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Image: Taylor Swift
Kevin Winter  /  Getty Images file
What, no meat dress? Taylor Swift is not Lady Gaga on stage or off, and for fans of the country star, that's a good thing.
By
TODAY contributor
updated 10/25/2010 9:12:51 AM ET 2010-10-25T13:12:51

The success of Taylor Swift flies in the face of seemingly every element it takes to be a female mega-star in today’s pop world. The singer-songwriter doesn’t have a sexualized image, she doesn’t make transparent bids for media attention, and her songs are introspective and confessional, not gimmicky and exhibitionist.

So how in the world did Swift have the top-selling album of 2009 with “Fearless” and sell out her entire 40-date tour despite the current slump in concert ticket sales?

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The answer is that Swift, whose new CD “Speak Now” drops Oct. 25, is saying things a lot of people want to hear. And she’s putting it across in a package that appeals to a lot of folks.

“The thing that makes Taylor really different from a lot of the young female stars that are out there right now is that she’s very relatable,” said Brian Mansfield, USA Today’s Nashville correspondent. “I think girls don’t see her so much as bigger than life than as more like their perfect selves. Taylor really runs counter to the archetype of the female pop star right now. You’ve got your Lady Gagas and your Christina Aguileras, but Taylor’s not at all like that in terms of her public image.”

Story: Swift expects feedback from subjects of her new album

While having a girl-next-door image might have meant a path to success for, say, Carole King back in 1971, today’s media landscape is less hospitable to artists whose emphasis is on songwriting, not showmanship.

“There’s so much competition that you have to do something to stand out,” said Ida Langsam, a veteran New York publicist whose client list has included Kiss and the Ramones. “Everything is instant and 24/7. The second you put down Rolling Stone with a story on Lady Gaga you’re picking up something else and she’s forgotten and then you’re moving onto whatever else.”

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Maintaining a “good girl” image isn’t easy within the pop industry, said Debbie Gibson, a teen star of the 1980s who said she remembers “fighting to wear high-tops instead of heels” in her videos.

“It is the hard road, but the high road,” said Gibson by email while on a tour stop in Manila with Children’s International. “It is nothing new for male record execs to wanna vamp up a little girl. It’s a way easier sell.”

A more honest pop star
Yet by offering fans a more down-to-Earth image than most any major female pop star in the past decade, the 20-year-old Swift has become an unlikely rebel in her own way.

“I think people like that there isn’t a lot of drama around her,” said Ken Tucker, managing editor of Country Weekly. “In a story I’m doing on her, we listed 13 reasons why we love Taylor Swift and one of them was basically that she’s the anti-Lindsay Lohan. Yes, there’s headlines about who she’s dating but that’s it. You’re not reading about her getting a DUI or being too revealing in terms of her clothing. She’s wholesome and I think people like that. That’s a refreshing change.”

Swift’s music is also defiantly her own, not the product of a production committee. According to her record label, Swift was the first female solo artist in country music history to write or co-write every song on a platinum-selling debut CD.

Image: Taylor Swift album "Speak Now"
AP
Taylor Swift's third album, "Speak Now."

On her sophomore effort, 2008’s “Fearless,” seven of the 13 tunes were penned by Swift alone, including the hits “15” and “Love Story.” On “Speak Now,” Swift penned 12 of the 14 songs by herself. The Y! Music Country Blog called the songs “startlingly candid,” especially “Dear John” and “December,” each of which are supposedly written about former famous flames. This hyper-personal approach to songwriting has been employed by artists ranging from Bob Dylan to Carly Simon to Alanis Morissette.

Swift bares all of her emotions on 'Speak Now'

“She seems completely honest, whether it’s in her music or interviews,” said Annie Reuter, a freelance music journalist who recently interviewed Swift for Marie Clare. “She lets the whole world know that in high school she wasn’t the popular girl. I think that’s what people find relatable — she’s an everyday girl.”

Alison Bonaguro, a freelance writer for Country Music Television.com, said she believes Swift’s confessional style strikes a chord with listeners. “She’s writing about her life both as a teenager and as a young adult and those are highly emotional years for any woman, whether you’ve outgrown that time of your life or you’re still living it,” Bonaguro said. “I have a 15-year-old daughter and I see her in that emotional state of her life. I’m 45, but I remember what it was like to be 14 or 15 like it was yesterday because you’re going through so much.”

