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Learning from Taylor Swift

I almost titled this article, “Everything I Ever Needed to Know about Performance I Learned by Watching Taylor Swift,” except that I had learned most of what I needed to know long before she came along. Still, you can’t help but marvel at the young lady’s ascension.

She is one of the biggest pop stars in the world, heading toward a level of super-stardom that is almost incalculable. Her tours sell out the largest concert venues around the world and, in some cases, soccer and football stadiums.

I am not a fan in particular, although I do admire several of her songs, including “Forever and Always,” “Sweeter Than Fiction,” “Safe and Sound,” “Style,” “Blank Space,” and “Welcome to New York.” What captures my interest is her unflagging determination to offer a superior performance every time.

When Taylor Swift was 14 and 15, apparently she and her parents made the rounds to many TV and recording studios in Hollywood and Nashville asking if she could offer a live demo. Most producers said no and summarily dismissed her. The takeaway is that at an early age she had already intended to be a star performer. Today, she’s simply living out her dream.

Forever and Always
I saw her for the first time on “Saturday Night Live,” about six years ago. I only caught her performance midway but was mesmerized. Here was a tall, slender, teenage girl, not with the world’s greatest vocals, wailing away on a song called “Forever and Always.” She had such conviction in her singing that I, and apparently millions of others, was captivated. Who was this young lady? How did “SNL” find about her so early?

In observing her professionalism, one can’t help but marvel that she has mastered virtually all the techniques of effective performance. Among dozens of things she does exceedingly well, here are some worth contemplating for speakers:

Ten Tips
1. Taylor Swift’s stage presence is extraordinary. She most definitely owns the stage. Wherever she is appearing, for whatever size audience, under whatever conditions, you feel as if she is totally comfortable.

2. Her energy level is extraordinarily high and focused. You could say this about many singers, but if you watch any Taylor Swift performance you’ll quickly notice that she uses all 5’10″ of her height and all 122 pounds of her weight in her performance.

3. Her movements are coordinated and appropriate to the song, the audience and the venue. Objectively, she does nothing out of the ordinary, but she prances and moves about on stage in a way that keeps the audience riveted. Obviously, she has worked out all of this well in advance, and the preparation pays off.

4. Her connection to the audience is amazing. Through gestures, eye contact and a variety of other stagecraft techniques, you get the sense that she is totally there, in every performance. Some singers and performers allow you to watch. Some induce you to watch. Taylor Swift performs in way that all you want to do is watch.

5. Unbeknownst to many, she is a virtuoso pianist and plays other instruments as well. This capability helps, even during songs when she is not playing any instrument. When she does employ her guitar she is totally comfortable with it.

6. She is a student of performance. Recently asked to be a coach on the hit television show “The Voice,” she astounded the four regulars coaches -- Adam Levine, Gwen Stefani, Pharrell Williams and Blake Shelton -- by instantly assessing their team members’ practice sessions and, in a matter of seconds, offering insightful suggestions that immediately improved their performances.

Note: If you haven’t seen “The Voice” episodes when Taylor Swift was coaching, go online to the many segments available on YouTube. Although she’s only 25 years old (born in December, 1989), she has stated that she makes mental notes of every performance she’s seen, whether at the American Music Awards, the Country Music Awards or the Grammys. She didn’t go to college, but she certainly is an excellent student and her unparalleled performance wisdom belies her tender age.

7. She is constantly evolving. Whether or not you like her music, if you take the word of top critics and music aficionados, it’s undeniable that each album has gotten better. She recently made the choice to forsake country music and focus on pop music, whereas she had been straddling the line for years. Her latest album, “1989,” the year of her birth, has won critical acclaim from the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and Time magazine, among legions of other publications.

8. As far as one can tell, she is down-to-earth. During an interview on the “Jimmy Kimmel Show,” she stated that album reviews do matter and any artist who says they don’t is not being honest. How she maintains an air of humility and that common-person touch probably can be attributed to her parents. At some point, however, you have to concede that the young lady has what it takes in terms of looks, personality and sufficient talent to make herself a star.

9. As her fans -- Swifties -- know, and many critics have lamented, her songs are highly personal, representing her relations with men, with friends and her life’s events. Because she is self-disclosing, many fans gave her an immediate pass. Today, it is understood that Taylor Swift writes songs from her personal experiences that have meaning for her and, happily, also have meaning for her listeners.

10. Taylor Swift lives in the now and has a focus on the future. Her decision to abandon country for pop was done with the realization that she’ll be in the business for the long haul and that the popular music route will enable her to grow and expand in novel ways. In past decades, many performers who have attempted to leave one music genre for another have not always fared so well. Taylor Swift made the switch young enough to recover from any potential setback but with the success of “1989,” apparently has already leapfrogged over that hurdle.

This post first appeared on Opening Keynote, please read the originial post: here

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Learning from Taylor Swift


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