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Taylor Swift: The life story you may not know
Love her or hate her, there's no denying that Taylor Swift is one of the most influential musicians of her generation.
Born in 1989, the songstress had a fairly normal childhood, spending her early years on a Christmas tree farm with her parents and younger brother. At 14, the family moved to Nashville, Tennessee, so Swift could pursue her dreams of becoming a country musician. Within a year, she had signed a songwriting deal with Sony/ATV Music Publishing, becoming the youngest person to ever do so. Not long after, she had an official record deal with Big Machine Records. The rest, as they say, is history.
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Swift has sold over 200 million albums as of August 2022, making her one of the bestselling musicians of all time. Her nine studio albums—"Taylor Swift," "Fearless," "Speak Now," "Red," "1989," "Reputation," "Lover," "Folklore," and "Evermore" as well as several re-recordings—span multiple genres, from country to pop. As her style has evolved, so, too, has her fan base, ensuring almost anything she touches turns to gold. But even though she's one of the most famous people in the world, it's unlikely that you know everything there is to know about Swift.
Online ticket marketplace Vivid Seats has put together a timeline of Swift's life, including milestones that many fans might not be aware of. Sources for these milestones run the gamut from the singer's official website to mainstream media coverage. From her early days as a child model to her 58 Guinness World Records, these facts are sure to inspire newfound respect for the musician.
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2004: 'Rising Stars' & 'Chicks with Attitude'
Although Swift wanted to be a musician before she even hit double digits, it wasn't until 2004 that she captured the public's attention. In the early '00s, Swift's then-manager Dan Dymtrow helped her secure two major gigs, including a spot in Abercrombie & Fitch's "Rising Stars" campaign, which saw Swift highlighting her talents as a singer-songwriter while modeling for the clothing brand. Later that same year, Swift recorded an original song, "The Outside, for Maybelline Cosmetics' promotional "Chicks with Attitude" CD, which introduced her music to a much wider audience.
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2004: The Bluebird Cafe & Scott Borchetta
Those ad campaigns paid off; in late 2004, Swift met label head Scott Borchetta while playing in an invitation-only, industry showcase at Nashville's Bluebird Café (the same venue where country music greats like Garth Brooks and Faith Hill were discovered). Borchetta was just starting Big Machine Records and went out of his way to ensure the teenage country singer was one of the first acts he signed. The pair's relationship would become a significant one, for better and worse: The songstress would release her first six studio albums under the label, but disputes about music ownership would cause a falling out and garner global attention.
2009: Swift hosts 'Saturday Night Live'
By 2009, Swift was a well-known celebrity (even more so after being infamously interrupted on stage by Kanye West at that year's MTV Video Music Awards). When she was asked to host an episode of "Saturday Night Live," Swift raised the bar for future guests when she became the first celebrity to write—or rather, sing—her own opening monologue. In the two-minute song, Swift sings about everything from ex-boyfriends who wronged her to current flings to her stolen VMA glory. Her self-awareness went a long way in endearing her to plenty of non-country music fans who'd previously been ambivalent toward Swift and her music.
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2010: Setting a Guinness World Record
A year after appearing on the late-night variety show, Swift set a Guinness World Record with the release of her third studio album, "Speak Now." The pop-country album, for which she wrote all the songs single-handedly, became the fastest-selling digital album by a female artist of all time, selling an impressive 278,000 digital copies in its first week. Her follow-up was another runaway hit: the fastest-selling digital single, "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," reached the #1 spot on Apple Music in just 50 minutes. These speedy successes proved just how wide of an audience the pop star was reaching.
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2010: Big-screen debut
Throughout the years, Swift appeared in a fair number of films, from "The Giver" to "The Lorax." But her more casual fans might be shocked to know her big-screen debut was actually 2010's "Valentine's Day," in which Swift had a small role as the ditzy, high school girlfriend of another famous Taylor: Taylor Lautner. The movie had decidedly mixed reviews, but it nevertheless marked a major career milestone for the songstress who had previously only had a guest spot on "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."
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2012: Swift becomes the highest-earning celebrity under 30
In 2012, all of Swift's recording, record-setting, and touring earned her the top spot on Forbes' "Highest-Earning Celebrities Under 30" list. According to the outlet, she pulled in $57 million that year, thanks in large part to her "Speak Now" tour. Swift would top the list once again in 2016, earning $170 million. And a few short years later, in 2019, she became the world's highest-paid celebrity of any age, pocketing a cool $185 million.
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2014: Swift named Billboard's 'Woman of the Year'
For female artists, Billboard's "Woman of the Year" award is one of the biggest honors out there, recognizing high-achieving women who have made significant contributions to the music industry. In 2014, Swift became the first—and as-of-yet only—woman to win the award twice. At the ceremony, the presenter highlighted the fact that Swift had charted 60 entries on the Billboard Hot 100, a record for any female artist at the time. As of today, Swift has had 168 entries on the chart, more than most other musicians of any gender.
