Nashville is more than the heart of Taylor Swift’s business, it’s her home. But the city she came to as 13-year-old aspiring singer has grown far beyond its musical roots; it’s now an economic and cultural powerhouse. TIME’s Alex Rogers spoke to Swift about her favorite city for this week’s magazine feature which looks at the unique alchemy that makes Nashville both a classic American city and a modern success story. Here are excerpts of their conversation.
TIME: Why did you decide to live in Nashville?
SWIFT: I decided to move to Nashville when I was about 10 years old. I was obsessed with watching biography TV shows about Faith Hill and Shania Twain, and I noticed that both of them went to Nashville to start their careers. From that point on, I began relentlessly nagging, begging, and pleading with my parents to take me on a trip there. When I was 11, my mom took my brother and me to Nashville on spring break and we drove up and down Music Row. She would wait in the car as I scampered into record labels one by one, handing my demo CD to the receptionists. I remember thinking it was so odd and wonderful that all of these important record labels were all on one street, most of them in small buildings and old houses. I remember being charmed by how kind people were to strangers and newcomers like us. We took more and more trips to Nashville as time went by, and when at 13, I was offered a development deal by a major record label, my parents gave in and we moved from Pennsylvania.
TIME: Have you ever considered moving your operations to L.A. or New York?
SWIFT: I love L.A. and New York and I spend a lot of time there promoting albums and doing photo shoots. I’ve been lucky enough to find friends who live in New York, L.A., and Nashville, so none of those cities ever feel foreign or lonely. Choosing to have my management company based in Nashville just made sense because my family is there as well as my record label. I never think about moving home bases. It’s hard to describe why you consider a town your home base, except that when people ask me “Where’s home?”, I don’t even think before I say “Nashville.”
TIME: How much time do you spend in Nashville?
SWIFT: I spend as much time in Nashville as I can. The cool thing about spending time in Nashville is that no one knows when I’m there. In New York and L.A., there are photographers waiting on the street, and it seems like every errand I run is photographed and documented. You don’t see as much evidence of me spending time in Nashville, because I’m not being photographed at the grocery store. I’m just able to wander around the grocery store and make casual conversation with the girl standing next to me in the produce aisle.
TIME: How has Nashville changed over the years?
SWIFT: Nashville has changed so much since I moved here almost ten years ago. It’s become a popular, trendy place to live for families and young professionals. It’s become a well-known music hub for genres other than just country. There are now fantastic, highly acclaimed restaurants and top of the line hotels. New high-rise buildings have popped up every time I come home and I think it’s so awesome that Nashville is booming. The attention it’s getting is well deserved.
TIME: How close is the city’s country music community?
SWIFT: The country music community is the closest musical community I’ve witnessed. I see a different songwriter or producer I’ve worked with almost every time I’m out to dinner. All of the artists know each other. Half of us have opened up for the other half on tour, and we’ve met each other at some radio station or awards show. I could list at least five other country artists who live in my apartment building, so I actually run into them in the elevator on a regular basis.
TIME: What’s your favorite spot in the city?
SWIFT: I absolutely love the parks and trails. There’s a park called Radnor Lake that’s gorgeous on a fall day. I’ve had some of my best days walking there with my dad, talking about life. Another huge priority for me is having a good coffee place to go and hang out. Fido has such a great atmosphere, and you can wander around browsing the shops in Hillsboro Village once you’re there. I love driving past the Bluebird Cafe, because that’s where I played the acoustic show that ended up getting me a record deal. The other areas where I like to go for cute restaurants and shopping are 12th South and East Nashville. Now I have to stop because I sound like I am the president of the Nashville Tourism Board. Sorry, not sorry, I just love it here.
Cindi Leive: …I heard you were giving out dating advice on the Glamour shoot. To the hair and makeup team?
Taylor Swift: Oh my God. I talk about this stuff all the time.
CL: Here’s something our readers ask about constantly: When you feel like a guy you’re dating has the upper hand, how do you change the game?
CL: What’s the freeze-out?
TS: You don’t respond to any of his texts or calls until he does something desperate [like] shows up. Or he calls and leaves a voice mail. Something that makes it very clear to you that he’s interested.
CL: Have you employed the freeze-out?
TS: [Nods. Pauses.] I think everyone should approach relationships from the perspective of playing it straight and giving someone the benefit of the doubt. Until he establishes that this is a game. And if it’s a game, you need to win. The best thing to do is just walk away from the table.
