Heading into the sold-out run of five Los Angeles shows starting Friday night at Staples Center downtown, pop superstar Taylor Swift is not only one of the most popular musicians in the world but also one of the most influential.
Her "1989" album became Swift's third in a row to sell more than 1 million copies in its first week of release, making it the fastest-selling album in more than a decade. In just the first 10 stops of her North American tour in support of the album, Swift vaulted into the top 10 of the highest-grossing acts this year.
Forbes recently estimated her net worth at $200 million, and she is the youngest woman ever to appear on its ranking of the "100 Most Powerful Women," a list that this year also included Beyoncé, Madonna and Ellen DeGeneres.
Earlier this year, Swift challenged tech monolith Apple Inc. — politely but firmly — over its June rollout of its streaming service Apple Music, during which the company originally said it would not pay royalties to musicians during the three-month free trial period.
Apple Music chief Eddy Cue reversed the company's policy within 18 hours of Swift's open letter being published to her personal Tumblr page online, where it caught fire on social media. She argued that it was unfair to ask the vast majority of musicians who are not multimillionaires to bear the cost of promoting the new venture.
Persuading one of the world's richest corporations to bow to her will is a testimony to the clout that Swift enjoys, and it's one example of the way Swift exerts her vision of how the power of her celebrity can be used constructively.
"I'm lucky to see what life looks like living it on my own terms," she told The Times last fall. "That's not to say I'm not influenced by other people, but the more you grow up, the more your intuition tells you the right thing to do."
That attitude has attracted a wide variety of figures across the pop culture spectrum into her circle of friends and onstage to share her spotlight on this latest tour. She says it's one way she tries to keep an element of surprise in each show in an age when it can seem that a pop star's every move is recorded and uploaded immediately to YouTube for the world to see.
There have been a slew of pop stars joining her at various shows, including Lorde, Jason Derulo, Ciara, Sam Hunt and Fifth Harmony. She's also invited Hollywood favorites Julia Roberts, Lena Dunham, Heidi Klum and Kendall Jenner as well as tennis champ Serena Williams and the entire U.S. Women's Soccer National Team after its World Cup win in July.
Another noteworthy guest showed up last week in Santa Clara: folk music queen Joan Baez, the woman whose crystalline voice first helped put the music of Bob Dylan on the map more than half a century ago.
Baez, along with Roberts, joined Swift during the song "Style." Right after the show, Swift tweeted that "These two women are my heroes. What an honor."
Baez's presence tacitly gave Swift a vote of confidence as a songwriter from rock music's old guard — a community that's often at a distance from today's hottest pop, rock and R&B stars.
But songwriting may be the facet of her career that's closest to her heart. Even at age 17, Swift told The Times, she thought that was what would set her apart in an overcrowded field.
"I realized that there are thousands of girls going up and down Music Row [in Nashville] who are gorgeous and who have amazing voices and who can sing higher and louder than me. Somehow I had to find a way to stand out and be the different one."
Speculation is rampant over who she'll bring out with her during her Staples performances Friday, Saturday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Pop star Selena Gomez is high on the list of possibilities. After an interview with a U.K. radio station, the station tweeted that Gomez was confirmed to appear with Swift at one of her shows.
Another logical candidate would be indie rock singer-songwriter Ryan Adams, amid releasing his versions of every song from her "1989" album. This week he issued his rendition of "Shake It Off," the album's lead-off single that spent two weeks atop Billboard's Hot 100 Singles chart, and Swift's accompanying video has racked up more than 995 million views.
"She's the real deal," veteran maverick singer and songwriter Steve Earle told The Times recently of Swift, who has won the respect of critics and peers while crafting catchy pop songs that have garnered her multiple awards over the last nine years.
When her 2010 album, "Fearless," took the Grammy Award for album of the year, she became the youngest recipient of the music industry's top album honor. She had just turned 21. To date, she's collected seven Grammys, two of which also recognize her work co-producing her recordings.
Her confessional style of songwriting — drawing on a broad swath of experiences from her own life as well as from those her friends have shared with her — have helped generate an exceptionally strong bond with fans, sometimes called "Swifties." But she's also drawn criticism on several fronts, including technical flaws in her voice and aspects of her personal life that have played out in the tabloids. Some of these relationships, which have involved fellow celebrities such as John Mayer and One Direction's Harry Styles, have been fodder for Swift's songwriting as well.
"I've had every part of my life dissected — my choices, my actions, my words, my body, my style, my music," she once told Rolling Stone. "When you live your life under that kind of scrutiny, you can either let it break you, or you can get really good at dodging punches. And when one lands, you know how to deal with it. And I guess the way that I deal with it is to shake it off."
That was in reference to the song by that name, but Swift has shown a determination and resilience to manage the extraordinary scrutiny that has come with her level of fame, and she often does it with a sense of humor.
In March, the National Enquirer reported, citing anonymous sources, that she had insured her legs for $40 million. Shortly after, Swift posted a photo on Instagram of lengthy nasty-looking scratches on her legs she received from one of her cats.
"Great work, Meredith," she wrote under the photo. "I was just trying to love you and now you owe me 40 million dollars."