March 27, 2023
Decoding the Visuals of Taylor Swift’s Album Eras
8 MIN READ

The rise in candy from around the world reflects people's growing adventurous palates and the role of social media in introducing new foods globally.

History has significantly influenced what various cultures consider beautiful. Major economic and political events, along with shifts in the cultural zeitgeist, have all played a crucial part in shaping ideal beauty standards.

For instance, colonialism radically shifted beauty ideals in many Asian and African countries. Features that didn’t fit with Eurocentric beauty ideals, like deeper skin tones, smaller eye shapes and textured hair, were deemed undesirable, introducing a social hierarchy that is still being unraveled today.

In modern society, the rise of the Internet and social media has been a transformative force in shaping beauty standards. Asian beauty techniques and products have spread to the West and entered the mainstream, while Western influencer and celebrity culture has permeated globally. The conversation around beauty has become increasingly diverse and inclusive, celebrating a wider range of features and styles.

These evolving perspectives on beauty have led to the emergence of new practices, which are prominently reflected in modern advertising. Using our AI-powered Ad Evaluation App, we analyzed beauty advertisements from the 1990s and 2000s by the same brands across five different markets - the US, China, India, Japan, and Brazil. Our goal was to observe their transformation over time and identify any movements between these markets.

Brazil

Previous Archetypes and Values: Sensual, Intimate, Passionate

New Archetypes and Values: Sensual, Intimate, Passionate, Inspiration, Glamorous

Brazil boasts one of the world’s most diverse cultures, but its beauty standards haven't always reflected that. L’Oreal’s earlier ads featured a light-skinned American model, which is not representative of the country's diversity. While the preferences for glamour and sensuality have remained central, modern ads now showcase a nuanced version of beauty, highlighting different ethnicities and genders. This bolder approach contrasts with the seemingly self-effacing ad of the past, redefining and embracing what beauty looks like in Brazil.

China

Previous Archetypes and Values: Supportive, Down-to-Earth

New Archetypes and Values:  Strong, Brave, Determined

Estee Lauder's 2002 ad in China features Caucasian model Hilary Rhoda as the ambassador, dubbed in Mandarin. This ad may have been a reflection of the period's idealization of foreign beauty and a lack of strong Chinese identity in the beauty industry at the time. More than two decades later, the 2024 ad we analyzed showcases Zhang Weili, a professional MMA fighter, training in a boxing ring. This shift indicates a move away from the consumption of imported beauty standards towards the creation of a homegrown ideal. The new standard of beauty emphasizes strength and health, qualities that Chinese consumers admire and aspire to, and see in themselves.

India

Previous Archetypes and Values:  Powerful, Charismatic, Visionary

New Archetype and Values: Playful, Carefree, Fun-Loving, Glamorous

The two L’Oreal India advertisements featuring long-time brand ambassador Aishwarya Rai illustrate a shift in marketing strategy over the last decade. In the earlier ad, Aishwarya embodies the quintessential beautiful Indian woman, dressed-up and perfectly coiffed. This portrayal emphasizes an idealized and somewhat unattainable standard of beauty.The updated ad presents a more casual and relatable image of the actress, which suggests an attitudinal shift among Indian consumers. While she remains glamorous, the ad focuses on portraying her in a more accessible light, thus positioning her as someone who wants to help other women feel beautiful too.

Japan

Previous Archetypes and Values: Innocent, Humble, Optimistic

New Archetypes and Values: Warm, Compassionate, Generous, Nurturing, Inspirational

Shiseido's ads reflect the evolving reality of Japanese women over the past 30 years. The 1992 ad depicts a woman at home, where women typically spent most of their time. The modern ad, however, shows Japanese celebrity Hiromi Nagasaku in various aspects of her life—at work and with her family—showcasing the joy she feels. She appears more confident and assertive, reflecting contemporary Japanese views on beauty. In the past, beauty was associated with cleanliness, but now it encompasses a woman living her life fully and enjoying every moment, illustrating that beauty comes from within rather than just external appearances.

