Now that Taylor Swift is the reigning queen of, well, everything at the moment, it’s hard to believe that there was a time when she had to struggle for anyone to even listen to her. But hey, like all celebrities, she had to start somewhere. And from the wise words of Drake, she “started from the bottom” to get to where she is today. But how true is that exactly?
Although Taylor has proudly promoted an “underdog” image throughout her career (although lately she’s been shifting that narrative), the “Look What You Made Me Do” singer probably has more in common with the pop star peers she tries to distance herself from than she cares to admit. Taylor comes from a well-to-do family, a fact that became a meme recently as Twitter users mocked her for being “privileged.” But exactly how hard did Taylor have to work to become the No. 1 pop star today? Below, a look at how she found fame.
Taylor did grow up on a farm, but not the kind you’re probably picturing.
(Photo Credit: Instagram)
Taylor grew up not in Nashville but in Pennsylvania on a Christmas tree farm. Her mother worked in finance and her father was a stockbroker for Merrill Lynch. While acting in children stage productions, Taylor would hang out with the cast at after parties, which had a karaoke machine. She quickly learned that not only did she love karaoke, she loved singing, too, particularly ’90s mainstream country music that was popular at the time (Shania Twain, LeAnn Rimes, etc.). After that, she started entering karaoke contests around town, eventually winning one.
Her mother was so “strict,” she would put the moms of Dance Moms to shame.
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)
Taylor’s mom, Andrea, was the main driving vehicle pushing young Taylor to talent shows and other events to garner attention. In fact, Taylor’s former guitar teacher, Ronnie Cramer, called Andrea “strict” and said Taylor’s mom was overly pushy with grooming her daughter for stardom. And if that sounds harsh, it gets even worse.
“Andrea came back from Taco Bell and as soon as she came in, the kids [Taylor and her younger brother Austin] went running over. Taylor was tempted by the Taco Bell, but ate a salad instead,” Ronnie told Radar. “I remember her mom once saying, ‘Nobody wants to see a fat pop star.’”
The family was rich enough to relocate to Nashville just for Taylor’s career.
When Taylor was around 10, she persuaded her mom to take her to Nashville on Spring Break so that she could pass out demo tapes on Music Row in hopes it would lead to a record deal. With no luck, the Swifts realized that if they wanted to be serious about their daughter’s country career, they needed to relocate to Nashville. Taylor’s father transferred to the Nashville Merrill Lynch branch and moved the entire family along with him. Taylor went to a new public school that didn’t bully her as much as her old one did, and found numerous opportunities to enter more talent contests. Eventually, she was signed by RCA Records when she was 13. Oh, but the story ain’t over.
Taylor ditches RCA in favor of Big Machine Records, an indie label her dad owns a part of.
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)
After a year at RCA, Taylor chose not to renew her contract. “I didn’t want to be somewhere where they were sure that they kind of wanted me maybe,” she told Rolling Stone in 2009. She eventually signed with an indie label instead, but according to Salon, a part of the business was bought by Taylor’s father. “I base a lot of decisions on my gut, and going with an independent label was a good one,” Taylor said in the same interview. “I thought, ‘What’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? What’s been done a million times?'” Well, she wasn’t wrong.
Once Taylor started recording her debut album, everything came into fruition.
Taylor released her first album in 2006 when she was 16 years old, and her life has been a whirlwind of success ever since. However, not everyone believes those modest stories about Taylor calling up record labels and hoping for the best. Dan Dymtrow, a former manager of Britney Spears, filed papers in 2007 saying he was the real reason for Taylor’s success. “How does an 18-year-old singer from a small town in Pennsylvania make it to the cover of Rolling Stone’s ‘Best of Rock 2008’?” he was quoted in the suit. “If you believe the version of the story being told to the world, Taylor Swift knocked on record-company doors when she was just 13 years old.” In 2010, Taylor and her people launched a countersuit, but today, it’s still unclear which party was telling the truth about that.
Although Taylor had lots of help from her parents and her well-to-do background with her career, industry experts who worked with the country star before she became a powerhouse credit her unique blend of teenage-focused country music as being the real reason for her success, since so many of her peers were, you know, not doing that.
“At its best, country music is a reality format,” Nashville journalist Peter Cooper said. “What Taylor did was to write her own experiences, nearly in real time, and speak directly to her audience about what she was going through—which was what they were going through, too.”
I didn’t read any of this. Can you just give me the cliff notes?