After unleashing her record-breaking sixth studio album, making a bold sidestep from the public eye and taking a powerful stand against sexual assault, Access has named Taylor Swift the 2017 Artist of the Year.
Taylor re-emerged with rocket force in the final quarter of 2017 with her first major music release in three years – "reputation." The 27-year-old ‘s album was both a critical and commercial smash, earning rave reviews and selling over 1.6 million copies in its first three weeks of release.
Ironically, Access' Artist of the Year spent a majority of 2017 out of the spotlight. What makes her one of the most commanding pop culture figures is that even her absence was widely felt, leaving the world to wonder why she disappeared… and how she would return.
Taylor's 2017 dominance began quietly. Her social media blackout (coincidentally timed to the historic eclipse in August) foreshadowed a darker return to the public eye. Gone were the celebratory squad photos, cat selfies and self-deprecating Twitter observations. In their place came snake videos with vague descriptions alluding to her new project.
When Taylor re-surfaced on Aug. 24 in her video for “Look What You Made Me Do”, it broke YouTube's record for most global streams in a 24-hour period, amassing over 43 million views in the day it was released. Fans analyzed every frame as Taylor took to task the criticisms that detractors applied to her – the victim, the snake, the manipulator, the man eater – and deftly laid them all to rest through self-satire.
But "Look" was a mere ember within the fiery tracks of "reputation”, arguably one of the most complex and intoxicating pop albums of the year. One-half love songs likely inspired by her current boyfriend Joe Alwyn, one-half hot-blooded damnation to those who stoked her flame.
Taylor has always been a gifted lyricist, and that is what makes “reputation” so masterful. Case in point: the empowering track "This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things”, a taunting decree of independence as Taylor locks the gates surrounding her once-inviting persona.
"This is why we can't have nice things," she chants on the track. "Because you break them / I had to take them away."
Is this about Kim and Kanye or any of Taylor’s detractors? Or is the theme more universal? That’s the brilliance of Taylor’s songwriting – it’s layered. To attach a sole meaning diminishes her craft.
But what is most remarkable is that Taylor completely changed it up this year while remaining steadfastly true to who she is. The edgier look and darker musical themes seem completely natural. Even her approach to publicity has evolved: she hasn’t done a single interview to promote her new music.
Still, “reputation” sold over a million copies in its first week alone.
And if that doesn’t reinforce the power of Taylor Swift in 2017, this does:
This summer, Taylor faced a lengthy court case against ex-DJ David Mueller. Taylor accused the DJ of reaching under her skirt during a meet-and-greet and grabbing her bare rear end in 2013. The DJ retaliated by suing the singer for defamation after she reported him to his employer for sexual harassment. Taylor responded by counter-suing for a symbolic $1 – and won.
"My hope is to help those whose voices should also be heard," she said in a statement after winning her case.
That she did. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, or RAINN, reported that its national hotline saw a 35 percent increase in use following her victory in court. By showing neither fear nor shame as a victim of sexual harassment, Taylor demonstrated strength and courage in her pursuit of justice.
The pop star's trial was the prelude to what would become a storm of sexual harassment allegations in Hollywood, media and politics. TIME went on to include Taylor as a "Silence Breaker" in its 2017 Person of the Year profile for standing up and drawing the line against her sexual harasser, saying: "Her clear-eyed testimony marked one of several major milestones in the conversation around sexual harassment this year."
Taylor may have lain to rest her "reputation" this year, but she also celebrated something new entirely – the freedom to assertively and unapologetically be herself. And even if the haters continue"hate, hate, hate" – the whole world will continue to listen.