USA

Previous Archetypes and Values: Expressive, Imaginative, Sensuality

New Archetypes and Values:  Playful, Fun-loving, Glamorous, Entertaining

Both Maybelline ads share a similar concept, creating a fantasy world that doesn't take itself too seriously. Beauty is meant to be fun, and the 2023 version feels like a modern update of the earlier ad's playful message. The latest ad features the unexpected pairing of Bretman Rock and Martha Stewart, and utilizes both their brand personas. This shift showcases a growing consumer desire for inclusivity and authenticity in advertising, challenging traditional notions of beauty and expanding the idea of who gets to wear makeup.

Our analysis of ads from these five markets reveals three key ways ideas have traveled, highlighting the shift from one-dimensional to multidimensional beauty. The meaning of this shift varies across cultures.

Many modern ads demonstrate a shift in the relationship and power dynamics between beauty brands and consumers. In the past, the beauty industry focused on highlighting imperfections and promoting unattainable standards that could only be achieved through their products. Today, consumers are more empowered and seek brands that affirm their beauty and support them in their journey to become the best version of themselves.

Markets Demostrating this Theme: USA. Brazil, Japan.

Modern beauty ads seem to share a common thread: beauty is about play and passion. It’s meant to be fun and accessible to everyone who wants to take part in it. It's believed that happiness and fulfillment in life radiate outwardly. When you feel content and satisfied, it enhances your external appearance.Brands need to promote the idea that their products are a means to explore, have fun, and express joy, reinforcing where true beauty comes from.

Markets Demostrating this Theme: USA, Brazil, China, Japan, India.

Seeing yourself on screen is more important than ever before. Consumers are demanding to see people who not only look like them but also reflect the unique interpretations of beauty in their respective countries. They want to see individuals who mirror their ideals and lifestyles and with whom they can emotionally connect.

The expectation is for brands to understand them on a far deeper level and cater to their beauty standards, rather than setting the standards for them.

Markets Demostrating this Theme: USA, Brazil, China, Japan.

Candy remains a favorite in ASMR eating videos due to its visual appeal and sound when chewed. Recently, popular candies with crunchy and sludgy sounds have become especially soothing.

Consumers' tastes now favor sharper, tangier flavors. Sour candy offers a refreshing contrast to sweetness and stimulates dopamine release. It is also believed to be a quick antidote for anxiety, as it distracts the brain from negative emotions and focuses it on the tingly sensation in the mouth.

Nostalgia has hit the candy market, with 90s and 00s favorites like Ring Pops, Airheads, and Nerds topping Amazon’s Best Sellers list, indicating consumers’ craving for childhood snacks.

Write to [email protected] to learn about AI-powered market research and the latest consumer trends.

As beauty standards become more inclusive and diverse, it is clear that consumers are driving a transformative shift in media and advertising, seeking representations that are authentic, empowering, and reflective of their true selves.

If you are interested to learn more, sign upfor our product newsletter or reach out to us at [email protected].

We’re launching an updated version of our ad evaluation tool that can analyse any creative formats, from concepts to storyboard, at our September event. Learn more about AI-volution 2024 here.

Brand Insights in 3 Sentences: Brands can learn a thing or two from Taylor Swift’s success in crafting her image and brand building. She’s constantly reinventing herself, but always keeps her audience in mind as she creates every album, and tries to reach them wherever they are. Her efforts, attention to detail, and honesty with them matter, and she’s been able to build the trust with them that many other brands strive for.

Seeing as Taylor had been on the music scene since 2006, her sound has naturally evolved, and she’s churned out dozens of hits to celebrate, and that would thrill fans to hear again. She is arguably the most popular female artist of our time but is also one of the most self-aware and astute when it comes to crafting her persona and reinvention.

Each of Taylor’s studio albums has come packaged with its own aesthetic. Every single detail is carefully thought out, from the color schemes to the use of “easter eggs” in her lyrics, down to her everyday outfits. Fans have lapped it up, where it’s become almost a game with every song release to decode any secret messages or find clues of how it relates to her personal life.

Using Sphere’s Image Analysis tools, we break down each of her “eras” using her music videos, and how color, imagery, and mood-setting have helped cultivate them, and the brand-building lessons we can borrow from her playbook.

