As you descend onto the second floor of the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, you’re greeted by one of—if not the—biggest Pop sensations of the past year: Taylor Swift.
OK, it’s a photograph, but she looks effortlessly chill sitting in a crop top and high-waist shorts, her signature red lip popping.
The city of New York (she’s the official ambassador) sits in the background as “The Taylor Swift Experience” glows neon pink above her head.
If you’re a die-hard Swiftie (and I’ll it admit: I am), walking into the “experience” can be a bit nerve-shredding. Not knowing what’s ahead, you could literally die. dead. RIP me. at any moment. It happens to fans all over the world as they meet the singer and listen to her music.
So, advance warning: My critical faculties are a little blunted. However, there’s a point of expectation we have come to anticipate from Swift and anything bearing her name.
She’s got a crack team of “TAS (Taylor Allison Swift) agents” to battle anyone using the TSwift brand without her permission. And this exhibition comes very much with her permission, so it celebrates rather more than it reveals.
To obtain all of the items, Swift’s mom, Andrea, helped curate the exhibition and, in 2007, Swift donated a pair of cowboy boots and the handwritten lyrics from her very first single, “Tim McGraw,” to the then-nonexisting museum. It became the first celebrity artifacts it acquired.
After awkwardly staring at the life-size photo for a moment too long I decided it was time to forge ahead into the unknown: a darkly lit hallway leading to the Clive Davis Theater. Inside, the hundred or so seats were empty (they had just opened) so my friends and I had the place to ourselves.
On the massive screen, footage tracking Swift’s professional progression to fame plays on a loop.
Tour performances and highlights, as well as those from the Grammys, had us dancing and applauding as the singer performed hits and accepted her very first Grammy in 2009. Her second studio album, Fearless, won Album of the Year, making Swift the youngest winner ever.
“We’ve had girls crying their way out of the theater,” Associate Curator Nwaka Onwusa told The Daily Beast. “It’s a really touching film because you can see her growth and appreciate how her hard work has paid off. She’s playing these huge arenas that sell out in minutes and then on the Grammy Award stage, which is one of the highest awards in music.”
And that’s exactly what the exhibition is all about—Swift’s evolution from pint-sized songwriter to country darling to Pop sensation, told using a Swift-approved narrative.
“You are seeing Taylor from birth in the hospital with her mom and grandmother and as she’s growing up,” Onwusa told The Daily Beast. “So you can track her history through [homemade] videos and artifacts and see just how she’s grown” into the modern-day superstar that she is. “It’s more than just looking at cool outfits and pretty gowns.”
Don’t worry—there are plenty of those, too.
“We wanted to make sure to highlight her early career,” Onwusa said, “but we also wanted visitors who don’t know much about Taylor see the process of her growing up and just being a young girl with a dream and actually achieving it.”
As you exit the theater a rush of Swift paraphernalia and excitement hits you so hard you’ll need a heavy dose of Swiftamine.
There’s a neon-lit dance floor flickering in the distance, each tile changing colors as visitors move to the beats of “Shake It Off.” A row of studio mixing boards gives fans the opportunity to re-master their own version of “Mean” while a recording booth hosts a version of every Swifties’ karaoke daydream (mine included): a sing-along to “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” (because we’ve all had to sing that to someone once or twice).
Directly ahead are four street-style looks from casual day-to-day jaunts in New York (she’s just like us, y’all!).
Costumes from various tours and music videos fill a nearby case and are accompanied by handwritten notes and lyrics, like the words to “Tim McGraw”—the museum’s very first donation—and “White Horse.”
One case holds a tiny saddle from Swift’s early days horseback riding, elementary school photos that reveal exactly the tiny Taylor you’d imagine, and a small painting of a snowman with Swift’s signature making it a priceless work of art.
An interactive table streams homemade videos of the future starlet being born, hanging at home with family, and finding her spot in the limelight.
But there’s one thing that’s missing from the entire show: boys. The exhibition seems to gloss over any relationship mishaps that have contributed to the creation of so many of her biggest hits: John Mayer in “Dear John,” Jake Gyllenhaal in “All Too Well,” and Joe Jonas in “You’re Not Sorry.”
Then again, the music and handwritten lyric sheets speak for themselves.
Swift’s trajectory into superstardom is on full display. Her complete discography (along with their numerous accolades) span the longest wall on the second floor, starting with her 2006 debut self-titled album and on through Fearless (2009), Speak Now (2010), Red (2012), and last year’s chart-topper, 1989.
At 25 years old, Swift has won seven Grammys and approximately 249 other awards from various organizations, including the American Music Awards, Country Music Awards, and BRIT Awards.
She’s been honored as Billboard’s Woman of the Year. Twice. And she’s in the Guinness Book of World Records not once but four times. She has basically accomplished it all.
“This is the first time the Grammy Museum has ever featured an artist this young,” Onwusa said. “Past exhibitions have been on Whitney Houston and Ringo Starr and these big names that have a deep roots in music. But this is a huge story and we wanted to celebrate what she is doing in an industry that is changing so quickly and how she is still so successful.”
Yes, it’s tightly curated—as all things Taylor Swift are—but at no moment do the neatly wrapped slices of her life fail to remain true to the singer. And anyone who has followed the intense bond she curates with her fans (she will stalk you and show up at your door unannounced) will know, every Swiftie who visits will feel right at home.
The “experience,” which opened on December 13 (Tay’s birthday, of course), has been a blockbuster hit—so much that it has been extended through October 4, 2015. And with the singer making a tour stop steps away in August, it will be the perfect spot to re-cap the life of Taylor Swift before seeing her in the flesh.