It’s hard to narrow down the genius of Taylor Swift, that wonderful lion of a woman in high-waisted shorts. Her friend Jack Antonoff of the band fun. once called her “the closest thing today that hearkens to Michael Jackson.” Lately, the only thing that gets a Swift song out of our heads is a new Taylor Swift song. And if you’re not randomly punching your fist in the air yelling “Hey!” then you’ve got bad blood with your spirit animal. However, the young singer — still just a self-made 25-year-old — is flexing bigger muscles than her vocal chords. On Sunday, the musician’s polite but firm recrimination of Apple’s royalties policy single-handedly prodded one of the most powerful companies in the world to reverse course with a sheepish mea culpa. “A word from our future president,” Elvis Costello tweeted, sharing Swift’s shrewdly worded argument. “Right on. You tell ‘em, Girl.” That’s girl with a capital G, mind you. Swift is is a gifted songwriter. She is pop music’s most reliable hit-maker. She is an extraordinarily shrewd and generous policy maker (last year she pulled her music from streaming service Spotify, not merely out of concern for her monstrous bottom-line, but for working musicians everywhere). She is a sister to her girlfriends, many of whom are talented, less mainstream musicians (hi, Haim!) who graciously benefit from her shine. In an age when young women in the public eye confuse their sense of self-worth, blithely declaring themselves not to be feminists without understanding the recklessness of their words, Swift is a woman unapologetic of her roar. When OK! magazine ran a ridiculously misleading headline over the weekend —“Harry Styles ex-girlfriend made a pregnancy announcement!”— teasing a story about Swift blessing some fans’ happy news, she threw down on Twitter. "@OK_magazine this misleading headline and your choice of words in labeling me are why we need feminism in 2015."
Tabloids, take note. Because you know what the least interesting thing about Taylor Swift happens to be? Who’s she dated, who’s she dating, and who she’ll date in the future. Admittedly, I do wish she had been less churlish in her response to Tina Fey and Amy Poehler affectionately ribbing her dating instincts at the 2014 Golden Globes when they advised her to leave Michael J. Fox’s son alone, and indulge in some “me time.” The singer later quoted Madeline Albright in response to their joking. “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” (Oh honey, that dog won’t hunt. Fey and Poehler are your Sister Queens.) If life played out like a high school film, Swift would manage to have the best traits of every archetype. She is the Homecoming Queen who would slice the King if she ever heard him call a girl a bitch, or tease a boy for being gay. She is the debate club captain, who can calmly deliver logical and relatable arguments. In her letter to Apple — disarmingly titled “To Apple, Love Taylor” — she promised to withhold her album 1989 in solidarity with songwriters, and producers who’d actually suffer from lost royalties. “We don’t ask you for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation.” She is, echoing Costello’s endorsement, a productive class president who understands the value of taking a stand for what she believes in. In a way she is also the nerd, having a delightful, goofy ball in her “Shake It Off” video. And she's the drama geek, too, living it up with her cabal of allies in the “Bad Blood” video. The true brilliance of Swift is not just her ability to step into the shoes of so many, conveying a relatability rare among the rich and famous. Nor is it her knack for interacting with her fans — directly and genuinely — more than any other celebrity. It’s her willingness to own and explore all sides of herself — as a musician, a social activist, an industry needle mover — and understand how to utilize them for the greater good. That's what gives her her power. In a 2014 op-ed for The Wall Street Journal Swift wrote: “My hope for the future, not just in the music industry, but in every young girl I meet…is that they all realize their worth and ask for it.” The genius of Taylor Swift is that she knows her worth. The gift is that she stands up for ours as well.