CL: Is that winning?
TS: It is when they come back. [Laughs.] And if they don’t, then they didn’t care enough to begin with.
CL: Another reader question: Is it too clingy and too insecure to say “I don’t like it when you don’t text me back right away”?
TS: Guarding your heart and protecting your dignity are a little bit more important than clarifying the emotions of someone who’s only texting you back three words. I’ve learned that from trying to figure out people who don’t deserve to be figured out. When someone seems mysterious, we like to romanticize that he’s “deep” or “complicated.” But a lot of the time, things are exactly as they seem…. For a long time I was drawn to—and still am drawn to—people I find very interesting. [But] someone who sits and talks about themselves for an hour, you start to maybe wonder if, rather than trying so hard to be interesting, they could be a little bit more interested.
CL: Is this a dating observation?
TS: It’s a human being observation.
CL: Give us a few more tricks.
TS: Never yell.
CL: Never yell?
TS: Silence speaks so much louder than screaming tantrums. Never give anyone an excuse to say that you’re crazy.
CL: So will you continue to write about your personal life?
TS: One of my big goals as a human being is to continue to write what’s really happening to me, even if it’s a tough pill to swallow for people around me… I do fear that if I ever were to have someone in my life who mattered, I would second-guess every one of my lyrics.
Taylor Swift is trying to think how to sum up the vocal talents of one of the most high profile men she’s ever shared a microphone with – the Karaoke Kid aka HRH Prince William.
She lets out a couple of slightly supressed, rather ladylike squeals as she works out loud exactly what to say.
'I mean, he is a member of the royal family, this was a private event and I wouldn’t ever want to say anything remotely disrespectful because I absolutely adore William and Kate,' she says.
I tell her not to worry, that beheading is a thing of the past in the British royal family and she laughs out loud.
The clip of them – alongside Jon Bon Jovi – singing Livin’ On A Prayer went viral on You Tube a few months ago. She herself has kept a DVD copy.
'Well both of us were more screaming than singing,' she says.
'But even through all that I could hear his voice and it is pretty good. A nice tone. I’d definitely say he’s got star quality and if he ever wants me to sing with him again I’ll be there.'
At 24, with seven Grammy awards, record sales counted in billions as opposed to millions, a personal fortune of £62 million and all five dates of her current UK tour (which kicks off at The London O2 today) selling out within hours of going on sale, William is just part of a long line of stage partners from Justin Beiber to J-Lo, Stevie Nicks, Ed Sheeran, Carly Simon, Nicki Minaj and the Seventies American singer/songwriter she was named after, James Taylor.
But for a girl who – in a sea of Mileys, Gagas and Rihannas – uses words like ‘decorum’, absolutely believes in respecting your elders, has turned down millions to pose for Playboy (‘There are a lot of offers that just don’t make sense to me’) and whose dress code limits are hot pants; that infamous Centrepoint charity event at Kensington Palace alongside Jon Bon Jovi and a flushed and delighted looking Prince William was, she said: ‘A night I will remember till I’m very, very old.’
She says: ‘The whole evening was completely wondrous and felt so special from the start.
'The theme was ‘winter white’ so I wore a long, white ball gown. Just walking through those beautifully ornate rooms and corridors in Kensington Palace with string quartets playing and that sense of all those people in history who’d walked through the same rooms was completely magical.
'I had no idea I’d even meet Prince William. At the reception I saw Jon Bon Jovi talking to him and then he came over, smiled and started talking to me. I’d never met him before, he was so charming, so easy to talk to.
'I completely love him - and Kate… Looking at them just makes me feel happy,' said Taylor
'I know about curtseying in front of the royal family but I didn’t actually do it because it was much more informal.
'Plus I was completely taken aback by his first words to me, he said: ‘I hear you’re heading off to Australia’ and I couldn’t believe this Prince of England actually knew what someone like me was up to.
'Kate wasn’t with him but he actually sat next to me for the concert.
'We were in the front row and there were singers like James Blunt, Tinie Tempah and Eliza Doolittle sitting near us.
'Jon Bon Jovi got up to perform and he called him out because he’d heard William loves singing Livin’ On A Prayer on karaoke nights. Then he said to everyone in the room: “If I put pressure on the Karaoke Kid he’ll have to get up and sing.”
'Prince William looked and me and said: ‘I’ll do it if you do it too’ and then took my hand. I was just completely surprised and flattered and it felt surreal and completely natural at the same time.
