Taylor Swift’s Influence on Rising Pop Artists
Issue 8, Volume 113
By Raaita Anwar
It is undeniable that the pop star phenomenon Taylor Swift is one of the most influential artists of our time. With 11 Grammy wins and dozens of Billboard hits, Swift is the most streamed female artist on Spotify. Swift’s music catalog spans various genres, from country on the eponymous album Taylor Swift (2006) to the synth-pop of 1989 (2014). The singer-songwriter’s inspiration has ranged from first love and romantic dreams to the crippling pressure placed on her by media.
No matter the topic of Swift’s songs, her exceptional songwriting skills allow her to resonate with listeners. Swift tells stories through descriptive imagery, utilizing metaphors and symbols to evoke overwhelming emotion. A prime example of this is “cardigan” (2020), in which Swift uses the extended metaphor of an abandoned cardigan rescued from beneath a bed to describe how finding new love validated her experiences. Many of her lyrics come from diary entries, which makes her songs come off as heartfelt and personal. Her ability to incorporate her life story into relatable topics like love, heartbreak, and insecurities allows her songs to resonate with listeners.
Swift has greatly impacted the music industry, inspiring many contemporary artists like Phoebe Bridgers, Gracie Abrams, and Maisie Peters, as well as rising Gen-Z stars Conan Gray and Olivia Rodrigo. Gray’s debut album, Kid Krow (2020), was a huge success. The album’s third track, “Maniac,” opens with the lyrics “You were with your friends partying / When the alcohol kicked in / Said you wanted me dead,” which has a similar storyline to the opening lyrics of Swift’s “Welcome to New York” (2014): “Walkin’ through a crowd, the village is aglow / Kaleidoscope of loud heartbeats under coats / Everybody here wanted somethin’ more.” The classic beginning of a busy setting containing uncertainty and mysteriousness is familiar to any Swiftie. Additionally, the album’s 10th track, “Heather,” begins with the lyrics, “I still remember / Third of December / Me in your sweater,” which are similar to the lyrics of Swift’s “Last Kiss” (2010): “Fresh on the pavement, I ran off the plane / That July ninth, the beat of your heart.” In these songs, both Swift and Gray use dates to memorialize important moments in their lives. Other than the lyrical similarities, Gray also emulates Swift’s famed yelling vocals in his album Superache (2022). In the album’s eighth track, he yells the vocals, “Scattered ‘cross my family line / I’m so good at telling lies,” similar to the way Swift sang “Style” (2014): “Take me home / Just take me home / Yeah, just take me home.” The yelling vocals in “Family Line” make the song more intense and raw as Gray describes growing up in an abusive household. In an interview with The Line of Best Fit, Gray mentions the impact Swift’s song “Teardrops on My Guitar” (2006) had on his songwriting: “My family had one computer that we all would use and I remember we all huddled around it and watched together. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, Taylor Swift is the coolest person on the earth.’”
Olivia Rodrigo, another rising pop star and three-time Grammy award-winning artist, has received global acclaim for her heartfelt songs. When Rodrigo released her hit album SOUR (2021), many noticed the similarities between her discography and lyrics to those of Taylor Swift. The album’s fourth track, “1 step forward, 3 steps back,” uses the same piano backing as Swift’s reputation-era song “New Year’s Day” (2017). Rodrigo gave Swift writing credits for “1 step forward, 3 steps back,” as well as a large royalty payout. She also credits Swift’s “Cruel Summer” (2019) with inspiring her raw screams during the bridge of the fifth track, “deja vu,” in which she chants “I know you get déjà vu.” Besides the similarities in Rodrigo’s songs, she even credits Swift as her biggest inspiration. In an interview with NME, Rodrigo mentioned, “I’ve always looked up to Taylor since I was literally five years old. Obviously I think she’s the best songwriter of all time.” Gen-Z artists like Rodrigo grew up listening to Swift, which influenced their musical taste and gave them the confidence to write about experiences that may have been seen as taboo before.
In addition to using similar vocal techniques as Swift, modern artists like Gray and Rodrigo have adapted Swift’s songwriting techniques in their songs, which are based on their life experiences. In Rodrigo’s song “drivers license” (2021), she tells the heart-wrenching tale of getting her driver’s license and reminiscing about her extinguished first love. In Gray’s “Heather,” Gray recounts how his crush fell in love with a girl named Heather, abandoning the real or imagined connection they had. These songs exemplify the lasting impact Swift has had on expanding the musical experience beyond just listening to a song. Gray’s and Rodrigo’s music also have similar themes to Swift’s, including heartbreak, falling in love, societal pressures, and insecurities. These themes, along with the different musical devices in their songs, pique the listener’s interest.
However, it is important to differentiate between taking inspiration from an artist and simply mimicking their music. Both Gray and Rodrigo have unique elements in their music that set them apart from Swift. Rodrigo’s raw self-expression and relatable youthfulness helped her cultivate a vast fanbase of Gen-Z supporters who are able to understand and admire her work. Gray’s incorporation of indie influences in his music, experimenting with pop music formulae and acoustic instrumentals, has expanded his fanbase. Both Rodrigo and Gray incorporate common conflicts faced by Gen-Z, which offers a sense of comfort and relatability.
Over the past decade, the influence of Swift’s songs has transformed the music industry and pioneered an era of storytelling through songwriting. She has written songs that empower others to have open discussions about societal issues, some of which are rarely brought up in the music industry. Her support for women’s rights, education, LGBTQIA+ rights, and more has inspired people and shown them what can be accomplished through music. Whether it be through her heartbreaking love songs or upbeat dance pop earworms, her extraordinary discography, lyrics, music video concepts, and more serve as a shining example to new pop stars who grew up listening to her music. Gray said it best in an interview with GQ: “Taylor Swift raised an entire generation of songwriters.”