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Inside Taylor Swift's 'unconventional climb' to billionaire status

The Folklore singer's refusal of brand deals is like 'a magician refusing a wand'

Inside Taylor Swift's 'unconventional climb' to billionaire status
Millie Jackson
Freelance Writer
4 April 2024
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Taylor Swift is the latest celebrity to land in the Forbes billionaires list, with an estimated net worth of $1.1bn making her the 2,545th richest person in the world and 14th richest celebrity billionaire. 

The singer, 34, joins the likes of Kim Kardashian, Oprah Winfrey and Jay-Z in the rarified ranking – but with a key difference. She is "the first person to [reach billionaire status] based solely on songwriting and performing", according to Forbes. Demonstrating the customary importance of brand deals to celebrity fortunes, Forbes reported Kim Kardashian's shapewear brand Skims was recently valued at $4bn, and Jay Z sold 50% of shares in his champagne company for at least $300 million.  

As for Miss Americana, she became the brand – an “unconventional, unexpected, and utterly mesmerising” transformation, Mark Borkowski, brand expert and founder of PR agency Borkowski, tells HELLO!  And it didn't happen by accident.

Taylor's prodigious childhood

Taylor was born in 1989 in Pennsylvania, and wrote her first song Lucky You when she was a mere 12 years old. To help her country music career, Taylor and her family relocated to Nashville when she was 14. 

In 2005 she caught the attention of an executive who was making his own independent record label, Big Machine Records, and from there went from strength to strength as she continued to release singles and albums including Fearless, Speak Now and Red.  

Taylor Swift in a purple dress with make up © Getty
Young Taylor Swift in her Fearless era

With each new song, Taylor gained more and more traction, collecting accolades and awards as her fanbase grew. 

“She's not just a singer; she's a narrative weaver, a community builder, and a master of the art of connection," says Mark. “Her wealth isn't just in dollars but in the devotion of her followers, the Swifties."

Swiftie superpower

Having devoted fans isn't a unique phenomenon, but where Taylor's rise to billionaire status contrasts with other celebrity billionaires is how her fans have been made to feel a part of her empire.

Taylor Swift fans pose with her merchandise© Getty
Swifties pose with merch outside the Eras Tour

"By harnessing the adoration of millions of fans around the world, her Swifties, she's turned into a merchandise powerhouse, with her singular brand power so strong she no longer needs the support of big corporates to sell personalised wares," says Susannah Streeter, head of money and markets at Hargreaves Lansdown.

Fellow pop superstar Rihanna, with an estimated net worth of $1.4bn, actually came in a few places higher (9th) in the Forbes celebrity billionaire chart. But Rihanna's approach to racking up her fortune has been far more orthodox, with the Diamonds singer opting for deals with companies like Puma and Dior, and building two mega-successful brands, Savage x Fenty and Fenty Beauty.

Rihanna poses in a yellow top and skirt © Getty
Pop star Rhianna at the Fenty Beauty launch party in 2017

"Taylor Swift's ascension to the billionaire's club is an incredible corporate play controlled by a series of smart talent, savvy business manoeuvres, and an ardent fanbase,” says Mark.

"Her unconventional climb is a refusal to lean heavily on brand deals, and is akin to a magician refusing a wand. This deviation from the norm isn't surprising but rather a testament to her brand of magic." 

Taylor's toughness

Taylor's magical powers also extended to a fierce battle with the music industry's own 'magical power' Spotify.

After the release of her first pop album 1989 in November 2014, Taylor removed her entire music catalogue from the streaming behemoth, on the grounds that its model didn't pay artists fairly. 

Taylor Swift poses with her Grammy collection© Getty
Taylor and her Grammys

Taylor also wrote an open letter to Apple Music when it failed to pay artists royalties for a three-month free trial after launching in 2015, saying the move was "shocking" and "disappointing". Apple Music changed their policy the next day.  

It took three years for Taylor to put her music back on Spotify and other streaming services, to celebrate 1989 selling over 100 million albums worldwide. 

Taylor's Version 

Taylor's willingness to fight back against the system continued when she left Big Machine Records in 2019 and her albums were acquired by US entrepreneur Scooter Braun – meaning that he was in control of the majority of her work. The situation quickly escalated into a Taylor versus Scooter feud

Taylor took to Tumblr to protest his control over her work, saying: "The message being sent to me is very clear. Basically, be a good little girl and shut up. Or you'll be punished. This is WRONG. Neither of these men had a hand in the writing of those songs." 

