Photo: Inez and Vinoodh for TIME

As you’ve probably heard by now, TIME’s 2023 Person of the Year is Taylor Swift. If you don’t know who Taylor Swift is, I can’t help you with that. But I can help you take an inside look at this year’s Person, how the issue came together, and how TIME identifies its Person of the Year.

In this special bonus episode, I’m thrilled to be speaking with TIME’s Editor in Chief Sam Jacobs and our Senior Executive Editor Kelly Conniff. They’ll take us behind the scenes of how this year’s Person of the Year was chosen, and why it’s such a different choice.

Tune in every Thursday, and join us as we continue to explore the minds that shape our world. You can listen to the full episode in the player above, but here are a handful of excerpts from our conversation, which have been condensed and edited for clarity.

TIME Editor in Chief Sam Jacobs on how Taylor Swift illustrates the importance of cultural impact and soft power:

I think this year we’ve seen the costs and limits of hard power. From two wars, to a seriously dysfunctional U.S. government, to a presidential campaign that I think is leaving many people feeling on edge, we’re seeing in these standard places of power a lot of things that are broken.

One of the things we write about is how there was almost a competition this year to find new ways to describe her success. And her success was one that transcended her own arena in such a way that, you know, to quote from the story, that she was like the weather. She was just omnipresent in our world and in our lives. And to see someone do that through building a universe of creativity, I think is a singular achievement.

I think about who her predecessors are, and there are a lot of world builders. A lot of people who are really disruptive: Zuckerberg, Bezos, Musk. These are people who transform our lives through innovation, through building businesses, through the accumulation of capital, and our lives are left completely different through their inventions. And I think we’re making an argument that culture plays a similar role in our lives. And in fact, the purpose of hard power is to create a space where this sort of soft power can exist.

Fourteen U. S. presidents, five leaders of Russia or the Soviet Union, three popes. These are the people who we see as Person of the Year. And I’ve spent the entire fall with the Person of the Year Wikipedia page open on my computer just looking at the faces. Who are the people who sit on those covers? Who do we look at? And who are we putting in the pantheon of history? And what have they done? And the whole point, the whole purpose of organizing governments and building businesses was ultimately to create a space for humanity. And the most creative, most exciting, most unifying space for humanity that we saw this year was created by Taylor Swift.

Senior Executive Editor Kelly Conniff on why Taylor Swift is TIME’s 2023 Person of the Year:

A lot of people don’t like to admit that they follow pop culture, or they like to make fun of it. But name me a person this year who did not interact with her, whether they went to her concert, maybe they bought a ticket to her movie, they clicked on a headline about her, they saw her in a box at an NFL game, they debated the merits of her music, all of these different things.

Any time someone would say, ‘Hey, you guys should do Taylor Swift.’ I’d say, ‘You know, what does she mean to you?’ And people have different answers, of course, because people have different relationships with art. That’s part of what makes art so powerful. But they all had something in common, which is that she makes people feel things.

She writes about her experiences, that’s something that her fans really love and value. But she also writes in a really kind of general, relatable way. And if you’re a person who’s had their heart broken, struggled in any aspect of your life, she probably has a song for you.

And she has this really devoted base of fans who have grown up with her. She’s been popular for years and years, nearly two decades. There are Swifties out there in every walk of life. One of my personal favorites is Paul Schrader, who’s a director in his 70s, he famously wrote the movie Taxi Driver, is the die hard Swiftie of the universe. He has gone to see her, he writes about her movies, he has these great Facebook updates, where he talked about how she just brings light into the world.

And I thought that was such an incredible idea, especially right now when there’s a lot of darkness. And it’s not to say that we shouldn’t talk about the darkness and identify the people and the leaders in that zone. But it also means that we need to look toward the light too. And I think a lot of what she’s done in her music, in the world building and the larger storytelling that she does, is she really encourages people to look within themselves and she also lets people be seen.

Taylor Swift is only the 6th individual woman ever named as Person of the Year, and also one of the youngest. Sam Jacobs explains where Taylor Swift fits in the 96-year history of Person of the Year:

I think it reveals the biases of the people who have made this selection over the century, and I’ve been part of that group, too. We all bring with us certain perceptions of what power and influence look like.

There’s a generational shift happening. She’s 33 years old. In the last 50 years, only four people who have been named Individual Person of the Year have been born since 1973. It’s Taylor Swift, Greta Thunberg, Volodymyr Zelensky, Mark Zuckerberg. That’s it. Everyone else has been born prior to 50 years ago. To achieve the type of power and influence that is required to receive this recognition, you often have to work your entire life.

I think there are moments in which we’re more comfortable recognizing the upstart, and those are in certain realms like technology, where a 24 year old, typically man, can reshape the world through Facebook or through whatever his invention or his company is doing. I think it’s interesting because Swift herself, at 33, is very young in the history of this franchise. But within her industry and within her career, she’s in her second decade. This is a veteran. This is someone who’s been doing this a really long time, someone whose career we’ve been watching.

This is someone who is way into her career, even if only at the beginning of her life. I think it’s amazing for us to think about this generational shift that’s happening in culture, but I think it’s happening everywhere.

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