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Growing up
It’s not easy for a pop star to grow up in public after becoming known to the public as an adolescent, according to Gibson.

“The danger in projecting an innocent image at a young age is that everyone makes a huge deal over it when you are eventually in touch with your sexuality and dressing ‘age appropriate.’” Gibson said. “People want to keep you sweet and innocent forever when it’s the first image you project.”

Tucker said Swift may be able to sidestep that pitfall because she’s an artist whose appeal extends beyond the novelty of the young age at which she started: “I think there are artists that sometimes the only hook that’s there is how young they are.”

Taylor Swift talks fame and boys

Swift, said Tucker, “at least so far, seems to have successfully turned that corner and made that transition (into adulthood). The songs on her new album are, I think, a little more grown up than the songs on her last album.”

Also in Swift’s favor is her background in country music, whose listeners are less enamored with flash-in-the-pan artists, Tucker said: “That’s the difference between country and pop. Country artists tend to have longer careers — not always, but tend to.”

“I think her ability to write about any emotional stage in a woman’s life has legs,” said Bonaguro. “I think Taylor will stay genuine.”

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Photos: Taylor Swift

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  1. Taylor and Timberlake

    Singer Taylor Swift, left, and Justin Timberlake, right, perform a skit during the Walmart shareholders' meeting in Fayetteville, Ark., on June 1, 2012. Swift has been a star since her early teens, and was described by the New York Times and Rolling Stone as one of music's best songwriters. (April L Brown / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Entertainer of the year

    Swift accepts the Entertainer Of The Year Award onstage at the 47th Annual Academy Of Country Music Awardsin Las Vegas on April 1, 2012. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Honored by the first lady

    Swift accepts The Big Help award from First Lady Michelle Obama onstage at Nickelodeon's 25th Annual Kids' Choice Awards in Los Angeles on March 31, 2012. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Down Under

    Swift performs live in Perth, Australia on March 2, 2012. (Paul Kane / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Loving the Lorax

    Swift arrives at the premiere of 'Dr. Seuss' The Lorax' at Universal Studios Hollywood in Universal City, Calif on Feb. 19, 2012. She voices a character named Audrey in the film. (Jason Merritt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Cover girl

    Swift appears on the cover of the February 2012 issue of Vogue. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Grammy girl

    Swift won Grammys for best country solo performance and best country song, both for "Mean," " at the 54th Grammy Awards in Los Angeles in February 2012. (Frederic J. Brown / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Smell like Swift

    Swift launches her debut fragrance, "Wonderstruck," at Macy's Herald Square in New York on Oct. 13, 2011. (Evan Agostini / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Opry singer

    Swift takes the stage during the Grand Ole Opry 85th birthday bash at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, Tenn., on Oct. 9, 2010. (Tony R. Phipps / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. That was 'Easy'

    Swift, right, jons actress Emma Stone, star of the film "Easy A," at the premiere of the film in Los Angeles, on Sept. 13, 2010. (Chris Pizzello / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Tap those feet

    Swift performs at the MTV Video Music Awards in Los Angeles on Sept. 12, 2010. (Matt Sayles / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Maine attraction

    Swift greets her fans after performing in Kennebunkport, Maine, on Aug. 27, 2010. The singer filmed her music video for the single "Mine" in the town made famous as a vacation spot for the family of President George H.W. Bush. (Robert F. Bukaty / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A lot of hardware

    Swift poses in the press room with her four awards during the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sunday, Jan. 31, 2010. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. In good company

    Katy Perry, left, Swift, Rihanna and Fergie pose during the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards -- Salute To Icons Honoring Doug Morris at The Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2010. (Larry Busacca / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. A Swift response

    Swift performs at the "Hope for Haiti Now: A Global Benefit for Earthquake Relief" in Los Angeles on Friday, Jan. 22, 2010. (Mark Davis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Taking in the big show

    Swift, left, and Sony CEO Howard Stringer speak at the Sony booth at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2010. (Paul Sakuma / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Thanking her people

