Fun with the Four Tendencies: Is Taylor Swift an Upholder?

I spend a lot of time thinking about my personality framework, the Four Tendencies. It’s an endlessly fascinating thing to study.

If you don’t know if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel — and why it matters — you can take the quick quiz here. (More than 640,000 people have taken the quiz.)

I’m always on the watch for Tendencies in the world. Now, we generally can’t judge people’s Tendency by what they do; we need to know how they think.

But sometimes patterns of behaviors are so consistent that they do suggest a Tendency.

My sister Elizabeth told me that she thinks that Taylor Swift is an Upholder. It’s not easy to tell, because of course a mega-star like Swift has a persona that’s carefully crafted for public consumption. However, judging from external factors, I agree, she sure looks like an Upholder.

She seems to meet outer expectations very patiently and professionally—not only those related to her extensive music and business responsibilities, but also involving time-consuming, inefficient tasks like going on press tours, handling paparazzi, and putting up with all the nonsense that super-stars must endure. She meets a very high level of expectations, with no visible sign of resentment or burn-out or frustration at inefficiency.

She has no trouble resisting the advice of her record label, and she also has no trouble following the advice of her record label. She doesn’t seem to feel pushed around by the press, social media, or her own team. In a cover profile in GQ magazine, Chuck Klosterman observed of Swift, “There is a perpetual sense that nothing about her career is accidental and that nothing about her life is unmediated. These are not unusual thoughts to have about young mainstream stars. But what’s different with Swift is her autonomy. There is no Svengali directing her career; there is no stage mother pushing her toward the spotlight. She is in total control of her own constructed reality.”

Plus Swift exhibits an extraordinary level of self-discipline, and she’s often criticized for being “unspontaneous.” Now, what Tendency does that sound like?

 I suspect that Upholders in the entertainment business, and in the arts, sometimes go out of their way to hide their Tendency—to present themselves as more wild and more hedonistic than they actually are.

Upholderness isn’t a very glamorous, edgy, or endearing quality. It doesn’t contribute to a fascinating biography or make good magazine copy. In her mega-hit song “Shake It Off,” Taylor Swift sings, “I stay up too late…I go on too many dates…At least that’s what people say.” Does she stay up too late? Hmmm. I wonder. 

What do you think?

In other news about the Four Tendencies, very soon I will be able to reveal the jacket for the book The Four Tendencies — I’m about to be able to take down that dull placeholder cover. Exciting! If you’re inclined to buy the book, it’s a big help to me if you pre-order (pre-orders help build buzz for a book among booksellers, the media, and the public). But only if you want to, of course!

  • I think anyone who achieves that level of fame without too much scandal is probably an upholder. It’s so funny because I just listened to a podcast where they talked about her as well. It mentioned that, while it seems to us that she just appeared on the scene fully formed and famous at 17, in actuality she picked up a guitar at 9 and has been working really hard every since! You’re right that appearances aren’t all that they seem, and she’s always downplayed how hard she worked to get where she is. Very interesting!

  • Toun

    And what about she were a questionner ? “She meets a very high level of expectations, with no visible sign of
    resentment or burn-out or frustration at inefficiency.” because singing
    is what she wants ! ”
    I think she meets her exceptacions first and outers exepectations when they are meaningfull to her. For instance,she will listen to her label record because they are professionelsn not because she was told to. That’s why she is a questionner.
    all that self-control, discipline are tools to succeed and built and differentiate her from other singers.
    And scandals around her prove that she is a questionner and not a rebel : because her aim is to do what she wants and no to do what she’s is not supposed to do.

    • gretchenrubin

      You’re right, she could be a Questioner, but I suspect not, because she seems to have a very high tolerance for doing a lot of inefficient, possibly wasted time, nonsense. So much time with her fans, many efforts that seem not to be the highest and best use of her time and energy – but that serve other purposes.

      Questioners usually don’t put up with that kind of thing. They don’t rebel against it, or burn out from it, they simply won’t do it. This is their great strength, and also sometimes a limitation.

      Gretchen Rubin

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