Next week, Taylor Swift will release 1989, her fifth album and her “first documented pop album.” Swift announced the album back in August, but she’s been setting up her grown-ass reintroduction to the public for some time now. To the outside eye, Swift has made some major changes in her life: a move to New York, new famous pals, love life on hiatus, and above all, no more country twang. She’s done it in a brilliant way, with distinct strategies that could be useful to a number of different creators. Let’s go through the 12 steps of Swiftian reinvention as it relates to one’s personal brand.
1. Curate a Cool Girl Cabal — and Publicize It
Has Swift done one single interview for 1989 that hasn’t mentioned Lena Dunham and/or Karlie Kloss and all the Cool Girl ways they’ve influenced her (feminism, fashion, NYC — the list goes on)? Did Swift brag about all the rad women she hosted on Fourth of July? We know exactly who her new besties are, and how their personal brands overlap with Swift’s.
Taylor’s Fourth of July “family portrait” on Instagram, featuring Ingrid Michaelson, Jaime King, Emma Stone, Lena Dunham, and more.
2. Play to What the Internet Loves
This is a multi-part step that should vary slightly, depending on your own brand. For Taylor, right now, it’s all about:
b) Nostalgia. Specifically on this record cycle, that means late ’80s pop, Polaroids, and uh, Mia Farrow (?). In the past, it’s been Tim McGraw and fairytales.
3. Show a Few Seams Amidst Your Highly Curated Life
This is where Beyoncé and Taylor Swift differ hugely in their seemingly perfect digital existences. Taylor isn’t afraid to get a little Liz Lemon on Twitter (i.e. pseudo-bragging about her current spinsterdom), or own her terrible dance skills in the “Shake It Off” video. As I wrote upon the release of “Shake It Off” and its controversial video, “Swift’s gunning hard to be your dorky BFF while still performing perfection in many ways. She seems to know that, for her, the irritatingly successful and stunning part only works if she remains relatable above all.”
4. Get Really Fucking Pumped
Taylor is not above Instagramming a text conversation with her “Into the Woods” collaborator Jack Antonoff as proof of their giddiness over the song’s release and subsequent iTunes No. 1. As if Swift hasn’t lived at the top of the charts for years. If you like her music or personality even a little, this level of excitement is sort of infectious.
Taylor Swift is really, really pumped to have moved to New York. How do I know that? Her new song, which is not very good. But it is an anthem for people who share Taylor’s enthusiasm for NYC, which, based on how many fucking songs there are about New York, is a lot.
5. Maintain the Facade of ‘Staying Posi’ and Do Not Engage Haters Unless You Absolutely Must
This goes hand in hand with Steps 4 and 6. In our current era of Swift, she shames people for asking about her love life as a way of keeping the conversation focused on her preferred message (guys, she’s not dating right now, remember?). She does not comment on rumors, besides, you know, starting and fueling them in her songs. And she released a big single about shaking off the haters, which has to be as much a personal mantra as it is a brilliantly sly “fuck you” to her detractors.
6. Condemn Shit-Talking, Then Shit-Talk (or Vice Versa)
Remember when Taylor Swift shit-talked Tina Fey and Amy Poehler for shit-talking Taylor Swift? I do. Swifties do. Taylor cheekily pulled that whole thing off looking like the victim — a role she often occupies in her own portrayals of her love life. Swift went as far as suggesting that Tina and Amy would go to hell for what they did to her… which was a quick jab at her love life.
Everyone loves a little gossip and real talk, but you have to do it cleverly in order to go after people when they do it to you. May we suggest shrouding your shade in mystery, à la Swift’s recent Katy Perry feud?
7. Balance Accessibility and Domesticity with Forward-Thinking Views
This step is key. Taylor Swift has gone proudly feminist (thanks Lena), as well as moved to New York (thanks Karlie). Both, sadly, could alienate some of her fan base, particularly the country fans who may not mind Swift’s transition to pop (I mean, Red was pretty damn pop, besides maybe two songs), but perhaps Swift’s NYC feminist persona seems too unrelatable to them. To combat that, Swift has invited “fanbassadors” to her homes all over the world, including Nashville (with her parents, so cute), for listening sessions with her. This often includes homemade baked goods and her cats, Meredith Grey and Olivia Benson. Cats and cookies — it doesn’t seem more domestic and down-to-earth than that.
8. Spin “You’ve Changed” Into a Compliment
Instead of letting the country community string her up for going totally pop, Swift proudly announced this fact in her 1989 launch event. She and her label, the country-centric Big Machine, didn’t even service a 1989 single to country radio. And they’re doing it confidently, purposefully, and transparently. As reported in her recent Rolling Stone cover story, Swift won’t be attending country music events anymore. If you need to do a creative left turn, Taylor’s strategy in the last two months is a good how-to.
9. Be the Media You Want to See in the World
Approachability is at the core of Swift’s brand (see: Step 7). To tie in with that, she turned her 1989 announcement into an Oprah-style talk show that just seemed like Swift screaming and dancing with her biggest fans in a living room. She streamed it on Yahoo and other media platforms instead of giving one outlet or morning show the exclusive. This also helped Swift keep her message untainted by a host or interviewer.
You see this kind of approach in Swift’s Instagram and Tumblr feeds as of late. She wants people to pre-order 1989 and buy her new songs, so she’s highlighting her musical strength: lyrics. Cutesy post after cutesy post teasing her latest lyrics (also cats and bestie pics to stay on brand).
With the release of her new songs, Swift has simultaneously released short, morning show-style clips explaining her intentions and inspiration for each song (above). The deluxe edition of 1989, to be released exclusively at Target (see: Step 10), also features extra media — like voice memos throughout Taylor’s songwriting process — that will also help to make her artistic intentions super clear.
10. Partner with Those Who Serve Your Brand, Not Just Your Wallet
Keds, Diet Coke, Target, and Papa John’s: These are all things one would expect Swift to love (maybe not Papa John’s specifically, but pizza). Had Swift partnered with, say, T-Mobile and Cheetos, it would have appeared like more of a cash cow than brand synergy.
11. Also, Duh, Partner with Creatives Who Push You
This is obvious in most creative endeavors. Just felt like we could all use a reminder. (Related: Step 1)
12. If All Else Fails, Just Lie
Was 1989 a strong year for pop music? Hell no. Do Swifties know this? Not necessarily. You can bend most things to seem sorta true if you do it confidently enough.