'We jumped on the stage and started to sing and then we were really yelling into the microphone and clapping hands. I still can’t believe I’ve sung with the Prince of England.
'But I completely love him – and Kate – I wished I got to meet her too because those guys are like this perfect, perfect couple. Looking at them just makes me feel happy.'
You’d think a girl like Taylor would be pretty happy all the time because she’s got everything she wanted. The last time I met her she was 19 and just on the cusp of becoming huge.
Now she is mega-huge, up there with Beyonce, Katy Perry, Rihanna and Adele and with homes in Nashville, Rhode Island and Hollywood, who at this years Grammies stunned everyone by head-banging her way through the ballad ‘All Too Well’.
'God, so much has happened to me in the past few years,' she says. 'It’s true that years in the celebrity world are like dog years and in that sense I feel about 45. It has got crazy but I like to think I’m pretty much the same person I was back then.'
She has not - unlike her peers Miley Cyrus, Justin Beiber and Rihanna – gone wild in an attempt to twerk her way into the credible sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame.
'I think I’ve kept to the same goals I’ve always had,' she says. 'I don’t compare myself to anyone else, I don’t make comments about anyone else because they do what feels right for them and that’s okay by me.
'You get to a point where it’s like you can’t really do anything right and people will pick on you for whatever decisions you make, so I just try and take no notice and get on with my music.'
What’s the wildest, most hedonistic thing she has ever done? She laughs: ‘That is a tough one, I think I’ll have to ask my friends.’
She has never, she says, done anything illegal. She didn’t have a drink till she was 21 and has recurring panic dreams of being arrested for something she didn’t do.
She’s still thinking about that wild thing and drawing blanks but the more she thinks about it the more unapologetic she becomes.
There is a core of steel to Swift that has – along with her song writing – won her praise from some of the toughest and most difficult to impress.
'God, so much has happened to me in the past few years. It's true that years in the celebrity world are like dog years and in that sense I feel about 45,' said Taylor (pictured at the GRAMMY Awards)
Neil Young says he likes her. ‘I like her music, I like watching her respond to her attacks, I like the way she’s defining herself.’
Elvis Costello says: ‘You can see self-possession there and I’m intrigued by that.’
She likes to throw parties for her girlfriend but no TVs are chucked out of hotel windows, no eggs (sorry Justin) are thrown at neighbours walls.
'For me relaxing is cooking, baking. In the winter I bake, I make pumpkin loaves and chocolate chip cookies, in the summer I cook. I do a great Japanese stir fry with chicken and vegetables and pasta with vegetables and vodka sauce.'
When she comes to Britain for her tour she’s hoping to see something of the Great British Bake Off.
'I’ve heard of that show,' she says. 'I really want to see it because I’m completely passionate about baking and I love watching other people bake. I’d definitely like to see Mary Berry.'
Swift is the product of a highly educated, middle class family who put manners, morals and personal development high on the family agenda.
The daughter of three generations of banking executives, she was brought up in the affluent area of Wyomissing, Pennsylvania on an 11 acre Christmas Tree Farm, the family owned as a secondary business.
From the age of nine thanks to a combination of loving Shania Twain, seeing Dolly Parton and listening to a LeAnn Rimes album her parents bought her as her first ever record, she knew she wanted to be a country singer. Her mother, Andrea, encouraged her first to paint then to paint in words.
It was not a decision that made her popular at school where everyone else was into Britney (Spears) Justin (Timberlake) and Destiny’s Child. She’d run into the toilets during break times to sit in a cubicle and sing a few lines of lyrics she had just thought up.
She wore folk style bandanas in her hair and talked about ‘switchbacks’ (a lyric that zig-zags back on itself, a favourite device in country music) .
'I am constantly misunderstood; a lot of people just don't get me,' said Taylor
'I was an oddball,' she says. 'And I was way taller than everyone else (she is a 5,11) with curly frizzy hair. People can be very mean. I became a target, a very easy target because I was also very sensitive.'
At 12 she went to Nashville with her mum and a stack of CDs she’d made, running in and out of record companies delivering the discs while Andrea waited in the car outside. She persuaded her mother and stock-broker father to move to Nashville.
By 14 she had a record deal but was ‘shelved’ a year later. She pushed on. The words; ‘Never, never, never give up’ are embossed in swirly letters on the inside of her tour-bus.
