehearsals. Swift both hosted and performed as the musical guest for the November 7, 2009 episode of Saturday Night Live. In 2010, Swift made her feature film acting debut as Felicia in the film Valentine’s Day. For this role she won the Teen Choice Award for Movie Female Breakout. She has been cast to voice the role of Audrey in the animated film The Lorax, set to be released in 2012.
Cover model and recognition
Swift has been featured on the cover of a number of magazines. She has been a cover girl for Blender, for which she was one of two country artists during the magazine’s fifteen year run to be a cover subject. She was included in People’s annual “100 Most Beautiful People” 2008, 2009, and 2010 lists. Additionally, she was named number fifty-seven on Maxim’s sexiest women of 2008, number fifty on the 2009 list and number thirty-one on the 2010 list. CosmoGirl voted Swift as the “2008 Girl of the Year”. Swift was named by Rolling Stone magazine as one of “The RS 100: Agents of Change”. She was nominated as a candidate for TIME‘s “2009 The Time 100 Finalists” list, which is determined by online voting. People magazine named Swift one of 25 Most Intriguing People of 2009.
Jakks Pacific released a celebrity doll of Swift in late 2008. Swift has been the face of L.E.I. Jeans (Life Energy Intelligence) since 2008. Swift and the L.e.i. Clothing Line made a deal to create a line based on Swift’s style of dressing, which will appear in Wal-Mart in the coming months. However, Swift said she does not want to be called a designer. Instead, she says she will inspire the clothing company’s dress line based on her own style. “I don’t look at it like I’m branching out as a designer… It’s not the Taylor Swift designer line.” In 2009, Swift became the National Hockey League’s newest celebrity spokesperson. She appears in commercials for the Nashville Predators.
In May 2009, Swift filed a lawsuit (kept sealed until August 2010) against numerous sellers of unauthorized counterfeit merchandise bearing her name, likeness, and trademarks, where she demanded a trial by jury, sought a judgement for compensatory damages, punitive damages, three times the actual damages sustained, and statutory damages, and sought for recovery of her attorney’s fees and prejudgement interest. Nashville’s U.S. District Court granted an injunction and judgment against the sellers, who had been identified at Swift’s concerts in several states. The court ordered merchandise seized from the defendants to be destroyed. On July 15, 2011, Swift’s official website announced that she had partnered with Elizabeth Arden to launch a fragrance, which is to be released in October 2011. The fragrance’s name, “Wonderstruck”, is a reference to the song “Enchanted” featured on her Speak Now album.
Swift at the premiere of Hannah Montana: The Movie, April 2009
On September 21, 2007, Swift helped launch a campaign to protect children from online predators. She has teamed up with Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen to combat internet sex crimes. The year-long campaign, in partnership with the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police, will distribute Internet safety information and materials to parents and students across the state. In early 2008, Swift donated the pink Chevy pick-up truck given to her by her record label to the children’s charity, the Victory Junction Gang; in June, 2008, Swift donated all the proceeds from her merchandise sales at the 2008 Country Music Festival to Red Cross, the Nashville Area Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund and the National American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.
Swift donated $100,000 to the Red Cross in Cedar Rapids, Iowa to help the victims of the Iowa flood of 2008. Swift has teamed up with Sound Matters to make listeners aware of listening “responsibly”. Swift supports @15, a teen-led social change platform underwritten by Best Buy to give teens opportunities to direct the company’s philanthropy through the newly-created @15 Fund. Swift’s song, “Fifteen”, is featured in this campaign. Swift lent her support to the Victorian Bushfire Appeal by joining the lineup at Sydney’s Sound Relief concert, reportedly making the biggest contribution of any artist playing at Sound Relief to the Australian Red Cross. Swift donated her prom dress, which raised $1,200 for charity, to DonateMyDress.org. On November 20, 2009 after a live performance on BBC’s Children in Need night Swift announced to Sir Terry Wogan she would donate £13,000 of her own money to the cause.
On December 13, Swift’s own birthday, she donated $250,000 to various schools around the country which she had either attended or been involved with. Swift has donated a pair of her shoes – a gently-worn pair of black Betsey Johnson heels with her autograph on the sole – to the Wish Upon a Hero Foundation’s Hero in Heels fundraiser for auction to raise money to benefit women with cancer.
In response to the May 2010 Tennessee floods, Swift donated $500,000 during a flood relief telethon hosted by WSMV, a Nashville television station.
July 2011, Swift donated $250,000 to Alabama football coach Nick Saban’s charity Nick’s Kids to aid in the tornado relief efforts of West Alabama.