By Andrew Hampp, New York
When Taylor Swift first convinced her parents to move from suburban Pennsylvania to Nashville at the age of 14, she had Billboard magazine delivered to her doorstep to stay in the loop on industry news – and fantasize, of course.
“I would go through every single page and every single chart and just daydream about what it would be like to see my name in there someday,” she said during her acceptance speech as Woman of the Year at Billboard’s seventh annual Women in Music event in New York. “And today I walked in to flashing camera bulbs and all these important people in music, and I thought, ‘I guess that’s what it looks like.'”
Taylor Swift accepting her award for Woman of the Year.
Swift, along with Rising Star Nicki Minaj, headlined a list of Women in Music industry that was topped by Atlantic Records’ Julie Greenwald, who appeared alongside boss Lyor Cohen, CEO of Warner Music. Billboard editorial director Bill Werde said he was repeatedly asked why Billboard still ranks its Women In Music honorees, which was expanded from 30 to 40 (actually 41, due to a tie) this year. “We believe in taking an editorial stance to keep the industry striving to work harder,” he said.
That sentiment was echoed by Minaj, who told ABC News’ Robin Roberts during an onstage QA that she dealt with a lot of rejection before reaching her current place in the pop culture stratosphere. “I’ve had a lot of doors closed in my face,” she said. “I’m no different than any struggling artist that just tried one last time.”
Swift has built name on her tireless work ethic (and even showed up early to walk the pre-event red carpet), and told ABC’s Katie Couric that she never expects anything to be handed to her. “I’ve never entitled to play another sold-out show or win another award. So just the fact that this keeps happening, I’m thankful for that,” she said.
Werde pointed out perhaps Swift’s only career foible of 2011 – failing to sell out one of her Speak Now Tour’s 74 dates at London’s O2 Arena, by a mere 300 seats. “Is that just eating at you?” he chided the singer.
“You just ruined my day!” she cried back.
Friday’s event fell on a particularly eventful day for Minaj, who debuted her new single “Roman In Moscow” from her upcoming album “Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded” on iTunes just minutes before walking the red carpet. She also revealed plans for a one-of-a-kind Barbie doll made in partnership with Mattel, to be auctioned off next Wednesday at Divine Design’s five-day gala in Beverly Hills on CharityBuzz.com.
Minaj told Roberts that the new album is “so much fun from beginning to end” and will explore multiple genres. “It’s….grimy,” she said.
Although Swift and Minaj never shared the stage at Billboard’s event, a career highlight for both artists from 2011 was performing Minaj’s “Super Bass” at Los Angeles’ Staples Center earlier this year. Minaj credits Swift’s early praise of the song, and subsequent shout-outs on radio and tweets to her fans, as having a direct impact on the song’s path from “Pink Friday” bonus cut to her highest-charting single to date. “I just saw her last week, and I told her, ‘This is not something I’m saying to the cameras. This is something you had a hand in.’ This just show the power of her words.”
Nicki Minaj tears up while giving her acceptance speech for the Rising Star award.
Both honorees had important people to thank for helping them in their way to the top. Swift credited her parents with teaching her the importance of personal responsibility and integrity in her career. “It’s just easier to stand by the decisions you’ve made [yourself],” she said, noting that she sits in on every management and publicity meeting to make sure she’s on the same page as her team on every decision.
And Minaj had a message for the room of fellow honorees at the end of her acceptance speech. “To everyone out there, I am so proud of you for showing me this can be done. You can be your own boss, and make your own music, and project an image you believe in and keep good morals and all that good stuff.”
The event closed with a performance by S-Curve recording artist Andy Grammer, who paid tribute to Swift with an acoustic version of her hit “Mine” and dedicated his own single “Keep Your Head Up” to Minaj and the rest of this year’s honorees.
The honorees at this year’s Women In Music Ceremony pose on stage.