Success has not dulled her sensitivity. But in many ways it is that sensitivity that has given her success. Her confessional songs – many about lost love and broken dreams – have struck a major chord with her largely female following. She actually looks pretty close to a supermodel but in concert she talks to her audience as if she is the eternal wallflower, the geeky, gawky uncertain one.
She is known for not discussing in interviews past romances with the likes of One Direction’s Harry Styles, the super-bad boy, John Mayer, the American royal, Conor Kennedy, or the commitment phobe Jake Gyllenhaal.
In the press she is sometimes painted as a man-chaser (‘I never chase boys, they don’t like it.’) whose music consists of revenge songs directed at the men who let her down. There are whole websites devoted to working out which song is directed at which ex – Dear John for John Meyer and We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together Again is thought to be about Gyllenhaal. Swift will neither confirm nor deny.
It’s actually a pretty smart policy. Not only does it stoke massive interest in each of her four albums, but any such revelations could spark savage repercussions.
When One Directioners took I Knew You Were Trouble from her best-selling Red album to be about Harry (it was actually written before they even dated) she received death threats on Twitter from his fans urging her to ‘drink bleach’.
To Swift it is simply what she does. Her idols from Parton to Stevie Nicks to Carly Simon, Eminem and Joni Mitchell all poured their lives and love affairs into their songs.
At school, she wrote about girls being mean, about being the odd one, the kid who didn’t fit in.
'One of the great joys about writings songs is that it enabled me to have the last word.'
She adds: ‘Songs are my diaries, they always have been. You have to put your trust in everyone because putting down those real, personal details and thoughts that make a song authentic also opens you right up. I am constantly misunderstood; a lot of people just don’t get me.’
She pauses. ‘It’s like how I’m perceived to be constantly going out with people. I’m just not. It’s like she’s a hopeless romantic so she’s a serial monogamist, always dating.
'They look at me and think: ‘Oh she has to be in love or she’s not happy.’ It is possible for a woman to be a romantic but also to be single and to be happy.'
For the record then, is she single or is she in fact (as has been reported) dating either Ed Sheeran or Jared Leto.
'I am single,' she says. 'To be honest being single is one of the best things about my life right now. And whatever people think I actually love it.
'Life is so much more fun and it’s great not to have to worry about calling someone every night, just doing what you want to do. Hanging out with your friends.'
Swift is far more complex, far more intelligent than most of the stories about her give her credit for. Like Adele, she is one of the few female stars who writes their own songs. Her lyrics are clever, assured and her progression as a writer is clear.
Stevie Nicks rates her: ‘It’s women like her who are going to save the music business.’
She studies the song writing of her heroes.
'Sometimes I’ll go into the Canyons in LA and just think about all those incredible musicians who used to live there. I think you still feel an incredible energy there. I’d love to have been around then.'
For the past few weeks she has had an unprecedented number of days off. She has spent the time hiking, making granola (‘It’s so good.’) watching re-runs of Friends, Sex And The City, Law And Order and endless loops of her favourite movies 500 Days Of Summer and Love Actually.
She’s also been reading a lot of American classics: ‘For Christmas my brother (21-year-old Austin) bought me the best ever present, a collection of books called The University Library, it has poems, novels, short stories. I love it.
'I spend a lot of time at bookstores buying beaten up vintage books. You can lose yourself in a book like you can in a song and as a songwriter, you can learn just by reading the way other people write.'
What makes Swift so likeable is her habit of looking outside herself. She talks about sitting next to Julia Roberts at the Golden Globes: ‘We just started talking straight away. What struck me about her was not how beautiful she was but how youthful she was. She seemed younger than me and just extraordinary. She has a real grace.
'She is how I’d like to be. I want to grow up with grace, to age gracefully and to love life. Julia was just so full of life.'
She asks questions, talks about other musicians (Sheeran, Ellie Goulding), movies she’s seen (American Hustle) the way Eminem can tell a story.
She has a lot of friends including the actresses Emma Stone and Jennifer Lawrence, Selena Gomez and Girls writer Lena Durham who she’s grown particularly close to.
'People say the more famous you become the smaller your circle of friends becomes but for me it’s been the opposite.
'I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up and now I’m surrounded by all these amazing, strong women who are incredibly supportive.
'Like Lena. She’s crazy busy but she’ll always take my call. I can call her in the night and she’d be there to laugh with me or to chill with me or to hold my hand. And I’d be there for her.'