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2015: Swift helps out NYC public schools
In 2015, Swift moved from her native Tennessee to New York City. The move cemented a major change in her music style—a shift from country to pop—and was an overall turning point in her career. To celebrate the milestone, she donated $50,000 of the proceeds from her single "Welcome to New York" to NYC public schools. It's not the only time the celeb has given away major chunks of her fortune (she's often recognized as one of the most philanthropic people in Hollywood), but it was one of her first big charitable gifts.
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2016: Swift revealed to be Nils Sjoberg
In 2016, Rolling Stone revealed Swift was the co-writer behind the Rihanna and Calvin Harris hit "This Is What You Came For." The songstress used a pen name, Nils Sjoberg, for the track, something even her most die-hard fans weren't aware of. Swift has revealed in the years since that she has used this name-swapping trick a number of times but remains tight-lipped on exactly which pseudonyms she's using.
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2017: Swift sets million-sale weeks records
In 2017, Swift released her sixth studio album, "Reputation." The pop record sold over 1 million copies in its first four days of release, proving once again that her popularity wasn't going anywhere no matter how many musical eras she went through or how many changes she made to her sound. But the sales of "Reputation" became even more significant when it was revealed that the album's success made her the first artist in history to have four separate albums—"Speak Now," "Red," "1989," and "Reputation"—sell at least 1 million copies in its first week of release.
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2018: Swift breaks an AMA record
At the 2018 American Music Awards, Swift set yet another record when she became the most-decorated female AMA winner of all time. Upon receiving her 23rd trophy, she knocked the former record-holder, Whitney Houston, out of the top spot. In an acceptance speech that evening, Swift encouraged viewers to get out and vote in state and federal elections (the same way they did for that night's winners), which was a major about-face for the musician, who had refused to talk about politics in the early days of her career.
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2019: Swift sets US tour records
Following the massive sales of "Reputation," Swift set out on a global stadium tour to promote the album. The American leg of the tour, which consisted of 38 shows, set a record when it became the highest-grossing U.S. tour of all time. In doing so, the pop icon, who grossed over $266 million, beat out previous record holders, rock 'n' roll legends the Rolling Stones, who pulled in $245 million across their 70-show tour in the early '00s.
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2021: Swift's masters feud leads to record-breaking re-recordings
In 2019, Scott Borchetta sold Big Machine Records—including the masters of all of Swift's first six albums—to Ithica Holdings (a company owned by talent agent Scooter Braun). Following the sale, Swift revealed that she'd been trying to buy back her masters for years but all of her attempts had been thwarted. A massive public feud over the sale and ownership rights ensued, which resulted in Swift re-recording all of her early works for rerelease (which may or may not have been inspired by Kelly Clarkson's expert advice).
The first of these offerings, "Fearless (Taylor's Version)," hit shelves in 2021 and quickly topped the Billboard 200 charts, becoming the first re-recorded album to ever nab the #1 position. She repeated that formula in November that same year, unveiling the re-recording of her fourth studio album, "Red (Taylor's Version)," which contained a 10-minute version of her 2012 song "All Too Well." The track earned Swift another Guinness World Records entry as the longest #1 song of all time.
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2021: Swift directs her first short film
In 2021, Swift added a director's credit to her ever-growing résumé when she released her first short film "All Too Well." The biographical project was created to accompany the 10-minute "Taylor's Version" of the eponymous track from her 2012 album "Red." Starring Sadie Sink and Dylan O'Brien, the romantic drama was well received by critics, who declared it a love letter to her fans.
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2022: Swift sings for the Crawdads
In 2022, Swift surprised fans when she announced she had written and recorded an entirely original song for the murder-mystery film "Where the Crawdads Sing," based on the book of the same name by Delia Owens. The track, titled "Carolina," recalls the haunting style of the songs found in her eighth studio album "Folklore." According to Entertainment Weekly, Swift only used instruments and recording techniques that were available in the early 1950s to match the period of the film, giving the song an authentic feel. Rumor has it that the song might nab Swift her first Oscar nomination.
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2022: Carbon emissions controversy
In the summer of 2022, Swift found herself in the headlines for a reason totally unrelated to her work or oft-discussed love life: her carbon fuel emissions. Many fans were aghast when a report published claimed that, in the first six months of the year, Swift's private jet had taken 170 flights and emitted 8,293.54 tonnes of emissions. The songstress regularly speaks out about caring for the planet and reducing footprints, so for many, the data felt like a slap in the face. For her part, however, Swift reasoned that not all the flights were hers, as she regularly loans the jet out.