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Taylor Swift and the Work of Songwriting
Contemporary Music Review  (IF),  Pub Date : 2021-07-16, DOI: 10.1080/07494467.2021.1945226


In her 2016 speech accepting the Grammy Award for Album of the Year for 1989, Taylor Swift gave a message directed at any young women who were watching: ‘focus on the work’. Taking Swift’s emphasis on ‘the work’ as a guide, this article surveys Swift’s changing compositional techniques and her reception as a songwriter over the course of her career. Though one of the most-discussed figures in popular culture, there exists little analysis of the musical works that remain the fulcrum of Swift’s artistry and ‘artist-brand’. Gender and genre bias have clouded perception of Swift’s particular skills and techniques. To begin an analysis of the work of Taylor Swift, this article traces her stylistic development through a series of song case studies drawn from successive albums, her collaborations with co-writers and producers, and the 2016 hit by Calvin Harris and Rihanna that was co-written by Swift under a pseudonym, ‘This is What You Came For’. By listening closely to her recorded output, we can hear how a modern songwriter responds to commercial pressures to evolve while retaining a coherent musical identity—and how Swift’s respect for ‘the work’ might motivate her activism around issues of ownership and authorship in the music industry.