You can’t help wonder if the media misunderstanding of Taylor Swift will put her off dating for good. And what would happen to her music.
There is a pause and then she laughs. ‘I just don’t Google. I’m unapologetically okay with myself. I refuse to believe the good hype and I refuse to believe the bad hype. Life is good.’ Source
Taylor Swift knows how long an album’s journey can be … and how big the payoff can be.
The singing-songwriting superstar introduced “Red” in October 2012, and many of the quadruple-platinum-selling release’s songs became chart hits, often crossing between multiple genres. Its bids for both album of the year and country album are among Swift’s four nominations at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards, which CBS televises from Los Angeles’ Staples Center at 8 tonight.
Already an owner of seven Grammys – including album of the year and country album for “Fearless” – Swift also is in the running for best country song of the year (for the “Red” cut “Begin Again”) and best country duo or group performance (with Tim McGraw and Keith Urban, for “Highway Don’t Care”).
In an interview for this article, Swift spoke about her process with “Red” and also about her generally stellar past year.
Q: What are your reflections on the path “Red” has taken, now that it’s up for several Grammys?
A: It’s astounding to me that the fans have carried out its life as long as they have. Getting the Grammy nomination for album of the year, that was the most incredible triumph for the album.
It’s the oldest contender in that category, and since it’s over a year old, I was a little afraid that people would forget about it. For it to be honored that way by musicians, producers, writers, all the people who vote for the Grammys, it’s the most incredible crowning achievement so far.
Q: What’s the feeling of seeing so many songs from the album – from “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “22” to “I Knew You Were Trouble” and “Everything Has Changed” – make their marks separately?
A: Seeing the tracks go out into the world and become different things, every song has a life of its own. Every one gets to have its shining moment, and that was the goal when I set out to make albums.
I’m a firm believer in optimism regarding the music industry. So many people are preaching doomsday, and I’m just not there. I just don’t feel it. Sales and stats show that if you are giving the fans part of your life, they will invest in it. I just refuse to believe we are going down in flames.
Q: Did you get added affirmation from the audience response during the North American leg of your “Red” tour?
A: There’s no way of defining why something connects or why it doesn’t, why a certain song works or why it doesn’t. We can try to explain it all we want, or why it’s escalated to the level that we’re now playing stadiums. I’m grateful for it, but there’s no way you can ever explain the connection you have with your fans. It’s more a gut-feeling kind of thing.
Q: As you start work on your fifth album, how is it to begin again?
A: I can’t believe we’re going on five albums now, when I feel like it’s still just the beginning. With this album, I’m not trying to open up a new chapter; I’m trying to start a completely new book.
It has to have the common thread of confessional songwriting and my fans getting a glimpse into what’s really happening in my life, but sonically, you can go anywhere. That’s the cool thing.
It’s no secret that Taylor Swift loves a good pair of classic kicks. The songstress recently debuted her fourth collection for Keds. It’s filled with fun patterns in look-at-me hues, and we can’t get enough—so we went straight to the source to learn all about her brand-new line.
"When I was a little kid, I had a pair of white Keds I wore everywhere," Taylor told us. "It was a nostalgic feeling when they asked me to be the inspiration for the collection. It’s cool to be part of something with such a legacy." Her latest designs are inspired by her own wardrobe, which Taylor playfully describes as a combination of Easter egg colored andnautical-inspired pieces. "There’s a lot oflace, polka dots, and stripes because those are the things I wear all the time!"
The other thing Taylor wears all the time? Her signature sneaks, of course. “I wore them on the Red tour during a part of the show where I had to crowd surf into a group of dancers, jump off the stage, and run all the way across the arena,” she reveals. “They were perfect!” She’s also been known to sport a pair to the gym or even to the beach. “For me, it’s a comfort thing,” she says.
While her Keds have remained constant, Taylor’s look has evolved over the years from cowboy boot-wearing teen to 1960s-inspired glamour girl. “I don’t usually follow trends,” she explains. “I try to wear things that I can look back on in 30 years and be happy about!”
Which isn’t to say she hasn’t had her fair share of wardrobe regrets. “I never got to go to prom,” she shares. “So when I was younger, I wore prom dresses on the red carpet or to awards shows.” Sound like a sacrifice you’d be willing to make for superstardom? Taylor’s got some advice for you: “It’s less important to study the way other people make it in this industry,” she says. “If someone showed up at my record label and said and did the exact things I did, it probably wouldn’t work.” Her solution? Strength in numbers. “If you can get a fan base behind you, they’re far more likely to listen.”
