July 7, 2015 4:12 PM PT
The Taylor Swift strategy
Note: This story has not been updated for several years.
Apple Music and its attendant Beats 1 Internet radio station launched last week, to largely laudatory reviews from people who didn’t realize that radio was a thing that already existed. DJs curating collections of music broadcast to a mass audience? you could hear the millennials say in between cuts of Spring King and Pharrell Williams. This is Apple’s greatest innovation since the iPhone introduced the world to telephony. Meanwhile, in the Inventors Wing of the Happy Hunting Ground, Guglielmo Marconi and Alexander Graham Bell exchange eye rolls.
Through tireless journalistic investigation, I’ve come to the only possible conclusion to explain why Apple’s managed to win so much goodwill by putting radio on the Internet. It all comes down one to person, and one person alone. Without this person’s contributions to the cause, consumers might never have had the chance to give Apple even more of their money, and on a recurring basis, no less.
Yes, we all owe Taylor Swift a debt of gratitude.
The Émile Zola of modern pop looked Apple straight in the eye and declared, “J’accuse… Apple of not paying enough royalties.” Ms. Swift objected to Apple stiffing artists of royalties while its streaming music service was in its three-month trial period and decided to withhold her latest album from the service. Apple, no stranger to the lure of star power, quickly acquiesced, and musician and tech giant kissed and made up, not unlike the protagonists in one of Swift’s bouncier songs.
If you’re surprised how Swift-ly Apple changed course, don’t be. It is quite clear, from just a cursory examination of Apple’s comings and goings that Taylor Swift is regarded as a guru in the halls of Cupertino. Wise men look to her for counsel, and up-and-coming executives are just as likely to consult one of her albums for inspiration as they are the dog-eared pages of Peter Drucker’s works.
Consider the following Apple maneuvers, which come straight out of a curated Taylor Swift playlist.
- “Love Story,” the lead single off Swift’s 2008 Fearless album tells the story of Romeo and Juliet, but this time with a happy ending, because the idea of doomed lovers poisoning themselves is kind of a bummer, you know? Apple clearly wants to perform a similar reversal by working elements of Ping — its doomed attempt to meld social networking and music — into the new Apple Music service. Apple Music’s Connect feature lets users follow musicians and musicians post special content — nearly exactly what Ping offered. If bringing Ping back from the dead isn’t Apple’s efforts to rewrite a tragedy — or a comedy, depending on how you feel about the rare times the Fruit Company slips on a banana peel — then I don’t know what is.
Taylor Swift’s video for “You Belong With Me” captured the 2009 MTV Video Music Award for Best Female Video. But that moment of triumph was tarnished when Kanye West interrupted Swift’s acceptance speech to protest that Beyonce should have taken home the trophy instead. It is clear that Apple CEO Tim Cook and senior vice president of Internet software and services Eddy Cue were watching that evening. “How rude,” Cook probably remarked. “It’s never a good look interrupting someone,” Cue doubtlessly concurred. So six years later, when Jimmy Iovine and Drake rambled on and on about Apple Music at June’s Worldwide Developers Conference, Cook and Cue put their hard-learned lesson about proper etiquette to to the test and let those two speak, uninterrupted, for hours. Days. They may still be speaking.
“Blank Space” features Taylor Swift singing “I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream.” Those also happen to be the release notes for iTunes 12.
Consider these poignant words as sung by Taylor Swift in “Bad Blood”:
Did you have to do this? I was thinking that you could be trusted
Did you have to ruin what was shiny? Now it’s all rusted
Now take a look at Phil Schiller’s testimony in Apple’s patent lawsuit against Samsung:
“Now when someone comes up with a product that copies that design and copies that marketing, then customers can get confused on whose product is whose…. If you steal [the way the iPhone looks] you’re stealing all the value we’ve created.”
Coincidence? Probably, considering that Schiller gave that testimony in 2012 and “Bad Blood” came out in 2015. Or Phil Schiller is now co-writing songs with Taylor Swift, which seems like a thing he would do in a bid to revitalize his music career.
- “I used to think that we were forever ever,” Taylor Swift warbles in her seminal hit “We Are Never Getting Back Together. “And I used to say, ‘Never say never…’ Uggg… so he calls me up and he’s like, ‘I still love you,’ And I’m like… ‘I just… I mean this is exhausting, you know, like, We are never getting back together. Like, ever.'”
I have it on excellent authority that this is how Scott Forstall was dismissed as Apple’s head of iOS.
Don’t believe me? Then consider the follow-up hit “Shake It Off,” whereupon Swift sings about “the fella over there with the hella good hair.” Then wonder no more why the well-coiffed Craig Federighi gets so much stage time at Apple events these days.
- Scan the liner notes of the “Wildest Dreams” cut off the 1989 album, and you’ll discover that Taylor Swift sampled her own heartbeat as an instrument in the song. Clearly, this inspired the Apple Watch team to develop the smartwatch’s Digital Touch feature that allows you to send someone your heartbeat.
(I mean, that can be the only explanation for that feature, right?)
Tim Cook’s Apple has earned a reputation for breaking with the traditions of the past. What better example of lateral thinking than dancing to the beats laid down by Taylor Swift’s many drum machines?
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go back to combing through the lyrics of “I wish you would” for clues into the specs of the next iPhone.
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