If you’re reading this, it’s likely that Taylor Swift wasn’t just TIME’s Person of the Year—she was yours, too. I know she was most certainly mine, as not only was she my most-played artist of 2023 (proud 1% of listeners over here), but she’s also definitely the reason why not a single one of my top artists was a man. And if you went through 2023 up until this point thinking that Taylor Swift wasn’t shaping your life in extreme and tangible ways, Sam Lansky’s profile of Swift will force you to think again.
Here at The Everygirl, we’re all about the ~takeaways~ from cultural moments like the Barbie movie or Taylor Swift’s Era’s Tour, which is why when I shed real tears reading Lansky’s profile, I immediately started making mental notes. Here are six lessons that we can take away from Taylor Swift’s Person of the Year profile that, fingers crossed, will ensure there are many more female Persons of the Year in the future.
1. Having compassion for past, present, and future versions of ourselves is both challenging and worthwhile.
Have you ever felt the need to completely reinvent yourself? Beyond that, have you ever actually reinvented yourself? In the age of Taylor Swift, it’s no wonder if the answer to one or both of those questions is yes. Lansky’s profile exposes Swift’s very deliberate act of self-replacement, the near-constant self-reinvention process throughout her career that brought the Eras that we have come to know and love. When Swift realized that record labels were trying to replace her after her infamous 2009 VMAs win, she decided that she would instead replace herself with a new version of herself. Even when it was confusing to fans, Swift continued to genre-leap with each new season of her career.
However, what set Swift apart in 2023 as the Person of the Year was not the reinvention itself, but her response to her own reinvention. The economic and social gargantuan that was the Eras Tour came from Swift’s ability to look back on each phase of her career with compassion and enthusiasm—in spite of the fact that, as she revealed in the TIME profile, she did not initially want to re-record her masters. In our own lives, emulating this love for past versions of ourselves is essential for moving forward.
2. Our most negative moments do not define us.
I have a confession to make: I was not a fan of Reputation when it first came out. Though I now understand this to be a key character flaw of mine and am deeply sorry, I know I wasn’t the only one who felt this way—Swift herself recalled the album being met with intense criticism when it was released. She feared the backlash against her Rep era would define her for the rest of her career.
It’s a fear all of us have likely felt at some point or another: We fear that the moments when we express anger, sadness, and distress towards the world around us will destroy a relationship, define our careers, or derail external perceptions of us. As Lansky cleverly shows in the TIME piece with the return of Reputation as the favorite album of two Taylor superfans, this fear is misplaced. Our more negative, vitriolic moments, which may be met with confusion from the world around us, may end up becoming some of our strongest. With this said, yes, I still wish I had given Reputation the credit it was due in 2017.
3. Having permission to feel your emotions as a woman is an extremely big deal.
There is a quote from Lansky’s piece that has been blowing up my feed since the drop of the article, which speaks to the very core of Swift’s impact in 2023. He writes, “She gives people, many of them women, particularly girls, who have been conditioned to accept dismissal, gaslighting, and mistreatment from a society that treats their emotions as inconsequential, permission to believe that their interior lives matter.”
This permission to experience and display emotion is where Swift’s cultural impact cannot be overstated. Many of us grew up in a society that told us we had to do away with emotion, interiority, softness, and, yes, femininity, to succeed. Swift’s nearly immeasurable success in 2023 is a step towards giving hundreds of thousands of young women the opportunity to grow up in a society that tells them differently. I see this change in my 10-year-old sister, in fellow Gen-Z writers and culture critics who refuse to separate their personal experiences from their work—the future is unafraid to shed a tear.
4. Industries are always going to try to pit great women against each other—but there’s enough space for all of us.
In Lansky’s piece, Swift refers to the summer of 2023 as “a three-part summer of feminine extravaganza.” Beyoncé’s Renaissance tour and Greta Gerwig’s Barbie constituted the other two parts, but Swift expressed frustration with social media’s constant comparison of her tour with Beyoncé’s. “There were so many stadium tours this summer, but the only ones that were compared were me and Beyoncé,” she noted. Swift understands that it is economically lucrative for the media to pit her and Beyoncé (or any other female artists) against one another, but her point here is that cultural fixation on the supposed “feud” between two women detracts from the other high-quality cultural work that might be going on outside of the invented conflict. Both Swift and Beyoncé have only responded to these comparisons with grace and utmost support of one another, and their response should be an example for all of us. In our lives, we will undoubtedly face societally fabricated competition between ourselves and other women—seeing that competition as inherently false is the only way through.
5. It is not wrong to see yourself as the main character in your own story.
The bookends of Lansky’s TIME profile of Swift tell their own story. The piece begins with Swift recounting the tale of her early career to Lansky, and ends with Lansky reflecting on how many Easter eggs Swift dropped about her own story throughout his own one-on-one interview with her in her home. Taylor Swift is a masterful storyteller, who has narrativized her own life and continues to do so over and over. In her mind, “it is a movie now.” As Lanksy points out, we live in a world where we are increasingly the writers of our own stories. Regardless of whether this is actually good or bad for us in the long run, Swift shows that taking control of your own narrative, both internally and externally, no matter what era you are in, has a tangible payoff.
6. There has never been a better time to be a female artist. We have a responsibility to ensure that this remains true.
When discussing the proliferation of extremely popular feminine art over the summer of 2023, Swift recognizes the existence of her work under a patriarchal economic system, which constantly demands more. “If we’re going to look at this in the most cynical way possible, feminine ideas becoming lucrative means that more feminine art will get made,” she said. We can already see Swift’s impact as a woman in the music industry: That the Grammy nominees for best artists of 2023 are almost all female is no coincidence. However, as Lansky’s profile shows, the explosion of feminine art around Swift is impacting many corners of the economy, well beyond the music industry. Here is the extremely meta moment where I acknowledge that as a female writer who entered the workforce in 2023, I can trace a direct line between Swift’s success and my own employment. Thanks, Tay!
Swift’s success this year and the explosion of feminine art that we will see after 2023 constitute a massive cultural shift. If you see yourself as a female artist in any way, shape, or form—or if you love consuming art made by women—know that at this moment in time, there is a greater demand for female stories and voices than ever before. Women like Taylor Swift are making that shift possible, showing that women at the top will find a way to empower those who come after them in some way or another.
Taylor Swift’s Person of the Year profile asks us to imagine what the world would be like if other arenas outside of cultural production, from politics to medicine, were able to replicate the space Swift has created for other women in her industry. Further, it asks us to imagine what the world will be like when a woman who does not fit all of the other privileged aspects that Swift possesses as a white, straight, cis-gendered woman, is properly recognized for having the same vast cultural impact. To use Swift’s own language, our ability to envision this future is heartening.