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Column: Taylor Swift’s Influence on the Next Generation

By Jennifer Openshaw

I’ll admit, I don’t like being sucked into things, especially when it involves ratcheting up ticket prices.

But my daughter was one of those teens anxious to see the superstar live in concert.

I understood the power of Ms. Swift’s popularity, or so I thought. Afterall, hers was the only music my daughter would play when she hopped in the SUV.

But it wasn’t until we took our seats, about 2 football fields away from center stage, that I began to think more deeply about her influence. The crowd of 85,000 — by far mostly women and girls – was filled with tears, laughter, hugging, and maybe just a touch of empowerment. To be honest, I think my daughter walked out of that stadium a fraction of an inch taller – her chin held higher than when we entered.

Perplexed as to how Ms. Swift could garner such an audience and compel them to feel such a wide range of emotion, I sat down with two teen girls to dig deep and attempt to truly understand her influence. After that conversation I realized, Ms. Swift is not just a pop star, but a personal and professional role model, and as one girl stated, “a confidant.” As someone who has dedicated years to giving young women this same feeling of empowerment and strength that Ms. Swift could impart with just one heartfelt chorus, I wondered, how is Ms. Swift so easily training the next generation of women to ‘lead from the top’?

Through Ms. Swift’s songs and her on and off-stage presence, young women find someone who understands them — “someone who’s fighting the fight for them,” as they put it.

From depression and acceptance to standing up for yourself and taking charge, Ms. Swift’s songs address the problems of today’s teenagers.

Through her songs and business dealings, Ms. Swift shows them the way, generally serving as a confident and powerful role model of how someone who faces the same issues not only copes — but faces her challenges head-on. Though the use of creativity, confidence, experimentation and taking control of her situation, Ms. Swift demonstrates to millions of girls that there is nothing in their way that they can’t overcome.

Take, for example, Ms. Swift’s piece, “Nothing New,” performed with Phoebe Bridgers. As she introduced Ms. Bridgers, Ms. Swift admitted to her own fear when she started her career that people would tire of her.

In “Anti-Hero,” Ms. Swift shares her loathing following the public shaming involving Kanye West’s song, “Famous.”

“A mass public shaming, with millions of people saying you are quote-unquote canceled, is a very isolating experience,” Swift said to Vogue.

For this generation of young women, it’s comforting to hear that even a powerful celebrity has dealt with some of the same issues they have.

She has taken on issues that women face in business, both in lyrics and in her own career. In the song “The Man,” Swift wonders how her career would go if she were a man. “I’m so sick of running as fast as I can / Wondering if I’d get there quicker if I was a man,”.

And she has gone where no artist has — standing up to a male-dominated industry to achieve what no artist before her has in terms of ownership of her music, compensation, and creative control.

As she pointed out on stage at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, her music is her passion — and thus the strategic move to re-record her 6 albums, giving her full rights to her music. She shared with her audience the surprise to see her new “Taylor versions” gain more traction than she imagined.

Yes, the reality is that being a young woman is hard. Feelings of anxiety, rejection, and suffocating beauty standards are compounded when you add the professional challenges that women uniquely face. Women are told they must be tough, confident – dare I say, unbreakable.

But Ms. Swift challenges this narrative – she gives young women relatable and vulnerable music that encapsulates the struggles of growing up. Yet, she does this while taking charge of her brand, business, and standing up for herself every chance she gets. She shows girls a heart wrenchingly holistic picture of the growing pains of womanhood – and because of that she is deserving of every adoring fan out there.

We at Girls With Impact work to ensure that as many girls as possible have the opportunity, skills and tools needed to take control of their lives, of their stories, and of their futures. Our business and leadership training programs build the confidence and capabilities in girls to give them a leg-up as they move through various phases of education and career. While few will end up doing what Taylor Swift has done, through our program, many more will have a better chance to achieve their own version of success.

Thank you to Ms. Swift for being such an inspiration to millions of girls out there, for being a role model, and for demonstrating to her fans that life doesn’t dictate what you do or who you are. You have the potential to create your own future, just as Ms. Swift created hers.

Jennifer Openshaw is CEO of Girls With Impact, the nation’s leading non-profit business & leadership education program for young women 14-24, headquartered in Greenwich. www.girlswithimpact.org

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