The Oct. 22 release of “Red,” Taylor Swift’s fourth album and another surefire hit, represents a watershed moment for the 22-year-old. After taking the music industry by storm as an upstart singer-songwriter with great tunes and an instantly relatable persona, Swift has now settled comfortably into the role of an ever-reliable megastar, perfectly capable of checking off the few career milestones that she hasn’t yet achieved. Before this year, Swift was the youngest CMA Entertainer of the Year, the youngest artist to ever win the the Grammy for Album of the Year, the artist responsible for 2009’s biggest album, and someone capable of rapping alongside Nicki Minaj or crooning next to James Taylor onstage. This year, Swift has become the creator of a Hot 100 chart-topper, and is about to guide a third album to the top of the Billboard 200 chart.
With a whopping 17.9 million career albums sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan, Swift’s appeal is as impressive as her rapid ascent to stardom. On the eve of “Red’s” release, Billboard takes a look back at the defining moments of Swift’s career, from her first single to her biggest sales week. Whether she’s launching a perfume or never ever getting back together with her ex, Swift has had a career full of unforgettable highlights — here are 10 of the biggest.
Taylor Swift Scores Debut Hit with ‘Tim McGraw’ (June 2006)
“Tim McGraw,” Taylor Swift’s first single from her eponymous album, was released four months ahead of her debut full-length on Big Machine Records, and hinted at the songwriting prowess the teenager had already developed. The three minutes and 52 seconds of delicious country-pop represented Swift’s first appearance on the Billboard Hot 100 and Country Songs chart, and in the six years since its release, “Tim McGraw” has sold 1.4 million downloads according to Nielsen SoundScan. The country singer-songwriter has had bigger (and arguably better) hit singles since, but watching her debut single become a breakout hit was something of a fairytale for the young star.
Taylor Swift Embarks on First Headlining Tour (April 2009)
Following the November 2008 release of sophomore album “Fearless,” Swift made a big move in becoming the touring phenom she is today by announcing her first-ever headlining tour, a 52-city trek that began in April 2009. Eventually, the Fearless tour would make its way across the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and even Japan before concluding in June 2010 with a grand total of 105 shows and a gross of $62.6 million, according to Billboard Boxscore. Long before her “Speak Now” global dominance, Swift was becoming one of country music’s most accomplished road warriors.
Kanye West Interrupts Swift’s VMA Speech (September 2009)
One of the defining moments of Taylor Swift’s career had nothing to do with the country star’s own actions: at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, Kanye West jumped onstage during Swift’s acceptance speech for Best Female Video, grabbed her microphone and told the crowd that Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” clip was more worthy of the award. The tirade left Swift stunned onstage, and West was forced to leave New York’s Radio City Music Hall shortly after. The unexpected meeting between the rapper and country singer resonated throughout pop culture long after that September night: West effectively disappeared for months and issued Twitter apologies before triumphantly returning in 2010 with “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” while Swift deemed the rapper an “Innocent” in a song on “Speak Now.”
Taylor Swift Makes History at CMA Awards (November 2009)
At 19 years old, Swift became the youngest Entertainer of the Year winner at the Country Music Association Awards when she first took home the top prize in 2009. Celebrating the year in which “Fearless” became a blockbuster hit, the CMAs graced Swift with trophies for Female Vocalist of the Year, Music Video of the Year for her “Love Story” clip, and Album of the Year for “Fearless.” “I’ll never forget this moment, because at this moment everything that I ever wanted has just happened to me,” a tearful Swift told the crowd. After ceding the Entertainer of the Year award to Brad Paisley in 2010, Swift regained the top prize at last year’s ceremony.
‘Fearless’ Named Top-Selling Album of 2009 (January 2010)
After “Fearless” started at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart in November 2008, Swift’s sophomore album and first chart-topper eventually outsold every other album in the U.S. in 2009. With 3.21 million copies sold that year according to Nielsen SoundScan, Swift barely squeaked by Susan Boyle’s “I Dreamed a Dream” (3.10 million) to claim the 2009 crown, weeks after Swift’s 20th birthday. “Fearless” certainly hasn’t stopped selling, either: to date, the hits-packed album has moved 6.6 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Taylor Swift Rules The 2010 Grammy Awards (February 2010)
The 2010 Grammy Awards represented a coming-out party for Swift on a national level: not only did she get to duet with Stevie Nicks on “You Belong With Me,” “Today Was A Fairytale” and the Fleetwood Mac classic “Rhiannon,” but the country star collected four trophies, including the top prize of Album of the Year for sophomore full-length “Fearless.” “I hope you know how much this means to me, and all my producers, that we can take this back to Nashville!” Swift exclaimed that night. At the age of 20, Swift became (and remains to this day) the youngest artist to win the prestigious Album of the Year award.
Taylor’s ‘Speak Now’ Sells 1 Million in 1 Week (October 2010)
If “Fearless” was the album that made Taylor Swift a household name, “Speak Now” was the follow-up that made her a superstar. Released in October 2010, Swift’s third album debuted on the Billboard 200 with a whopping 1,047,000 copies sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan — the biggest debut sales week since 50 Cent’s “The Massacre” five years earlier. Of course, the monster sales week was just the beginning: as Swift supported “Speak Now” through a world tour and collected more hit singles like “The Story of Us,” “Back To December” and “Mean,” her third album continued to do boffo business, and has since sold a total of 4.2 million copies, according to SoundScan.
Taylor Swift Launches ‘Wonderstruck’ Perfume (October 2011)
From girl-next-door country star to beauty brand leader, Swift unveiled her own fragrance, Wonderstruck, in October 2011, joining music stars like Beyonce and Britney Spears in releasing a perfume. “I think that fragrance has a lot to do with shaping people’s memories in the way that music does. …If you hear a song for the first time when you are in love with someone and then you break up and you hear the song again a couple years later, it’s gonna make you think right back to that moment when you first heard the song,” said Swift. The singer has racked up endorsement deals before and after the perfume launch, including Cover Girl and L.e.i. Jeans, but nothing represented the extension of Swift’s popular brand quite as pointedly as “Wonderstruck.”
Taylor Swift Is Billboard’s Woman of the Year (December 2011)
Taylor Swift capped off a year of supporting “Speak Now” on her world tour — visiting Asia, Europe and the United States, and bringing out special guests like Nicki Minaj, Jason Mraz and Selena Gomez along the way — by accepting Billboard’s Woman of the Year award during the annual Women in Music event on Dec. 2, 2011. The award celebrates the achievements of a trailblazing female recording artist during a 12-month period, and Swift’s massive live shows, smash singles and relentless charity work (she donated more than $1 million to charity in 2011) made her an easy choice for the prize. Swift, a Billboard fan since the age of 14, accepted her award on the same day that her friend Nicki Minaj was honored as the Rising Star of Billboard’s 2011 ceremony.
‘Never Ever Getting Back Together’ Tops The Hot 100 (August 2012)
Taylor Swift’s incredible career finally included one elusive achievement in August, when “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” the pointedly funny break-up single from her fourth album “Red,” shot to No. 1 on the Hot 100 chart in its second week. After “You Belong With Me” and “Today Was a Fairytale” each reached No. 2 on the U.S. chart, “Never Ever” finally gave the 22-year-old her first chart-topper, and spent another two non-consecutive weeks in the penthouse. With the pop tune still going strong atop the Hot Country Songs chart, Swift continues to grab hold of impressive milestones before “Red” is released on October 22.