How Taylor Swift became world’s highest-paid celebrity, and how she spends her millions

Taylor Swift was the world’s highest-paid celebrity in the past 12 months, according to Forbes, with US$185 million in pre-tax income.

The American singer-songwriter has amassed an estimated US$360 million net worth and owns at least US$84 million in real estate across four US states. Her Reputation stadium tour was the highest-grossing tour in the US, grossing US$266.1 million.

She also donated US$113,000 to the Tennessee Equality Project, an LGBTQ advocacy group.

With Taylor Swift teasing her much-anticipated seventh album, the Delicate singer is poised to break multiple records – again. Swift’s previous album, Reputation, sold more than two million copies in the US, and the coinciding tour broke records as the highest-grossing US stadium tour of all time. The singer-songwriter has won 10 Grammys and is arguably one of the most influential figures in pop culture today.


Swift made US$185 million in pre-tax income thanks mainly to her 2018 Reputation album sales and tour. Photo: Reuters

Over the years, Swift’s influence has grown exponentially. In 2018, she was named the most influential person on Twitter, despite only tweeting 13 times. Whether it’s pulling her music from Spotify, negotiating fairer royalties with Apple Music, or signing a reportedly US$200 million contract with Universal, Swift has been strategic in building her empire.

Since 2006, Swift has released six albums, all of which went platinum. Her 2014 album, 1989 sold more than 3.7 million units, making it the bestselling album of the year. Swift is one of the few artists to still use a long-lead album release cycle, one that typically takes three months. Since Beyoncé’s surprise album drop in 2013, many artists have been releasing their albums on a quicker cycle to varying degrees of success.


The US singer’s 1989 album cover.

That unprecedented move worked for Beyoncé because she is … Beyoncé. Likewise, Swift’s long lead cycle only works for her. It’s an outdated system, one designed to promote albums over time through radio, print, and other media. The fact that it works for Swift is a testament to her star power, as well as how devoted her fans are. By extending her album release, Swift is able to spend months dominating the charts as new songs are released a few weeks apart, giving each single its own time to shine on the charts.

However, Swift’s most lucrative gig comes after the album release. Her tours bring in the bulk of her income. Swift’s first Fearless tour brought in roughly US$75 million. As Swift’s popularity has increased, so has the cost of her concert tickets. The “1989 World Tour” in 2015 was the highest-grossing tour of the year. And in 2018, Taylor Swift’s “Reputation” beat the record for the highest-grossing US stadium tour of all time previously held by The Rolling Stones, whose “A Bigger Bang Tour” from 2005 to 2007 grossed US$245 million across 70 shows. Swift shattered their record with US$345 million from just 38 shows. That is a US$9-million-per-show average.

Swift’s tour documentary with Netflix brought in an additional undisclosed paycheck rumoured to be worth millions. Additionally, it’s been estimated that Swift makes US$17 per ticket on merchandise sales. Swift’s fans, called Swifties, are definitely devoted to the singer. In preparation for Swift’s seventh album, fan accounts have even been posting strategies for maximising sales numbers and stream counts.

As one of the most popular musicians of the era, Swift has had a complicated relationship with streaming. In 2014, Taylor Swift pulled her music from Spotify, citing unfair royalty payments. Similarly, Swift published an open letter to Apple Music in 2015 and stated that she would not be streaming her then upcoming album 1989 on the service because of royalty rates. Apple Music quickly modified its streaming revenue policy to be more fair to artists, and Swift allowed the service to stream 1989.

As for Spotify, Taylor Swift re-released her catalogue on the service in June 2017. The exact conditions for Swift’s return to Spotify have never been released, but it may have to do with Spotify modifying its streaming policies. Regardless, Swift’s new contract with Republic Records and Universal Music Group included a specific condition that requires the label to distribute any money made from selling its investments in Spotify with its artist roster.

As for how the star spends her millions … Swift’s famous for interacting with fans online and even hosting secret listening parties at her home. Over the years, Swift has donated to a number of her fans to cover everything from student loans to hospital fees. She also raised funds for various causes, including victims of Louisiana and Nashville floods, as well as victims of tornadoes in the southern United States.


Swift donated US$250,000 to help fellow singer Kesha (centre) with her legal fees. Photo: AP

During Kesha’s legal battles, Swift donated US$250,000 to help the fellow singer with legal fees. Most recently, she donated US$113,000 to a pro-LGBTQ advocacy group, the Tennessee Equality Project.

Swift’s US$84 million real-estate portfolio spans across four states. Her eight properties include a US$29 million estate in Beverly Hills and a US$20 million duplex penthouse in New York City. Swift’s NYC penthouse is located in Tribeca, Manhattan’s richest neighbourhood. Swift also owns a four-storey town house and a condo on the same street.

The singer made headlines when she bought her Rhode Island mansion for US$17 million in cash. The seaside estate was where Swift hosted her famous July 4 parties. Considering all the travelling the international performer must do, it’s no surprise that she owns a private jet. Swift’s customised jet reportedly cost US$40 million and has the singer’s lucky number “13” painted on its nose. She is also rumoured to own a second jet that costs up to US$58 million.

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