Featured image: Lucy Vincent
The acclaimed news magazine TIME celebrates its 100-year anniversary this year. The first issue was published back in 1923 and four years later, the magazine introduced its annual Person of the Year issue, (known as Man or Woman of the Year up until 1999). The issue has always served to identify a person, group or even an idea that has, according to Time: Person of the Year 75th Anniversary Celebration, “done the most to influence the events of the year”.
The accolade has been known to focus on the cultural and political zeitgeist, reflected in the 23 Presidents of the United States, 6 Communist party leaders, 4 German chancellors, 3 popes and 21 various other national leaders recognised as Person of the Year. Somewhat controversially, awardees include the likes of Donald Trump, Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler. However, TIME has always strived to acknowledge influence whether ‘for better or for worse’.
Over the last decade, much recognition has been given to groups who have made a significant impact within the global landscape. This has included the Ebola fighters of 2014, the sexual abuse and harassment ‘Silence Breakers’ of 2017 and the Guardians of 2018, (a group of journalists who experienced extreme persecution in the face of courageous investigative journalism).
This was equally reflected in 2022’s Person of the Year, awarded to ‘The Spirit of Ukraine’ and their president Volodymyr Zelensky off the back of Russia’s invasion and its consequent fallout, that same year.
As for 2023, the title was awarded to none other than Taylor Swift. The other eight candidates who made up the shortlist were the Hollywood strikers, Chinese President Xi Jinping, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, Trump prosecutors, Vladamir Putin, King Charles III, Barbie and Jerome Powell.
So in a year where AI has assimilated into the public consciousness, strike action has occurred on a global scale and the former President of the United States appeared in court following a 34 felony count charge – has pop icon Taylor Swift really done ‘the most’ in influencing events of the year?
Undoubtedly, Swift permeated the 2023 landscape in a way few other celebrities have managed. She bagged not one but three number-one albums, broke records on her 151-show worldwide Eras Tour as the highest-grossing tour of all time, surpassing $1 billion. Swift even boosted the audience numbers of a Kansas City Chiefs NFL game by 24.3 million viewers as a result of her attendance. But is this enough to justify her election as Person of the Year at the expense of political change-makers featured on TIME’s shortlist?
TIME argues that Taylor Swift has impacted US politics, after her call to arms for Swifties to register to vote led to over 35,000 new registrations on National Voter Registration Day. Though it’s difficult to deny the influence, whether it warrants her being crowned as Person of the Year at the expense of others on the shortlist is questionable, and in my eyes, somewhat of a mistake.
This isn’t to say that Taylor Swift doesn’t ever have the propensity to be TIME’s Person of the Year. In fact, she already graced the annual issue back in 2017 as one of the figureheads for the ‘Silence Breakers’. After a radio DJ was fired off the back of an incident of sexual harassment towards Swift, prompting him to sue for millions in ‘damages’, she famously countersued for $1, further fuelling the important #MeToo movement.
However, given the cultural and political climate of 2023, it feels shallow on TIME’s part to insinuate that Swift has made the most poignant impact on the world. It raises questions as to why they wouldn’t consider the ongoing civilian casualties of the Israel-Palestine conflict, given that last year’s Person of the Year explicitly recognised the plight of Ukraine.
There has been speculation that Taylor Swift was chosen owing to the prospect of magazine sales and subsequent profit. Though the notion could sound absurd, the impact of Swiftie commitment is seen in the 400% increase in Travis Kelce NFL jersey sales that occurred following rumours of their romance. What’s more, it’s been reported that this year’s issue is one the highest-selling in TIME’s recent history, with over 238,000 copies pre-ordered just online. Compare this to the 65,000 combined online and physical sales of last year’s issue and all of a sudden, the prospect of profit as a factor seems less outlandish.
As a fan of her music, I’m always more than happy to acknowledge the truly undeniable impact of Taylor Swift; it’s something that should absolutely be addressed and celebrated. Just not like this, at a time when others deserve to be spotlighted for their influence in the face of the global struggles we’re facing as a society.