When I first watched the Taylor Swift 1989 World Tour documentary, I found myself pulling out my notebook and starting to take notes. Yes, I'm a nerd like that. Amidst the music, sparkly crop tops and perfect red lips, what really struck me was the frequency of guest musician appearances during her concerts, and how many of the interviews in the documentary were focused on these other artists.
She didn't bring special guests on stage just to brag about her squad — it was essentially a tactic to combat spoilers and keep an element of surprise every night. "Every person in the audience probably knows what costumes I'm going to wear," Swift explained. "They could even know the set list if they really wanted to, so I decided to start inviting special guests out."
I’m pretty sure anyone who buys a ticket for a Taylor Swift concert would be happy with a complete show of just Taylor. But she takes it on as a challenge — how can she create an even better experience for her fans?
Though I do believe that yes, she’s doing it for the fans, I think there’s also a selfish motive behind it. And I mean that in the best way possible. When you watch her behind the scenes with these artists and listen to how she talks about them in the interviews, it’s clear that she has the utmost respect for them, and that the opportunity to perform one of their songs with them is where the magic happens for her. My guess would be that in the same way she’s adding an element of surprise for her fans, she’s also doing it because it creates a new experience for her, as the performer.
Watching clips from the concerts vs. the behind-the-scenes moments captured as she does soundcheck with these artists, or as she’s performing with them on stage, I see these moments of sheer joy. She’s a little starstruck herself — which is understandable, given she’s welcoming artists such as Mick Jagger, Alanis Morisette, Ellie Goulding, and Justin Timberlake. I get the sense that she’s in her happy place, that this is what she loves to do.
I recognize that look. It’s the sparkle in your eye when you’re doing whatever it is you really love to do, and I know for me, as a creative, that’s the ultimate.
So what can we learn from Taylor Swift?
Taylor doesn’t necessarily stick to her own genre of music, or ask guest artists to sing her songs. She and her band learn their songs. She’s challenging herself to try something new, to go outside of her comfort zone in order to offer an experience that goes above and beyond expectations.
In our own life and work, how can we create an experience that goes above and beyond? How can we exceed expectations and offer that little something extra? By joining forces with others, we’re able to tap into their skills and build on what they have to offer, creating something that goes beyond what we could ever imagine creating on our own.
Get up and play because it’s fun
This was one line that especially resonated with me. Taylor invites artists that have the same mentality she does, artists who love what they do.
Passion is contagious, and play is essential as a creative. It can be so easy to forget this when we have our nose to the grindstone and a list of deadlines to meet. Take a moment to step back and remind yourself why you’re doing what you do, and surround yourself with those who share the same mindset.
Don’t be afraid to share the spotlight
Taylor has already reached star status and probably isn’t worrying about being overshadowed by her guests musicians. But when she shares the spotlight with the likes of Steven Tyler and Mary J. Blige, I can see how she’s making her own kind of magic. She is visibly having more fun, her guest is charmed and loving the moment, and her fans are captivated with the surprise and the thrill.
I’m a firm believer in embracing community over competition. How can we surround ourselves with others that inspire and delight us, that bring out our best and push us creatively?
And when in doubt, sequins are always a good idea.
This post first appeared as one of Studio B's Weekly Letters. Interested in being on the list? You'll get a peek behind the sequin curtain and first access to the free resources! Right this way.