A True Global Icon: Breaking Down Taylor Swift's Electrifying 12 Months

A True Global Icon: Breaking Down Taylor Swift's Electrifying 12 Months

As she makes BRIT Awards history...

The last 12 months alone have been a unique whirlwind for Taylor Swift, all leading to her recognition as a Global Icon with the release of ‘folklore’, ‘evermore’ and ‘Fearless (Taylor’s Version)’.

The Brit Awards’ highest accolade belongs to the singer, not only because of the year she’s had, but the achievements and contributions she’s made across her entire career. In a period of instability, the singer produced some of her most formative work, further securing her as a timeless artist.

In honour of the celebratory award, here are 12 key moments from the icon’s past 12 months, from albums, awards, and live performances.

The devil works hard, but Taylor Swift works harder.

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The release of ‘folklore’

On an ordinary Thursday afternoon in July, Swifties were caught off guard by the release of Taylor’s eighth studio album ‘folklore’.

Third person stories intertwined with delicate musings on mental health, fleeting relationships and reflections on destined love, the singer pens some of her best lyrics in one album. Bringing The National’s Aaron Dessner on board as well as old time favourite Jack Antonoff to assist with the album’s production, dreamscapes and escapism glitter each track.

The world that has become ‘folklore’ is impossible to resist for that very reason. Tracks like ‘august’, ‘seven’ and ‘exile’ (feat. Bon Iver), are just some examples of the yearning and melancholy that Swift’s music sparks.

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The performance of ‘betty’ at the ACM Awards

After a seven year absence from the Academy of Country Music Awards, September saw the sparkling, stripped back return of Swift with ‘betty’ at the 55th ceremony.

With just the guitar and a harmonica player, the gentle performance embodied Taylor’s classic country sound. The set shimmered with a nostalgic atmosphere and Swift’s spellbinding performance showcased her talented storytelling when detailing the relationship between James and Betty. It was a captivating performance for herself and fans with magical moments of eye-contact engaging everyone watching through their screens.

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Rolling Stone’s “Musicians on Musicians” issue with Paul McCartney

Intimate discussions between two legendary musicians is one way to sum up the Rolling Stone special issue which came out back in November.

A striking conversation was the pair’s contemplations on living a life of normalcy, or as close to it as two global icons possibly could. Their interviews compliment each other and exhibit a thread which ties many stars together in mutual understanding.

Touching on the freedom of using pseudonyms to write (Taylor’s ‘Nils Sjöberg’ and McCartney’s ‘Bernard Webb’) to the looseness that gave birth to their most recent records, and McCartney’s recollection of Swift playing Foo Fighters’ ‘Best of You’ at a private party, the piece is both heartwarming and sincere.

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The Long Pond Studio Sessions

Released via Disney Plus, the Long Pond Studio Sessions brought the tales on ‘folklore’ to a vivid reality. Featuring Aaron Dessner, Jack Antonoff and Bon Iver (from his Wisconsin home), new versions of the songs which carried Swifties through a pandemic summer, gained another lease of life.

One standout performance has to be ‘august’. The dynamic energy exuded in the live set is unparalleled, from Taylor’s bright, airy vocals, to Jack Antonoff and his passionate guitar playing, it’s sure to make you smile.

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“not a lot going on at the moment”

An honourable mention must be given to this infamous quote which, in both cases, was paired with some form of a candid self portrait. Initially posted in April and then November 2020, this statement tricked an entire fanbase, and foreshadowed two entire albums.

The first time it was impossible to decipher, the second time, not everyone was fooled. But the mere fact that it was posted twice goes to show the power Taylor Swift holds, you think she’s up to nothing, when in fact, she’s up to everything.

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The release of ‘evermore’

Swift’s next lockdown record, also known as her ninth studio album ‘evermore’, was released in December. Effortlessly capturing the highs and lows of life behind a wintry backdrop, the sister record seamlessly leads on from the summer release, building on themes of mental health, relationships laced in nostalgia, and grief in many forms. Even the most euphoric tracks are tinged with a melancholic melodicism which makes you yearn for a moment you have either never experienced, or can never get back. 

What is even more staggering is that the two bonus tracks include some of her most raw and vulnerable lyrics. Taylor’s collaborations with Bon Iver, The National’s Matt Berninger and HAIM do not go unnoticed, they add another layer of depth and perspective to the stories on the album. 

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Music videos for ‘cardigan’ and ‘willow’

Swift’s lyrics alone encompass a wealth of rich imagery, and yet she doesn’t leave it there. The two music videos released for the sister albums, directed by the singer herself, depict epic and mystical worlds which leave you awe-inspired. In a year that has caused seclusion and separation, Taylor’s enchanting visuals indulge in fantasy and escapism, allowing us to follow her into vast, pastoral dreamlands.

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Winner of Songwriter of the Year at the Apple Music Awards

The second annual Apple Music Awards took place at the end of 2020. Instantly topping the Apple Music charts, Taylor Swift’s ‘folklore’ and ‘evermore’ were exactly what the awards were about - celebrating artists that have had a profound impact on music listeners that year.

Swift comments on how important storytelling is as an “emotional exchange” between her and the fans, as her only real way of connecting with them in this year of complete physical isolation. To be acknowledged for a skill that is so important to her is an invaluable recognition which, along with her interview with Zane Lowe in the wake of the award, left Taylor’s 2020 ending on an incredible high.

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Collaboration with HAIM on ‘Gasoline’ remix

From touring together, to HAIM’s collaboration on evermore’s ‘no body, no crime’, it’s no secret that the HAIM sisters and Taylor Swift have a close relationship. The release of HAIM’s expanded edition album in February saw the remix of ‘Gasoline’. If at all possible, the song feels even more exhilarating and whimsical with the playful addition of Taylor’s vocals on the pop rock track.

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A historic night at the GRAMMYs

Taylor’s live performance of ‘cardigan’, ‘august’ and ‘willow’ was mesmerising. The return of the trio, with Antonoff and Dessner by her side, felt like a 90s pop group, spilling with energy and chemistry. The performance wasn’t the only success of the night as Swift took home Album of The Year for ‘folklore’, making her the first woman in GRAMMY history to win the accolade three times.

One moment that has to be mentioned is the reunion of Haylor. Documented by an observing camera, Harry and Taylor engaged in friendly conversation during a commercial break and it was a delight to watch. Maybe they were discussing a potential collab for ‘1989 (Taylor’s Version)’, who knows?

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The release of ‘Fearless (Taylor’s Version)’

2008’s ‘Fearless’ was the epic start to the re-recording journey, released in April. The growth in vocals and production gleams. Through Taylor’s version, generations are merged. Songs which acted as safe havens for so many are revived once more, and with the addition of the vault songs such as ‘Mr. Perfectly Fine’ and ‘You All Over Me (feat. Maren Morris)’, we get a deeper insight into the mind of Taylor from the past to help us make sense of her own life and relate it to our own.

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A historic win, a Global Icon

Yesterday saw history being made again with the announcement of Taylor Swift as the first female winner, and first non-British recipient of the global icon award. A prize which has only seen three other artists win, Sir Elton John, David Bowie and Robbie Williams, now has the 31 year-old added to the Brits’ highest honour list.

Swift is the UK’s top-selling artist of 2021 to date, and has continuously set a precedent for how artists should be treated in an industry which is often known for its ruthlessness. The re-recordings are just one example of her life long commitment to integrity and using her influence for positive change.

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Words: Sahar Ghadirian

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