Reputation

We begin our journey with 2017’s ‘Reputation’. Following her previous album’s 1989 World Tour, Taylor’s popularity was skyrocketing. There was rampant tabloid scrutiny of her personal life and her name was being brought into conversations about cultural issues like race and gender. She went into hiding during this time and emerged with Reputation, the antithesis of 1989. The album shed her good-girl image, and she was emerging angrier and more outspoken than ever.

Sphere found that the color palette during this era was dark, rich, and moody tones, and to match, she mostly wore black and edgier looks at events and on stage. The album was her attempt to shed her good girl image, so the content and imagery contained more partying and drinking, and sexual references. It was angry, yet sensual, but more importantly showed raw, unbridled emotions.

The top emotion detected in her music videos was fear, since most of them were filmed at night, or incorporated dark fantasy and dystopian elements. Snakes were also an important motif of this era, a reference to her feud with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, where the latter had called her one. As a response, she put a slew of snakes into her music videos, social media, and tour visual and stage settings.

This era was probably her most different yet and remains one of the most iconic to fans. It even earned its spot as a slang term on social media, with Urban Dictionary defining it as “when a person has a comeback with vengeance and to mock those who have hurt them.”

Lover

Next up, was the ‘Lover’ era. This album was a “love letter to love”, and a bright, campy celebration of sunshine, rainbows and butterflies. This era was defined by dreamy pastel hues like bubblegum pink and lilacs, and bright pop colors to the soundtrack of synth-pop and upbeat riffs. Her outfits also matched the vibe, which saw her return to her girl-next-door roots and borrow from the aesthetics of disco and lolita subcultures.

Subculture concepts detected by image:

Her music videos highlighted the joy, romance and magic of her songs, featuring flying umbrellas à la Merry Poppins in ‘ME!’ and dancing inside a snow globe in ‘Lover’.

All the colors and rainbows within the aesthetics wasn’t all for the sake of it though. ‘You Need to Calm Down’, one of the album’s singles, was a stance on LGBTQ+ rights. The song contained the line “Why are you mad, when you can be GLAAD?”, a shout out to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. The accompanying video also featured some prominent queer celebrities, even a drag queen dressed as Taylor herself, and ended with a direct plea for viewers to sign a petition in support of the Equality Act. This was the first time she was being vocal about her personal and political beliefs, and fans applauded her for it.

Folklore and Evermore


Instead of going on tour for ‘Lover’, Taylor found herself in the Covid-19 lockdowns like the rest of the world. It was then that she conceptualized two albums, ‘Folklore’ and ‘Evermore’. They were dubbed as sister albums, and had very similar musical styles, themes and aesthetics.

She took inspiration from the loneliness of being isolated, and explored themes of escapism, nostalgia and romanticism by crafting stories of fictional characters and narratives. Songs like The Last Great American Dynasty’ told a tale of the “madwoman” Rebekah who owned a mansion by the sea in Rhode Island, and a love triangle told through three different perspectives in Cardigan’, ‘Betty”’and ‘August.’

‘Folklore’ and ‘Evermore’ mainly consist of soft, atmospheric ballads, reminiscent of indie folk or alternative rock genres, and were made to evoke the comfort and peacefulness of the fall and winter seasons. Her vibe during this time saw her wearing her hair in loose curls and traipsing through the forest in gingham checks, lace and polo tees, which borrowed elements from the bloomcore, prairiecore and autumn aesthetics.

Subculture concepts detected by image:

Her album art and videos were also mostly shot out in nature and layered with misty or sepia filters, so the top objects detected were ‘cloud’, ‘plant’ and ‘sky’, and brown, beige and light shades of gray appeared as the top colors found.

Midnights

Then, we come to her ‘Midnights’ album, which claimed all top 10 spots on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in a single week. This collection of songs saw Taylor’s return to a diaristic style, where she reflects on her “sleepless nights” and the anxiety, self-criticism, and self-awareness that creeps into the sound of synth pop and dreamy pop.

Using color in her storytelling is a key feature of Taylor’s music, with purple and blue being used to bring out the dreamlike feel of the songs. She announced the new album in a midnight blue dress, and ice blue was featured on the cover art. Purple was also found in many of her music and lyric videos, and she even named two songs after shades of the color: Lavender Haze and Maroon.

