So many celebrities joined Taylor Swift on stage for her 1989 World Tour in 2015 than even a fan made a hilarious parody about the excessive cameos. Everyone from Mick Jagger to Mariska Hargitay stopped by the top-selling arena show—which was a bit of a flex for Swift. This was a woman who, at 25 years old, had the power to call anyone and invite them to perform. And they’d say yes. If that isn’t influence, what is? I don’t think there’s many musicians today who could do something similar. Beyoncé or Rihanna, sure. But Taylor Swift is the only one who actually has, and it’s one of the many reasons she’s this decade’s most ubiquitous artist.
To be clear, there are artists who released better albums (RiRi), had more of a cultural impact (Bey), and performed better on the singles charts (Ed Sheeran, Drake)—but Taylor Swift is one of the few performers this decade who successfully hit all those marks. The records she released in the 2010s (Speak Now, Red, 1989, Reputation, and Lover) were critically and commercially successful; the singles did well on Billboard‘s Hot 100; and Swift herself fueled several cultural discussions between 2010 and 2019.
I could list each of those discussions here, but you don’t have all day. If you paid even an ounce of attention to entertainment this decade, you can name one. In fact, you probably can name several, and they’ll be scattered throughout the past 10 years: her relationships with John Mayer (2010) and Harry Styles (2012), the Katy Perry “Bad Blood” feud (2014), the Kim Kardashian/Kanye West “Famous” Snapchat debacle (2016), the $1 sexual misconduct trial (2017), her current bliss with British actor Joe Alwyn (2019). To say she permeated pop-culture in the 2010s would be a massive understatement.
But Swift’s influence on music this decade goes far past what singles charted and which ex-boyfriends she called out. Those two measurements are quite trivial when compared to the music itself—the sonics, that is. Taylor isn’t the first country artist to dabble in pop—both Shania Twain and Faith Hill have done it, to varying degrees—but she is the first to do it in its totality. And, along the way, she broke new ground.
When she dropped “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “I Knew You Were Trouble” in 2012, for example, top 40 radio short-circuited. Both songs were stunning, seamless marriages of genres: country, pop, rock, even elements of dubstep. It was a precursor, if not the jumpstart, to the genre-bending hits that would define the latter half of the decade. (Please see: “Old Town Road.”)
Her follow-up, 1989, was even more unprecedented. It was, in effect, a 100 percent, pure-pop album with virtually zero elements of the country twang that made her a star. The album after that, Reputation, ventured even further into electro-pop, with distorted vocals and grimy, club-ready beats. The fact that this was the same artist who delivered the bluegrass anthem “Mean” in 2010 is astounding.
Lover, Swift’s most recent, is an amalgamation of her discography. In many ways, it’s a return to form, with several stripped-down tunes and a few glossy pop gems mixed in. The record is further proof Swift is the decade’s biggest sonic shape-shifter—listening to her instincts, not the radio, and creating incredibly compelling pop music as a result.
Perhaps the only artist who rivals her on this metric is Rihanna, whose 2010s catalog defies genre, as well. But her songs, in my opinion, were often reactions to the top 40 landscape. When radio went dance-pop, so did she. When it pivoted to tropical house, she followed suit. Swift, however, almost made her music in a vacuum—that’s what I think, at least.
Frankly, it’s tough to name an artist who did anything to the same level as Swift in the 2010s. She’s one of the only main pop players to release albums at the very beginning and end of the decade, to tour throughout, and dabble in film and TV. (Need I remind you of her brief role in Valentine’s Day, or the fact she’s starring in Cats, now in theaters.) Her résumé is dizzying, and every line on it—no matter how big or small—is the subject of intense public fascination.
Not since Madonna has a single artist commanded this much attention over her every move. I’ve said for years, actually, that it’s Swift—not Britney Spears, not Lady Gaga—who is the closest contemporary figure we have to Madonna. Both are talented songwriters and visual chameleons. Both receive the sexist criticism of being “calculated” and “manipulating.” Both get coverage on their private and professional lives in equal measure. And just like Madonna has gone on to provoke, inspire, and reinvent herself year after year, I have a feeling Taylor Swift will do the same. Not only is she the artist of this decade, she could easily be the one of the next. And, who knows, maybe even the one after that.
Christopher Rosa is the staff entertainment writer at Glamour. *Follow him on Twitter @chrisrosa92.
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