It Started With “Shake It Off”

How Gen Z & I grew up on Taylor Swift – and we still are


Wikimedia Commons

Taylor Swift on her ‘1989’ tour in Detroit Michigan on May 30, 2015. ‘1989’ marked Swift’s transition from country to pop music, seeing a massive increase to her fan base everywhere.

Carly Philpott, Editor-in-Chief

I grew up on Taylor Swift.

It’s funny, because when I was in elementary school or so, I thought Taylor Swift was ridiculous. I openly mocked the whole “Swiftie” thing that emerged. That all changed with “Shake It Off.”

The lead single on Swift’s fifth album, 1989, “Shake It Off” was the first time I was exposed to a female artist since Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” my favorite song as a preschooler. Sure, I’d heard other women singing on the radio, but for the most part, they’d been drowned out by the more popular male singers. Swift changed that. And I was in love with “Shake It Off.”

For many people of my generation, Swift’s music provides a backdrop for early memories. She began releasing hits as early as 2006, just a year after I was born. Even if you weren’t a Taylor Swift fanatic, her songs were everywhere. It’s hard not to associate her early work with parachutes in gym class and free writing time in second grade.

While “Shake It Off” was the first Taylor Swift song I cared about, I already knew plenty. “Love Story,” “22,” “Our Song,” “You Belong With Me”…there were plenty that highlighted my elementary school years. Then came 1989, with not only “Shake It Off,” but also “Blank Space” and “Wildest Dreams.”

Since 1989, I hadn’t followed Swift much. But without fail, her songs have followed me. At sleepaway camp, I stood on cafeteria tables and scream-sang “I Knew You Were Trouble” on Taylor Swift Tuesdays. On social media, I found meme after meme using Swift’s lyrics. And when “You Need To Calm Down” came out (from Swift’s seventh album, Lover), I watched the music video countless times.

Only recently have I adopted Swift’s music and become a so-called Swiftie. Nonetheless, she’s always been a part of my music life. And I think that impact is uniform across my generation.

If you need irrefutable proof of Taylor Swift’s grip on popular culture, just look at the success of her “Taylor’s Version” album re-releases.

In 2019, a conflict between Swift and her record company led her to switch companies. Starting with Lover, Swift is the sole owner of all of her music. But everything before Lover is still owned by her old company, which refuses to sell her the rights of any of it. And so, to own her music, Swift began the laborious process of re-recording and re-releasing the six albums before Lover.

These releases are just the same album we’ve heard over again, with a few tracks from Swift’s vault thrown in and the occasional lyrical change. And yet, both Fearless (Taylor’s Version) and last month’s Red (Taylor’s Version) have become instant chart-toppers, the talk of listeners everywhere. The recent version of Red includes a 10-minute version of “All Too Well” – 10 full minutes, and yet the song – and its 14-minute short film  – was a #1 hit, with fans publicly shaming Swift’s ex-boyfriend Jake Gyllenhaal, the latest in a long list of Swift’s exes memorialized (or demonized) in song.

Swift’s re-releases, aside from restoring ownership of her own songs, have opened the door for fans like myself to revisit nostalgic musical memories. She has captivated a massive audience with the same songs she captivated them with years ago. If that doesn’t show how crazily universal Taylor Swift is, I don’t know what does.

I know I, along with millions of others, am eagerly awaiting the re-release of 1989 so I can revisit classics like “Bad Blood,” “Welcome To New York,” and, of course, “Shake It Off.” And it’s easy to see why.

My generation and I grew up on Taylor Swift. And now, we’re lining up to experience that again as if it’s the first time. It’s just one example of how Swift has continuously left her mark on the music industry and every audience she touches.