Taylor Swift’s Kennedy Inspiration

On her coming album “Red,” country star Taylor Swift drew inspiration from other pop hitmakers—as well as a couple of the Kennedys.

Her previous studio album, the Grammy-winning 2010 release “Speak Now,” sold 4.2 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and Ms. Swift made a point of writing every song herself. For “Red,” due in stores Tuesday, Ms. Swift collaborated with such disparate talents as Swedish producer Max Martin, British pop-folk star Ed Sheeran, and Semisonic rocker Dan Wilson, who co-wrote Adele’s hit “Someone Like You.” The album’s first single, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” has already sold more than 2.3 million copies.

Mr. Wilson, who has co-written songs for Pink and the Dixie Chicks, says that the most successful stars he’s worked with are the same in private as they are in public. “I’ve seen Taylor win on award shows and she has this amazed look on her face,” Mr. Wilson says. “She has the same look when she comes up with a great idea in the studio.”

Ms. Swift, who has gotten widespread attention for dating 18-year-old Conor Kennedy, says that his grandparents, Robert and Ethel Kennedy, inspired “Starlight,” a song on her new album, after she saw an old photograph of them. “I just kind of wrote that song from that place, not really knowing how they met or anything like that,” Ms. Swift says.

Ms. Swift recently talked with The Wall Street Journal by phone about her new album. Here are some edited excerpts:

Why did you write with collaborators on many of the songs on this album?

On my last album I wrote all my songs on my own, and at the end of writing that record, writing songs on my own had become my comfort zone. So I thought for this new record, how do you change, how do you grow as an artist at 22 putting out your fourth record, how do you learn as much as you possibly can? And for me, getting out of my comfort zone meant getting into the studio with people I’d always admired, people who had always been influences for me but who I’d never actually worked with before.

Walk me through the process of writing “I Knew You Were Trouble” with Max Martin and Shellback. How did it work?

Well, all of the writing that I did for this record with collaborators was in person. I’ve never done the whole “email me a track and I’ll email you back the lyrics” thing. I feel like there has to be some sort of a connection, you know?

At 22, do you have experiences where you think, “I can’t capture this in a song because it’s too mature for my audience”?

My audience has really become a very diverse group of people. It’s not just 15-year-old girls. That’s kind of what allows me to write from all the different places I want to write from.

You released country and pop versions of your single “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” Have you gotten any blowback from country radio to your increasing success in the pop world?

Country radio has been incredibly supportive because we have such a strong relationship. I went on a radio tour when I was 16. They know that I like to explore the edges. And they also know that when I’m going to Japan and say I’m a country artist, that spreads awareness of what country music is. And so it’s been amazing to make different kinds of music and still be in the genre that feels like home to me.

On “Starlight,” you sing about being “on the boardwalk, summer of ‘45.” What inspired that song?

I get a lot of style inspiration from the 1960s, so I’ll go and look at black and white pictures, and look at [photos from the] ’50s and ’60s, and I came across this picture of these two kids dancing at a dance. It immediately made me think of like how much fun they must have had that night. It was back in the late ’40s. I ended up reading underneath that it was Ethel Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy. And they were like 17 [Robert was born Nov. 20, 1925, Ethel on April 11, 1928]. So I just kind of wrote that song from that place, not really knowing how they met or anything like that. And then her daughter Rory ended up coming to a show a couple weeks later and I told her about the song and she was like, you have to meet my mom. She would love to meet you. So that was kind of what that song was about.

It does become a guessing game sometimes about who your songs are about. Are you conscious of that as you put out the album—this will get people guessing and make it that much more interesting?

I don’t write my albums like they’re pages from gossip columns. I write records about my feelings, and my relationships and what has inspired me in the last two years, and the reality is that it goes out into the world and people play a guessing game…I don’t take part in it or pay much attention to it. But I also don’t sit there and say, “Stop doing that,” because it’s human nature and people are curious.

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