Well, it had to happen. Taylor Swift has been the most talked-about person in the world for some time now. After 2023 saw her conquer both stadiums and the world’s cinemas with her Eras Tour film — which, with a current gross of $249 million, is now the highest-earning concert movie ever made — her remarkable year has been capped off both with the enormous success of her re-recorded album 1989 (Taylor’s Version) and now, the news that TIME magazine has awarded the thirty-three-year-old musician the accolade of Person of the Year. She follows in the footsteps of everyone from Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler to Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk.
There are several noteworthy features of the accolade. While she is not the youngest recipient of the title — that honor goes to Greta Thunberg, who became TIME’s Person of the Year in 2019, at the age of sixteen — she was featured in 2017 as part of a group known as “the Silence Breakers,” which also included actress Ashley Judd and software engineer Susan Fowler, all of whom became leading lights in the #MeToo movement. Swift therefore becomes the first woman to be recognized more than once (excluding every winner following 2006, when the Person of the Year was “You”), the first woman to appear twice on a Person of the Year cover and the first woman to be recognized for her contribution to the arts. In this, as in so many other things, Swift is nothing if not a trailblazer.
As TIME bestowed the award upon her — which, they note, is given to the person, object or movement that “for better or for worse… has done the most to influence the events of the year” — they described her as “the main character of the world.” They also wrote, with just a soupçon of hyperbole:
Swift’s accomplishments as an artist — culturally, critically and commercially — are so legion that to recount them seems almost beside the point. As a pop star, she sits in rarefied company, alongside Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and Madonna; as a songwriter, she has been compared to Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and Joni Mitchell. As a businesswoman, she has built an empire worth, by some estimates, over $1 billion. And as a celebrity — who by dint of being a woman is scrutinized for everything from whom she dates to what she wears — she has long commanded constant attention and knows how to use it.
Yet this year, as they observe, respect and recognition have given way to a kind of global awe at her and her achievements. Far more so than any musical act in living memory, she speaks to audiences of all ages, backgrounds and nationalities, and does so by creating perfectly crafted songs that feel as if they are timeless from the moment that they are first heard. As TIME observed, “To discuss her movements felt like discussing politics or the weather — a language spoken so widely it needed no context.”
When I first extolled my love for Swift in 2015, after realizing the timeless brilliance of her 1989 album, I felt faintly self-conscious; was there not something vaguely unwholesome, even unbecoming, about my declaration of adoration for a pop star, writing the kind of pop songs that my daughter would, eight years later, be just as obsessed with as I was?
Well, now we have our answer to that. It really is Taylor Swift’s world, if not her universe, and the rest of us just live in it. Naturally, there have been minor missteps along the way. TIME has a portrait on its cover of her posing with her cat, perhaps a sly reference to her ill-fated appearance in the disastrous film of Cats — and the knives are out for her for when she has her first proper failure. (I was never much of a fan of 2017’s Reputation album, which is generally regarded as less interesting and successful than those that preceded and succeeded it; still, sales of over 6 million suggest that many others liked it more than I did.) She is now in what the Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant called a musician’s imperial phase, where everything goes right and one’s every move and action are reported breathlessly by the world’s media. It is hard to begrudge her that honor.
Person of the Year? If it carries on like this, she’ll be the Person of the Decade, and who knows what after that. All hail Taylor; the true queen of our times.