    Swift accepts the award for favorite female artist during the People's Choice Awards 2010 at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live in Los Angeles on Jan. 6, 2010. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Holiday spirit

    John Mayer performs with Swift during Z100's Jingle Ball 2009 concert at Madison Square Garden in New York on Dec. 11, 2009. On her new album, due out Oct. 25, 2010, Swift addresses a reported romance with Mayer in a song called "Dear John." (Jason Szenes / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Country superstar

    Swift accepts the female vocalist of the year award as presenters Lee Ann Womack, left, and Kris Kristofferson look on at the 43rd annual Country Music Association Awards in Nashville, Tenn., on Nov. 11, 2009. (Tami Chappell / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Song remains the same

    For the second year in a row, Swift holds her songwriting award as she attends the 57th Annual BMI Country Awards in Nashville, Tenn., on Tuesday, Nov. 10. (Peter Kramer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Taylor times two

    Swift, left, and Taylor Lautner attend the NHL game between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Oct. 25, 2009. (Andrew D. Bernstein / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. They're jammin'

    Jason Aldean, from left, Hillary Scott, Swift, Charles Kelly, Faith Hill and Dave Haygood perform at the "We're All For The Hall" benefit for the Country Music Hall of Fame at the Sommet Center in Nashville, Tenn., on Oct. 13, 2009. (Larry Busacca / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Runway watcher

    Swift, right, and Penn Badgley, who plays Dan on "Gossip Girl," watch the Tommy Hilfiger spring 2010 collection during Fashion Week in New York on Sept. 17, 2009. (Diane Bondareff / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. An infamous moment

    Singer-rapper Kanye West takes the microphone from Swift as she accepts the best female video award during the MTV Video Music Awards in New York on Sept. 13, 2009. Later in the show, Swift got her chance to finish her acceptance speech. (Jason Decrow / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Dancing in the streets

    Swift performs on the street outside Radio City Music Hall during the MTV Video Music Awards in New York on Sept. 13, 2009. (Charles Sykes / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. From the heart

    Swift poses in front of her newly unveiled star at Mohegan's "Walk of Fame" in Uncasville, Conn., on Aug. 28, 2009. The teenage singer has snagged at least two Country Music Award nominations, including one for the show's highest honor: entertainer of the year. (Thomas Cain / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Rockin' out

    Swift performs during a concert at New York's Madison Square Garden on Aug. 27, 2009, as part of her "Fearless" tour, her first as a headliner. (Stephen Chernin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Mixing country and rock 'n roll

    Swift and Joe Elliott of Def Leppard perform at the CMT Music Awards in Nashville, Tenn., on June 16, 2009. (Mark Humphrey / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Hitting the keys

    Swift performs at the CMA Music Festival at in Nashville, Tenn., on June 14, 2009. (Josh Anderson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Wearing many hats

    T-Pain, left, and Swift rehearse for the 2009 CMT Music Awards at the Sommet Center on June 9 in Nashville, Tenn. (Austin K. Swift / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Teen star power

    Actress-singer Miley Cyrus, left, and Swift arrive at the premiere of Walt Disney Picture's "Hannah Montana: The Movie" at at the El Captian Theatre in Hollywood, Calif., on April 2, 2009. (Jeff Vespa / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. The love is gone

    Swift and then-boyfriend Joe Jonas at the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards at Paramount Pictures Studios in Los Angeles on Sept. 7, 2008. Jonas reportedly broke up with her over the phone. (Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Gripping image

    Swift, left, and Kellie Pickler pose backstage during the Academy Of Country Music New Artists' Show at the MGM Grand Ballroom in Las Vegas on May 14, 2007. (Michael Buckner / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. A star is born

    Swift accepts the award for "Breakthrough Video of the Year" for the song "Tim McGraw" onstage at the 2007 CMT Music Awards at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., on April 16, 2007. (Peter Kramer / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Playing the field

    Swift sings the National Anthem before a baseball game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Colorado Rockies on opening day at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on April 9, 2007. (Jeff Gross / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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Video: Taylor Swift rocks out to ‘Mine’

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