Sunday, December 4, 2011

Taylor Swift: Billboard's Woman of the Year

Taylor Swift made a rather large statement about her status in the music business during 2011 by simply placing a request. Entranced by Nicki Minaj's hit single "Super Bass," she invited Minaj to come out to the Staples Center in Los Angeles and perform the song in a surprise appearance during Swift's concert in August. In the aftermath, Justin Bieber asked if he could do a guest spot with Swift. In short order, the singer/songwriter was lining up musicians in many of the major markets to add a little local flavor to the night: Jason Mraz in Los Angeles; Usher and T.I. in Atlanta; Shawn Colvin in Austin; Jim Adkins of Jimmy Eat World in Phoenix; Ronnie Dunn, Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney and Paramore's Hayley Williams in Nashville; and Selena Gomez and James Taylor at Madison Square Garden in New York, as her 2011 tour concluded.

"I'm just as shocked by it as all the fans are in the audience," Swift says of her guest stars, "the fact that they would spend their evening coming out and playing for free for my fans."

That gesture, made by artists across a variety of genres in numerous cities, speaks volumes about Swift's influence on pop culture in the five years since she arrived with her self-titled debut album on Big Machine Records at the age of 16.

On Dec. 2, Swift accepted Billboard's Woman of the Year award during Billboard's Women in Music event at Capitale in New York. At 21, Swift is the youngest artist ever to receive the honor.

The annual award celebrates the achievements of a trailblazing female recording artist during the past 12 months and acknowledges her overall success and leadership in the music business.

For Swift, the honor comes at the close of a year in which she earned the entertainer of the year award from both the Academy of Country Music in April and the Country Music Assn. (CMA) in November. In May, Swift also won Billboard Music Awards for top country album, top Billboard 200 artist and top country artist.

For most of the past year, Swift has been on a worldwide tour supporting her 2010 album "Speak Now," with dates in Asia, Europe and the United States. The trek has been captured on the newly released Speak Now World Tour Live album and DVD, the former selling 28,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Her 2010 album Speak Now arrived with debut-week sales of 1 million units and has sold more than 3.7 million.

Worldwide, Swift has achieved album sales of more than 20 million and digital track sales of more than 40 million, according to Big Machine Records.

And Swift has donated more than $1 million to charity in the past year. Her efforts have raised money and awareness for causes including clean water, literacy and disaster relief.

The guest artists on Swift's tour stops testify to both her business and personal achievements. On a business level, they recognize the size of her audience and the media splash a guest artist will enjoy by sharing the stage with her.

But those moments are also a testament to Swift on a personal level. While undeniably a superstar, she is likable, inviting, savvy and talented. And she has managed to grow up in public while remaining both sweet and classy.

In October, when Alan Jackson was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, Swift was one of just two acts asked to perform his material for the A-list music business crowd. Swift sang Jackson's 9/11 memorial ballad, "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)," in a manner that balanced the song's emotionalism with a perfectionist's attention to detail. With Garth Brooks, Lynn Anderson and John Oates among the celebrities in attendance, Swift rendered the song as if it were her own, providing a dynamic arc to many of the lines and coaxing a standing ovation. It was just one more moment when Swift proved how she makes sparks fly.

Swift, who turns 22 on Dec. 13, was in the closing weeks of her current U.S. tour when she took time on a day off to speak with Billboard.

Congratulations on being Billboard's Woman of the Year.

Thank you. It is pretty cool.

Just a few weeks ago was the five-year anniversary of your first album, released when you were 16. Now you're Woman of the Year. Where do you see yourself on that scale of girl and woman?

Growing up in this position, making music, writing songs and having everyone hear what I'm going through since I was about 16 years old, now I'm 21 about to be 22 -- I wouldn't have had it any other way. On a scale of being a girl or teenager or woman, I never tried to be the one to label myself which of those three I was. I've just tried to grow up in the most natural and gradual process that I possibly can and make choices I feel are right for me and my fans. Whether I'm a woman now, or whatever, is up to my fans to decide, not for me. I really haven't felt the need to make some bold statement of maturity or make the "dark" record yet.

Given the Woman of the Year honor, what women do you consider to be your role models, and why?

I have a lot of role models. Faith Hill is a big role model. Reese Witherspoon is a role model of mine-she's not in music, but I love everything she stands for. Shawn Colvin is a huge model for me. Her writing has been consistently great and thoughtful and wistful and beautiful. And also-[he's] not a girl-but Kris Kristofferson has been a big role model for me. When I look at people who I feel have really lived their lives and recorded their lives in music so beautifully, those are my role models. They've all taught me lessons just by example