And even though she’s amassed over 30 million Twitter followers, Taylor admits she prefers her social media presence to be like her style: simple. “I’m the only person with my password,” she says. “I’ll tweet maybe once every two weeks. I don’t want to seem like I always have my phone out looking for the next thing to upload. One of the most important things about social media is knowing when to put the phone down and experience your life,” she says. “If I were to tweet what I’m doing every minute, all you’d get would be pictures of me watching TV with my cat and you’d be depressed for me!” Somehow, we doubt it. (x)
Taylor Swift received birthday gifts during the holiday season, but she also gave quite a hefty one.
Nominated for four Grammys at the 56th annual awards — which CBS televises Sunday, Jan. 26 — the singing-songwriting superstar marked turning 24 last month by donating $100,000 to the Nashville Symphony.
The musicians had taken a 15-percent salary cut in their contract negotiation last summer, and Swift elected to do her part, which earned her DoSomething.org’s title of most charitable celebrity of 2013.
"They’re an incredible group of people," she tells Zap2It. "I played with them a couple of years ago, and I had no idea they had gotten so wiped out by the floods in Nashville. There was so much damage to their building, they had to cut back on costs. They would never ask me to give anything, and that’s why I felt compelled to do so."
Now with Grammy bids for the multiple-hit-yielding “Red” that include Album of the Year and Country Album — both of which she won in 2010 (for “Fearless”) — Swift will take her current concert tour to Europe days after the award ceremony. She intends to give those fans the whole show, entailing some big shipping costs.
"I’m so excited for London and Berlin," she says, "and I’m really excited that we’ve taken the time to ship everything over. We’ll have the full show, and that’s why we’ve taken a break between going to Australia and going to London. I don’t want anybody to get a stripped-down version of the show, just me standing on a stage."
As Swift starts work on her fifth album, she’s also a nominee in Sunday’s (Jan. 12) 70th Annual Golden Globe Awards for “Sweeter Than Fiction,” the song she wrote with Jack Antonoff of fun. for the movie “One Chance.” Her recent North American and Australian touring has made her all the more committed to deliver for her followers, who have boosted “Red” to quadruple-platinum sales.
"My fans have really been showing up and going above and beyond," Swift says. "With all these amazing things happening, one thing I’ve worked on for the last couple of years is that when they’re happening, not having a supreme tidal wave of fear follow the great things."
She continues, “I try really hard just to experience the joy and celebrate it, rather than fearing when it will all end, or fearing that I’ll say something stupid and everyone will hate me. That’s the struggle, processing things the right way … and lately, I’ve really been able to live in the moment and appreciate what’s happening to me. Which is amazing.” x
On an obvious, commercial level, it makes perfect sense for Taylor Swift to record end-credits for teen-targeted films. In 2012 she teamed up with T Bone Burnett and the Civil Wars for “The Hunger Games’” signature tune “Safe and Sound.” It helped lift the pic’s soundtrack to No. 10 on the Billboard chart, nabbing a Golden Globe nomination and a Grammy in the process.
Late last year she partnered with Fun guitarist Jack Antonoff to pen and perform “Sweeter Than Fiction” from the Weinstein Co.’s “One Chance,” for which she’ll once again be competing for best original song at the Golden Globes.
Yet on a less obvious, artistic level, it doesn’t make much sense at all. Writing for characters, and fitting her style into the tenor of an existing film, isn’t consistent with Swift’s m.o., which favors an inward-looking songwriting process that tends to attract such adjectives as confessional, intimate, purgative ….
“Also ‘diaristic,’” Swift interjects. “That’s a popular one.”
Diaristic though she may be, Swift does not actually write from a diary.
The closest she comes is the array of notes on her cell phone, filled with “phrases I thought of that would be better if you twisted it around in some way, phrases that rhyme really well with this other phrase that you could twist to make a sort of off-rhyme … I’m always making notes.” So marrying these stray observations with a more distanced perspective is hardly incompatible with her method.
“It’s almost a relief to turn the microscope around and not have to be so introspective, and draw directly from your life,” she says. “When I see a story play out and see all the different themes, one of them will always jump out at me. Like, with ‘Hunger Games’ there were so many different themes to draw from, and the one we drew from was ‘empathy.’”
