By Annie Reuter
On October 24, Taylor Swift’s self-titled debut will celebrate its tenth anniversary; that marks a decade since the country-turned-pop singer has been dominating the charts. Here, we take a look back at the album where it all began
Ten years ago, Taylor Swift released her debut album, announcing a huge new talent to the country music industry, and gave hints of the full-on pop crossover that was still a few years away. At just sixteen years old, Swift wrote or co-wrote every track on the release (a rarity for superstars, much less up-and-coming artists). Taylor Swift launched the singer into the country genre, she also saw success on the pop charts with her second single, “Teardrops On My Guitar.” That crossover was hint of what was to come from the global superstar; Swift has always been equally comfortable in both the country and pop genre.
From the start, Swift has been hard-working and driven. The singer convinced her parents to make a trip to Nashville, Tennessee from their home in Reading, Pennsylvania when she was eleven years old. With a demo CD of recorded karaoke tunes in hand, she walked into every record label on Music Row and introduced herself, but ultimately returned home with no record deal. She has called the visit “a learning experience,” though, and one that convinced her that she had to be different to get noticed.
“That’s when I picked up a 12-string guitar and started playing and writing my own music,” she said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. “Songwriting really changed my life and the way my career went.”
Swift kept working on her songwriting craft and eventually signed a publishing deal when she was 14. She would spend her days at school and then would head to her publisher’s office, where she would write songs for Sony/ATV Music Publishing. One of those songs would become her debut single: “Tim McGraw.” As she explains, the idea came to her during math class in her freshman year of high school. It was inspired by real life: at the time, Swift was dating a senior and started thinking of what would happen once he went off to college. This is just the beginning of what would become a recurring theme in her music throughout her career: relationships.
Six months after her album’s release, Swift was invited to perform “Tim McGraw” at the ACM Awards. Her performance was well received, and at the song’s end she walked off the stage and introduced herself to McGraw and his wife, Faith Hill, seated in the front row. She would go on to tour with the couple as well as acts like Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts and George Strait.
Relationships were a focal point on Taylor Swift, but not all were romantic. Album cuts like “A Place In This World,” “The Outside” and “Tied Together with a Smile” discussed the all-too-real emotions of being a loner in high school and struggling with self acceptance. While “The Outside” reflected Swift’s difficulty with fitting in, the latter dealt with her friend’s struggles with bulimia. The remaining singles released off the album — “Teardrops On My Guitar,” “Our Song,” “Picture to Burn” and “Should’ve Said No” — however, are romantically heavy and deal with unrequited love, new love and love gone terribly wrong.
As her fame grew, subsequent album releases would revolve around the discussion of who, exactly, these songs were about. Was it Joe Jonas? Perhaps John Mayer? Or maybe Jake Gyllenhaal? Swift kept us all guessing, but the hardcore fans were able to figure out who inspired each track through her clever hidden messages within the pages of her liner notes. It gave a sense that she was communicating with her fans directly, and played into her role as a down-to-earth girl who just happened to make multi-platinum records. The sense Taylor was somehow “normal” had a lot to do with her appeal.
“I think it all comes down to who you surround yourself with and how strong your morals are,” she told CMT in 2007. “Before I make a decision, I stop and think about the 10-year-old girl I saw last night at my concert in the front row. I think about her mom. I think about how they bought my CD, thinking that I’m a good role model. Then I think about how they would feel if I did something to let them down. I can’t imagine a greater pain than letting one of those mothers down. I honestly can’t.”
As Swift’s success grew her moral compass never faltered and the hits kept on coming. “Teardrops On My Guitar” was the best-charting single off Swift’s debut, peaking at No. 13 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart. It would later become her first pop crossover hit, reaching No. 11 on the Pop 100 chart. Her debut album even included the pop version of the song which swapped out the banjo for a drum loop. So, while 1989 was Swift’s “first documented, official pop album” she’s had her eye on the pop charts for a long time.
Her fourth single, the angst-ridden “Picture to Burn” was a warning of Swift’s ability at revenge anthems (later, there would be “Bad Blood” and “Mean”) where she warns a good-for-nothing ex-boyfriend not to mess with her. Swift let the boys know back in 2006 to be careful how they treated her.
“To all the boys who thought they would be cool and break my heart, guess what? Here are 14 songs written about you. HA,” she writes in the liner notes of her debut album.
Over and over again, though, Swift had the last laugh.
Now a global pop star in her twenties, and ten years after Taylor Swift, the singer’s dedication to the craft of songwriting and her unyielding work ethic continue with no sign of stopping. She continues to set the bar higher and higher with each record, and one thing is certain: there is nothing Taylor Swift can’t do once she puts her mind to it. And we’re looking forward to seeing what she does next.