It’s hard to overstate the economic influence of Taylor Swift, says Martha Gill in The Observer. If she were an economy, the head of a research company points out, “she’d be bigger than 50 countries”. Granted, the 33-year-old musician is “probably a genius”. But is she really “50 countries more of a genius” than all those other artists out there? The truth is that she exemplifies a system in which a handful of winners sits above “legions of losers”. On Spotify, 1% of musicians pocket 90% of the revenues; to earn the equivalent of a year on the UK’s minimum wage, artists need to clock up a whopping six million streams. This can’t be good for music. How many potentially revolutionary artists have been ground out of the industry, “worn out or out of money”?
Unlike in sport, which is fiercely meritocratic, luck plays a huge part in who makes it in the arts. Experts certainly can’t be relied on to pick winners: Elvis was repeatedly turned down by record companies; JK Rowling was rejected by 12 publishers; the British talent-spotter Dick Rowe told the manager of The Beatles that “guitar groups are on their way out”. And consumers are inherently fickle – experiments have shown that when people are told a song is popular, they tend to like it more. Again, Swift may be better than all those “almost-Taylors”. But it’s worth considering that there’s probably another world in which she is still desperately struggling away in country music clubs, “and another artist is reigning king or queen”.