Amid a music industry that’s undergoing seismic changes, Taylor Swift’s popularity has been constant for the past 15 years. She has sold more than 40 million albums and 130 million single downloads, making her one of the five highest-selling artists in the world for the digital age, and five of her albums have each sold over 4 million copies each in the US alone.
What’s particularly remarkable is the fact that the 28-year-old singer-songwriter has managed to maintain her success despite completely changing her sound from its beginnings in country music to her current incarnation in electronic pop. Through it all, though, Swift’s live shows have been a tremendous part of her appeal, and she’ll be bringing her magic to the Rose Bowl this weekend for two big shows on Friday and Saturday.
The tour supports her album “Reputation,” which was released last November and featured songs and videos that were surprisingly dark for the one-time teenage country queen, whose 2003 debut was released when she was just 14 years old. She’s contended with the pressures of paparazzi and gossip columnists ever since with impressive aplomb, juggling a seemingly never-ending stream of celebrity paramours in recent years while still maintaining a classier image than most of her musical peers such as Britney Spears and Nicki Minaj.
Pennsylvania native Swift moved to Nashville at 14 to follow her country music dreams, immediately endearing herself to the public with a wholesome image while drawing Grammys and critical acclaim for her impressive songwriting chops. Her self-titled debut album set the record for the most weeks spent on the Billboard 200 albums chart for the entire decade of the 2000s, and her third single “Our Song” made her the youngest person to single-handedly write and perform a number one song on the Hot Country Songs chart.
Swift topped those impressive feats when she became the youngest person ever to win the Album of the Year Grammy when her follow-up album “Fearless” was released in 2008. She was the sole writer of her third album, “Speak Now,” in 2010, an exceedingly rare accomplishment in a modern music era in which most songs are written by large teams.
She surprised the entire music industry with her shift to straight-up pop music with 2012’s “Red,” which featured the smash hit “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” That song was the first of a string of angrier songs referring to breakups, driving her worldwide legions of fans and tabloid media to speculate which tunes referred to which boyfriend.
That sense of mystery, combined with her extensive charity work and donations to literacy causes (including 15,000 books to New York City public schools alone), has helped keep her a safe and classy choice for parents harried by the hypersexualized images of many other female singers. At the same time, she’s been a feminist hero, scoring an early victory in the #MeToo movement when she won a civil suit last August against Denver radio host David Mueller after he had groped her at an event and then accused her of lying about it.
Put it all together and Swift is a dominating yet affable presence in the world of entertainment who shows no signs of slowing down. This weekend’s shows should showcase her all-ages appeal to a packed audience that has stood by her for half her life and is likely to be there for decades to come.
Taylor Swift performs at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Rose Bowl, 1001 Rose Bowl Drive, Pasadena. Tickets are $49 to $495. Visit ticketmaster.com.