What's Wrong With Taylor Swift's Image?

She has been ubiquitous on newsstands over the past year, but she doesn't necessarily have the magazine sales numbers to justify her presence. Is she overexposed? Not sexy enough? Or is Harry Styles somehow to blame for all of this?

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Poor Taylor Swift may never want to be on the cover of another magazine again. Her Vanity Fair cover story pitted her against the Amy Poehler and Tina Fey loving Internet (which is basically all of us?) when she (kind of?) took a dig at the two comedians, who made a joke at her expense at the Golden Globes. Now it looks like magazines with her face on their covers don't actually sell that well. Why is that?

Erik Maza reports for Women's Wear Daily that Swift, who has been ubiquitous on newsstands over the past year, does not have the sales numbers to necessarily justify her presence. A tweet from him puts it bleakly:

In most cases Swift didn't do terribly, she just also didn't drive magazine buyers wild. For instance: Her February 2012 Vogue cover sold 329,371 copies including digital sales—which was "a little above the six-month average that ended in June 2012" but far below Lady Gaga, who was the top seller that year (albeit on the monster September issue). In a more embarrassing case, Swift's November Glamour cover, which Maza said did "OK," fell behind Lauren Conrad's and Victoria Beckham's in the year.

When it comes to Cosmopolitan, though, Swift was just a non-starter. Maza writes: "Swift flopped, with the issue the weakest in a year that underperformed overall — she sold a little over a million copies, or 20 percent below the six-month average that ended in December 2012." Zooey Deschanel, an actress who still has more indie than mainstream cred, did better than Swift in Cosmo sales — and Cosmo, one of the most successful magazines on the planet, caters to younger audiences. So what's wrong with Swift? One or two or all three of these things, perhaps:

Theory No. 1: Taylor Swift is overexposed.

Maza says "singers do well at the newsstand, just perhaps not those who have been overexposed." Even though Swift's album was one of the best sellers of  2012, there might be such a thing as too much Taylor. Perhaps the magazine-buying public feels they've learned enough about the "stuff she only tells her girlfriends," especially since even in interviews billed as revealing, she remains cagey.

Theory No. 2: Taylor Swift is not sexy enough.

Is she just too innocent for Cosmo readers, who are used to blaring headlines about sex rather than veiled metaphors? Scarlett Johansson, a starlet who banks on sex appeal, was the top seller for Cosmo's year, followed by Twilight's Ashley Greene. While the Twilight connection might have propelled Greene into that spot, the Greene cover also featured a cover line about Fifty Shades of Grey. Swift's just said "LATE NIGHT SEX." 

Theory No. 3: Taylor Swift's relationships are hurting her marketability.

Sure, they make for sweet pop songs. But Glamour editor Cindi Leive attributes Swift's failures at the magazine stand perhaps to her failures in love: "There may have been a little hiccup for her right around the 1-D relationship." Maza points out that "1-D" refers to One Direction and thereby refers to Harry Styles. Do magazine buyers actually react to Swift's covers based on the guy she's dating? The girl can't catch a break. That said, Leive believes she'll bounce back. Doesn't she always?

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.