Taylor Swift: Country? Pop? Hipster? Something else? We explore.

The mysterious Taylor Swift, she of many faces. performs at the 2013 CMT Music Awards. Who is she, really?
The mysterious Taylor Swift, she of many faces. performs at the 2013 CMT Music Awards. Who is she, really?
Published Oct. 27, 2015

It couldn't be more fitting that Taylor Swift is bringing her epic, electric 1989 World Tour to Tampa's Raymond James Stadium on Halloween night. All summer long, Swift has played dress-up with her celebrity friends, trying on dozens of musical "costumes" as she's stomped across America like an Amazonian Annie. At more than half of her 60-plus North American tour stops, Swift has trotted out celebrity guests to sing hits of their own, while Swift sings along and fangirls out just like her audience. All eyes are now on Tampa, Swift's final North American stop in support of her gigantic hit album 1989, to see who she'll bring out and what she'll be wearing. To prepare you, let's look back at the many versions of Swift we've seen on this epic pop extravaganza — and try to figure out where she'll go next. — Jay Cridlin, Times Pop Music/Culture Critic

"We're too busy dancing to get knocked off our feet." — New Romantics

Even back when she was still writing country records, Swift was pretty much a pop star. She broadened her fan base a bit with 2012's Red, then went all-in on pop with 1989. Today there isn't a pop artist alive who wouldn't kill to work with her, which is why so many have joined her on tour: Selena Gomez, Ellie Goulding, Nick Jonas, Jason DeRulo, Fifth Harmony, Charli XCX and Ryan Tedder, among others. Swift even got to live out a teenage fantasy by singing Mirrors alongside her onetime 'NSync crush Justin Timberlake. If you consider each of these cameos a co-signer on Swift's worthiness in the pop world, then there's no costume needed — she already fits right in.

"The girl in the dress wrote you a song." — Dear John

One argument against 1989 is that Swift traded some of her preternaturally sharp and self-reliant songwriting for studio pop by committee, working with collaborators like Swedish svengalis Max Martin and Shellback. But she hasn't abandoned her respect for the craft. "I'm not confident about a lot of other aspects of my life, but I know how to write a song," she recently told GQ. She's shown this by sharing stage time with a handful of singer-songwriters, from superstars like Ed Sheeran to veterans like Alanis Morissette to 2015 breakout acts like Rachel Platten and Andy Grammer. She even brought the legendary Joan Baez onstage in Santa Clara, Calif. — though, unfortunately, Baez merely danced during Style. Huge missed opportunity there.

"When you think Tim McGraw, I hope you think my favorite song." — Tim McGraw

Reports of Taylor Swift's exile from Nashville have been greatly exaggerated. Yes, 1989 is a huge and unabashed pop album, and yes, Swift is mostly ignoring her old hits on this tour. But she's invited a who's who of country music to join her at various stops — A-list veterans like Keith Urban, Miranda Lambert and the Dixie Chicks' Natalie Maines; hot bands like the Band Perry and Little Big Town; up-and-comers like Sam Hunt and Kelsea Ballerini; even Americana icon Alison Krauss. At least part of her heart is still in Nashville. Somewhere deep in her lavish New York apartment, she's probably still got the boots to prove it.

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"... Hide away and find your peace of mind with some indie record that's much cooler than mine." — We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together

To a generation of tweens, teens and 20-somethings, Swift will always be cool, no matter what she does. But there will forever be haters with a case of chronic side-eye, too hip to appreciate the biggest pop star on the planet. To appease them, Swift has reached out to friends with indie appeal, from radio-friendly acts like Imagine Dragons, Walk the Moon, Tove Lo and Echosmith to truly cool kids like Beck, Lorde, St. Vincent and Haim. Always so self-aware, Swift seems to know just where she stands in the minds of tastemaking hipsters. How long before she drops 1989 on cassette?

"She wears short skirts, I wear T-shirts. She's cheer captain, and I'm on the bleachers." — You Belong With Me

You Belong With Me was always a little ridiculous. Did anyone really believe this tall, blond, beautiful, talented singer couldn't compete with the so-called popular girls in school? By the time it came out as a single, she'd already been romantically linked to a Jonas brother. Still, in her 20s, Swift has really embraced the supermodel lifestyle, as reflected by the many bombshells who've catwalked onto her 1989 stage: Heidi Klum, Gigi Hadid, Karlie Kloss, Lily Aldridge, Cara Delevingne, Martha Hunt, Candice Swanepoel and more. Surprise, surprise: Swift looks right at home among them.

"Darling, I'm a nightmare dressed like a daydream." — Blank Space

Taylor Swift may never write a song about slinging crack. But at least we'll always have Aug. 8, 2015, the night Swift sang Trap Queen with Fetty Wap in Seattle. She introduced the New Jersey croon-rapper by calling him "one of the most grounded, sweet people I've ever gotten to hang out with," proving she has a soft spot for pop's bad boys. (Of course, Swift herself has never shied away from writing biting lyrics and dis tracks.) Swift has also performed See You Again with Wiz Khalifa and Can't Feel My Face with The Weeknd, and sang and danced backup for Nelly on Hot In Herre. Someone get her a spot on the cover of XXL!

"You've got that James Dean daydream look in your eye..." — Style

Swift isn't just a music A-lister. She's an entertainment A-lister, meaning she can ask just about any celebrity to strut down her runway while she sings: Julia Roberts, Lena Dunham, Ellen DeGeneres, Chris Rock, Mariska Hargitay, Matt LeBlanc, Hailee Steinfeld and more. She's even convinced a few of them to strap on a guitar and sing, too. At one stop, Orange Is the New Black Emmy winner Uzo Aduba sang White Horse. Even more impressively, Swift convinced Lisa Kudrow to come out and sing her Friends mini-hit Smelly Cat in character as Phoebe Buffay. It's only a matter of time before Swift leans in on acting and conquers Hollywood the same way she conquered pop music.

"I think I should take some time off. I think people might need a break from me." — interview with NME, October 2015

The world is obsessed with figuring out who Swift really is, beyond the trophies and tabloids, beyond the style and the #Squad. For the millions who adore Swift in all her dressed-up glory, there are many who just want to see her stripped back to her original, earnest self, a smart and thoughtful singer from the Pennsylvania suburbs. The stripped-down, "back to basics" album is a time-honored tradition in popular music, and you can bet Swift will someday go there. Perhaps she's already thinking about it. Alt-country singer-songwriter Ryan Adams' recent song-for-song cover of 1989 showed that even Swift's slickest songs can be, at their core, devastatingly honest and affecting. She, too, has an album like this inside her. Maybe after she leaves Tampa, she'll go away for a little while to find it. If so, we'll all be okay. Adele's new album arrives next month.

Contact Jay Cridlin at or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.