For “One Chance,” inspired by the story of Paul Potts, a warehouse manager and amateur opera singer who won the first season of “Britain’s Got Talent,” Swift drew upon the outsider perspective that, for all her popularity, has long been a constant theme of her music.
“He’s a struggling opera singer, and no one gets it,” she says. “Which I related to a little bit growing up (in Pennsylvania) being so obsessed with country music — in my school, everyone was a little bit perplexed.”
Though it often gets lost in the swirl of celebrity and stagecraft that surrounds her, Swift has always been a songwriter first and foremost — she was, after all, the youngest tunesmith ever signed by Sony/ATV publishing. But adapting the wide-eyed yet subtly cynical teenage songwriting perspective on which she staked her early fame into a more mature, adult outlook is still a work in progress, and one that Swift seems to approach in an analytical way.
“Jody Rosen did a profile of me recently where he called (my songwriting) both purple and precise; a mixture of some very purple lines and some very precise details. I thought that was very astute,” she says. “I know I obsess over the different facets that people have to their personalities if you pick them apart.I’m obsessed by the idea that in real life there’s no such thing as a bad guy or a good guy. So thinking in character or writing from the perspective of a character, it’s really like picking one version of who I am.
“When I’m writing my own stuff, it’s about picking the specific corner that I want to view the world from. But for a character, it’s lucky when you have a really good performance. (Watching ‘One Chance’) I could see a song playing out as I saw the facial expressions, it was easy.”
This year will also see Swift take an onscreen role in another Weinstein production, Phillip Noyce’s adaptation of dystopian young adult novel “The Giver,” in which she plays the doomed “receiver” Rosemary. Yet these forays into film will likely be but footnotes to the yet-untitled and unscheduled fifth album she’s just beginning to sketch out.
While Swift composed the whole of her third album, “Speak Now,” alone, her latest, “Red,” saw some of its biggest successes arise from her songwriting partnerships with the likes of Ed Sheeran, Gary Lightbody, Dan Wilson and, most lucratively, Max Martin and Shellback. Her fifth will again see her work with the latter two, and the value of collaboration comes up several times in conversation with the singer.
“My favorite people to work with are the bluntest,” Swift says, “the ones who will say no. It’s important to have someone say, ‘That’s not good enough, go write a better pre-chorus,’ so I can go back to the drawing board. I don’t want people thinking if they’re too hard they won’t get to write with me again, when in fact it’s the contrary.”
Martin is perhaps the most commercially consistent hitmaker of the past few decades, and in Swift’s renewed partnership with him, it’s possible to infer the kinds of pressures the 24-year-old must be under to churn out another smash LP on par with her previous four. To date, even Swift’s lowest-selling album has been certified quadruple platinum, and her current 79-date world tour has already grossed $115 million.
“I have lot of goals, and one of them is to know when to stop,” she says. “I love the sound of applause but I don’t want to become addicted to it in order to feel whole. It’s the creative part of music-making that I could never live without.
“Hopefully in your life you make graceful decisions, dignified career choices. There are lots of different directions to go in, and I’m not anywhere close to being out of ideas here. But as I grow older, I hope I can continue to rely on gut feelings and continue to be self-aware. Self-awareness is usually the first thing to go when people lose touch. So ideally I can keep my wits about me.”
You hear music as you enter the Sunset Marquis hotel on a chilly December afternoon.
You briefly think it’s a recording, but quickly realize that isn’t right. The music is too present and singular. You round the corner into an expansive suite and see Taylor Swift, playing a piano, with a roaring fire in the background. It’s like a scene from a holiday card sent by the seven-time Grammy winner rather than an actual room you can enter. You want this moment to go longer — a private show! — but she immediately bounds to her feet, full of bright energy, and says a warm hello.
Some celebrities in person look like what you expect and others appear quite different; Swift looks like herself. Her outfit is purple-ish, with a long modest skirt. She glances around for a place to sit and this is a brief dilemma. She decides to ignore all the furniture and instead sits on the floor by the fireplace, asking you: Is that okay? So you both sit cross-legged by the fire. It’s all very congenial and Christmas-y, which is appropriate since you have some holiday music questions on your list. There is just one awkward moment that cracks the mood — you forwardly ask a Miley Cyrus question (can’t blame a reporter for trying, right?). Swift scrunches her nose, like she just caught a whiff of a unsavory question, and politely asks to skip that one (“we have so little time,” she says).
