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
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
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
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:
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
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.
Labels: audience, mastery, performance, presentation, sing, speak