Why is Taylor Swift so popular? Young women relate to her vulnerability

Written by Amy Ta, produced by Bennett Purser

Taylor Swift performs at the Z100 Jingle Ball at Madison Square Garden in New York, December 13, 2019. Photo by Shutterstock.

Taylor Swift made music history this week. All 10 spots on the Billboard Hot 100 chart are claimed by songs from her latest album, “Midnights.” Her track “Anti-Hero” sits at No. 1. Also, this is the first time in Billboard’s 64 years that no men are topping the charts. 

“She's a really fine lyricist and plays with language. I think she calls them her ‘quill pen wordplay’ in her writing,” says Elizabeth Scala, an English professor at the University of Texas at Austin. She teaches “The Taylor Swift Songbook,” a course dedicated to the musician’s songwriting and how it stacks up against literary greats such as William Shakespeare and John Keats. 

She says she’s trying to show students how Swift’s songwriting reflects the way older poets played with and manipulated the English language. 

“That's made a lively connection for them with things that … they don't necessarily think about happening. Poetry doesn't seem to happen in their real lives … but they're carrying it around in their pockets, on their iPhones.”

Scala notes that young women want to hear Swift’s material, look up to her, and identify with her vulnerability and “willingness to expose her high school insecure self over and over and over again.” 

She adds, “One of the most interesting ways to think about her music is in terms of memory. … She herself as a songwriter can go back into her own past, and harvest her memories in a new way to make a new art form. … She’s unapologetically unembarrassed by her past. Even if it's a goofy, painful past, I think it's one that she shares with many of her fans, which is why she will always have that fan base.”