We’re here to talk about Swift’s new song “Sweeter Than Fiction,” which is accompanying the release of the heartwarming British comedy One Chance (trailer here). The film is based on the true story of an amateur opera singer who won Britain’s Got Talent. She also just received a Golden Globe nomination for the track. But we manage to get in some other questions too.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So you wouldn’t really expect an original song of yours on a modest British indie comedy, how did this come about?
Taylor Swift: I fell in love with the film after I got to see it. I was lucky to be one of the first people to see it. I think [producer Harvey Weinstein] knew what he was doing. He contacted us and said, “I think I have a film Taylor should see.” I don’t think he needed to say a word; he knew I’d go and write an end-credits song. So for me there were so many different amazing themes about the movie to draw from. My experience with songwriting is usually so confessional, it’s so drawn from my own life and my own stories. There’s something so unique about that and I get a special buzz from that. But it’s also kind of cool to focus on somebody else’s storylines.
You get to step outside yourself for the song.
Give yourself a little bit of a break from the introspection.
How was it collaborating with Jack Antonoff? Any chance of that happening again?
There’s a huge chance of that happening again. This is the first time that Jack Antonoff and I had collaborated. We had been friends for awhile, because I’m really good friends with [Antonoff’s girlfriend Lena Dunham] and the three of us are always hanging out. And one time we were together, we were going over tracks and stuff, and there was a lightning bolt that went off between both of us that we should work together. So he was the first person I contacted. Jack is so good at mixing ’80s nostalgia into his music and I wanted that to be reflected in this song because I wanted something so different from the opera that is at the forefront of the movie. And also a great deal of the plot line of the movie takes place in the ’80s and ’90s.
And there was the Golden Globe nomination. Do you still get a surge of emotion when nominations happen?
I got a text from Lena as soon as it happened and she’s like, “Holy Golden Globe nomination!” And I texted back: “Don’t lie, that’s not funny.” And I called her up and I was screaming. And she was screaming. And then Jack woke up and he was screaming. It happened on my birthday so it was the most unbelievable occurrence.
Is there another artist that you’ve always wanted to work with?
I’m kinda obsessed with Sia. Always have been.
What have you not accomplished career-wise that you really want to do?
Oh so much! How much time do you have?
Well, what’s a couple of the biggest things you want to accomplish?
One thing I’ve tried to never do is make wish lists. I try to have a very steppingstone mentality about this whole thing, where as soon as you make one step you visualize the next step, not five steps ahead. There’s a line in the movie that’s almost word-for-word that metaphor. That’s the way I’ve always looked at my career. I would love to win another Grammy. I would love to get to go the Oscars someday. That’s why I’m so happy to get to be a part of movies.
Speaking of next steps, you recently said your next album is ahead of schedule. Roughly when should that be expected?
They would be so mad at me if I told you what I have in my head as far as the plan goes, and I hate to say a plan and then change it. A great deal of what will happen this year has to do with what will happen this next month. But for me writing the next record, it usually takes me awhile to find the new sound. It usually takes me a year to shed the last album’s sound and start anew. And this one just started on new territory.
You keep segueing perfectly to the next question on my list–
Which is: You’ve said you have a new sound for this album. How would you describe that?
Hmm. Describing it is difficult. At the core of what I do, it’s always going to revolve around a confessional storyline and filling my fans in on what my life has actually been. It’s become this lifeline between me and my friends and they know that no matter what they read in some magazine, they’re going to hear the actual accounting of it when the album comes out. I’ve always written songs for the same reason — to sort through my emotions. As I grow up, the lessons I learn in love and relationships and how we treat each other are hopefully maturing — hopefully.
We also have some questions for our Christmas survey. The first song you want to listen to when you start playing Christmas music each year?
So many! Colbie Caillat has a great Christmas album I’m obsessed with. I love the She & Him Christmas stuff. Bing Crosby, of course. “All I Want for Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey. Beach Boys have great Christmas music. Train has this song called “Shake Up Christmas.” I have so many favorite Christmas songs right now.
What’s the hidden-gem Christmas song you wish more people knew about?
Huh … Can I get out my phone?
Absolutely. That’s not cheating.
Okay. I’m on it! … There’s one called “It’s Christmas Time” by Jules Larson, that I find to be just delightful. Oh, and Fountains of Wayne has a song called “Valley Winter Song.” I’m obsessed with it and I’ve turned it in my mind into a Christmas song.
And what is the one Christmas song that you cannot stand?
I don’t have one really. I only download the ones I like.
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