While many celebrities pitched in, Kelly Clarkson suggested that Taylor re-record her albums, which she did, with the added '(Taylor's Version)' to signify to fans her ownership. Forbes said: "an estimated $500 million of her earnings came from the increasing value of her music catalogue."

Taylor Swift and Kelly Clarkson pose. They are both wearing black© Getty
Double trouble: Taylor poses with Kelly

Taylor's paradox

Taylor's determination to have total ownership and creative agency over her music has made her even more likeable to her fans, and this likeability is one of the keys to her success. Photos of her cats and videos of the singer high on pain medication keep Taylor connected to Swifties everywhere: megastar and girl next door in equal measure. She's like Beyoncé and Adele rolled into one – the Taylor Swift paradox.

Add to this hybrid  a splash of the business mind of Oprah Winfrey, who also features in Forbes' celebrity billionaires list, and it's no wonder we can't keep our eyes off Taylor Swift.

Oprah on stage behind a mic wearing a purple dress© Getty
Oprah is worth $2.8bn

Mark is quick to praise Taylor's business approach: "Primarily focusing on her music, her fans, and her savvy reclaiming of her master recordings, [she] is like a breath of fresh, non-commercialised air. It challenges the traditional narrative and reminds us that in the end, content still reigns supreme." 

Team Taylor

In Kelly Clarkson's original tweet, she said: “I'd buy all of the new versions just to prove a point”, wise advice highlighting the pivotal role of her support network in Taylor's ascent to stardom. Indeed, while there's no 'I' in team there is a 'T', and Taylor's road to riches hasn't been travelled alone. From her parents supporting her as a child by moving to Nashville, to having the right people around her to advise on all aspects of mega stardom, 'team Taylor' has been a vital part of her career to date. 

The importance of teamwork isn't lost on Jonathan Gold of London & Capital. "A vital part of achieving and then maintaining such levels of success are having the right team around you," Jonathan tells HELLO!. "Having a cohort of advisors that are experienced in managing talent through their growth phases is key. They can help navigate the commercial, legal and tax minefield, with a view to maintaining the star's brand appeal and preserving their wealth.”

The Eras Tour 

The most visual symbols of Taylor's ability to harness her songs, fans and family and team into an unstoppable, wealth-driving force of nature are her tours.

Taylor on stage wearing purple ballgown and singing into a mic© Getty
A lavender haze for Taylor onstage at the Eras Tour

The 1989 World Tour broke records when it grossed $181.5 million. Then Reputation broke records as the highest-grossing North American concert tour in history, notching up $345.7 million worldwide to boot.

Taylor on stage wearing black and dancing© Getty
Reputation dropped after Taylor disappeared from social media for a year in 2016

The Eras tour, combining all of Taylor's albums, began in March 2023, comprising 152 shows over five continents. She made approximately $190 million in the first leg of the tour and a further $35 million from Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour, the highest-grossing concert film of all time. 

Hot property 

If all this weren't enough, then Taylor is also more than a dab hand in the world of real estate. As well as income from touring and album sales, Taylor has an impressive portfolio of properties: a New York townhouse, a Rhode Island beach house, two properties in Nashville, including a penthouse, and two Beverly Hills estates. Property is widely viewed  as the best investment, and so Taylor's involvement doesn't come as a surprise to Hargreaves Lansdown's Susannah Streeter.  

The famous Rhode Island property where Taylor has been known to celebrate 4th July© Getty
The Rhode Island property where Taylor has been known to celebrate 4th July with famous pals

"[Taylor's] a girl that likes to have funds. Wall Street is alight with reports that she invests in CEFs (closed ended funds), which are portfolios of shares and other assets."  

The Taylor effect

From Nashville country singer to global musical sensation to billionaire, there's seemingly nothing Taylor Swift can't do. She even caused more people to watch the NFL, with her presence at Kansas City Chiefs player Travis Kelce's games being dubbed 'the Taylor effect', where everything she touches goes viral.

Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce kiss, surrounded by photographers© Getty
It's a love story for Taylor Swift and boyfriend Travis Kelce

Taylor’s trajectory shows no signs of slowing. In fact, she’s so influential that one day people could see her turn her attention to the White House. From Miss Americana to President Swift? Here's hoping!

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