Taylor’s style during this era transitions from an autumnal color palette into a shimmery, celestial glam. She takes inspiration from the fashion of the 70s, clothing herself in polos and cozy knits, then channeling retro glam in fur stoles, diamond jewelry and bedazzled lingerie. We also see her experimenting with ghostcore and cloudcore, which helps to create the ethereal world around this album.

Subculture concepts detected by image:

So, what marketing lessons can we learn from the Taylor Swift brand?

Care!

It’s evident that Taylor has put an enormous amount of effort into building her brand and has impeccable attention to detail, from the album colors to the way her music is released. She’s protective of her brand, so she’s had a hand in absolutely everything to do with it. This hasn’t gone unnoticed by fans, as they know that they are getting ‘Taylor’ with every album, ticket or memorabilia they buy.

Audience comes first

Every easter eggs, cryptic message and hidden details are meant for her fans, and she’s always on the lookout for them on social media (check out #taylurking). She’s also meeting them where they are, through Twitter, Instagram and most recently, TikTok. This reaffirms to Taylor’s fans that her decisions about her music are as much for her as they are for the fans.

Queen of the revamp

As Taylor has grown and trends have come and gone, she’s innovated and rebranded herself with every era. At her core, however, Taylor hasn’t compromised on her identity. She remains the same, but just different in how she presents herself to the world. Brands should take note not to fall in the trend trap and to remember who they are and what values they hold.

Embrace your reputation

In her almost two decades long career, Taylor has naturally made some public mistakes and mishaps. Instead of avoiding the elephant in the room, she’s embraced them, apologized and used them as fuel for her creativity. This transparency has brought her closer to her audience and developed a sense of trust that all brands strive for.

Follow our page for more such insights. Write to [email protected] to learn about AI-powered market research and the latest consumer trends.

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synthesizing vast data into actionable insights that reflect each market's unique cultural and economic backdrop

south_east

grasping the distinct consumer perspectives that these diverse regions offer

Curated digital profiles:

-Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok (US)

-Weibo and Douyin (China)

Pulled 400 million unique searches to estimate the growth of each segment

Used Quilt.AI’s Sphere language and image capabilities to categorise lifestyle areas into specific segments

Glamour Seekers

These consumers are confident, bold, and comfortable with modern masculinity. They also often turn to social media to express their personal style and interests.

Actionable Insight: Collaborate with high-profile fashion influencers to create vibrant, trend-setting campaigns that resonate with this segment's desire for attention and admiration.

Vanity Vanguards

Highly image-driven, these individuals often seek validation through their appearance and are likely to engage heavily with both grooming and fashion products.

Actionable Insight:Leverage digital marketing strategies that feature before-and-after visuals and testimonials that showcase the transformative power of the products

Conscious Icons

These men aim to be recognized as modern, open-minded, and sensitive – embodying the image of "the woke good guy" in today's society by actively participating in movements related to activism and gender equality.

Actionable Insight:Design marketing campaigns that highlight their participation in these movements, showcasing products that enable them to express and amplify their desired social identities.

Youthful Trendsetters

They value beauty while still maintaining traditional masculine ideals of what it means to be good-looking. These men also tend to seek out methods of maintaining their youthful appearances.

Actionable Insight:Market products that boost physical appeal and suit active lifestyles, and focus on dynamic marketing that highlights masculine elegance.

Trusted Patrons

Despite seeing gender in traditionally binary terms, these men aren’t afraid of behaving in more feminine manners. They own their uniqueness and tend to be deeply loyal to brands that affirm their identity.

Actionable Insight:Focusing on brand narratives that celebrate individuality and personal expression will better engage this segment. Brands can also offer personalized services to maintain their commitment.

Innovation Advocates

As consumers who value knowledge, they embrace technology and innovation that enhances their lives. Wanting to stay ahead of the curve, they prefer brands that offer cutting-edge solutions that reflect their own mentality.

Actionable Insight:Market products to this segment by emphasizing innovation, utility, and exclusivity. Brands can focus on how their products integrate the latest technology and engage these men through intelligent content that speaks to their curiosity.

Visuals illustrated are to bring concepts to life only.
Visuals illustrated are to bring concepts to life only.
Visuals illustrated are to bring concepts to life only.
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