Her Song: Talking Taylor Swift


An A-plus interview.

Why can't they all be like Taylor Swift? The young country super-starlet is a flat-out fantastic interview subject. So open and honest and funny and interesting; so willing to play along - to go here, there or anywhere during the course of an interview. (And I do mean anywhere: Swift tells me that she recently spent a day back home in Hendersonville, Tenn., driving around with a writer from Blender who wanted to see where all her ex-boyfriends lived. You know, since she sings so much about them and has said before, on her MySpace and elsewhere, that she's been known to drive by their houses, just because.)

Anyway, she seems to love the process. And the process sure loves her: She's a reporter's dream - and, no doubt, a publicist's, too. A media darling, indeed. (Doesn't hurt that she's a talented songwriter who is particularly adept at writing from a teenager's perspective in a way that really connects with other young girls.)

Here's what Big Machine Records chief Scott Borchetta says about his label's newly minted star, who I wrote up in today's Style section: "She's remarkably and extraordinarily media savvy, but it's very natural and innocent. It's real. She comes at you with such a transparent point of view. When she's in the media, she allows herself to really open up and be in the moment. It's like she's talking to you on a different level. You can't teach that."

I spent a couple of hours with Swift when I was out in Grammyland, though a good chunk of that time was spent shopping. (She was making the rounds at one of the swag suites and was incredibly determined to get as much free stuff as possible. She done good. Back-up-the-chauffeured-truck good.) When we finally sat down, deep inside the Staples Center, as Kanye West was rehearsing for his televised performance, we covered quite a bit of ground. Too much real estate for today's story, natch. Here are some of the scraps from the cutting-room floor.

On why Swift, who is home-schooling her way to a diploma, won't be going to senior prom at her old high school: "As supportive as my hometown is, in my high school, there are people who would probably walk up to me and punch me in the face. There's a select few that will never like me. They don't like what I stand for. They don't like somebody who stands for being sober, who stands for anything happy. They're going to be negative no matter what. I've had people tell me it would be a security issue if I went back to prom. I hate to go there, but I think it might be true. I heard that when Christina Aguilera went back to her prom, people, like, booed her. I can't imagine going through that. If you know that's going to happen, why put yourself in that situation? I'd rather play for 20,000 screaming people, you know?"

On her pristine All-American girl image, as a straight-edged, straight-A student whose mother insists she's never made any big mistakes in her life: "I'm not perfect, but I've never done anything wrong, like, criminal record-wise, or like my mom screaming at me really loudly-wise. Okay, sometimes my room isn't clean. She'll come in and say: 'Taylor, you're still a teenager living under my roof, you still need to clean your room.' But I've never been a party girl. I'd rather sit at home and bake on a Friday night than go to parties. In high school, all my friends would go out drinking and stuff but I never, ever wanted to let my parents down. And I never want to let my fans down. I never want to let those little girls I see in the front row down by doing something stupid that's, like, completely preventable and completely my fault. When people go through drug problems and alcohol problems, everyone points their finger at them and says: 'You did this to yourself.' I don't want to be that girl.

"That first time you mess up - from then on, people are going to be waiting for you to mess up again. I never want people to look at me like somebody who doesn't take it seriously. Because I do. My career is the only thing I think about. It's stronger than any alcohol, stronger than any drug, stronger than anything else you could try - so why should I do those things, you know? I think I have an advantage over people in Hollywood because I go out every night and have to look my fans in the eye. I know that I need to set a good example for them. Every night, I'm in a different small town, and I see those little girls and their moms and it's a constant reminder of why I want to live this way."

More after the jump.

On her hugely popular MySpace page, where Swift herself spends tons of time communicating directly with her fans: "When I created it, I was in 10th grade and all my friends had MySpaces. Their MySpaces talked about what they liked, what cheerleading squad they were on, who their boyfriend was and whatever. I made a MySpace just like that, you know? As soon as something happens, I go to MySpace to make sure people know about it. I love it. And I didn't think anything of it when I created it, you know? I didn't think about the fact that it was different or that all the artists out there had MySpaces that were like: 'So-and-so is the epitome of global talent and blah blah blah.' I mean, a lot of things that happened in my career that people might think were brilliant marketing decisions actually happened because I didn't know any better."

On her parents: "I know I'm so lucky that I got two perfect parents, you know? I'm really good friends with Kellie [Pickler], whose mom abandoned her. I look at my mom, who's been there for everything and I think, like, if I'd been in Kellie's situation, I probably wouldn't have made it. I look at other people who have absentee fathers or self-consumed mothers and I'm so lucky. ... My mom is my best friend. She's been there for me when no one else has. And she's never been afraid of telling me the honest truth. I think it's great to have somebody around who isn't afraid of hurting your feelings. She sat me down before the CMA Awards and said: 'You're not going to win this one. You're on a tiny label and .. if you win this, it's a miracle.' She was being realistic with me. So I went in with the attitude that it was just great to be nominated. And when I won, it made it that much sweeter. She talks to me like that, but she'll also build me up. I respect her so much. My dad is just a big teddy bear who tells me that everything I do is perfect."

On her interest in songwriting: "It started with poetry, trying to figure out the perfect combination of words, with the perfect amount of syllables and the perfect rhyme to make it completely pop off the page. I started when I was 10 and won this national poetry contest when I was in fourth grade. ... [The winning poem] was very sophisticated: A long poem called 'Monster in My Closet.' I picked the most gimmicky one I had to submit. I didn't want to get too dark on them. Poetry was my favorite thing. I loved putting things down on paper. It was so fascinating to me. When I discovered songwriting, that was the ultimate form. It's so much more than a poem. ... Writing music is everything to me. It's so consuming. When I get an idea in my head, I can't go to sleep. I have to finish it. And then I'll edit it for days, thinking about making it work perfectly. ...

On her penchant for writing and singing about heartbreak and break-ups without coming across like, you know, the "Kerosene"-splashing, match-throwing, "Crazy-Ex Girlfriend" made of "Gunpowder and Lead," etc: "I love Miranda [Lambert], but I don't do, like, an 'I'm going to kill you!' kind of thing. I try to be humorous about it because I don't really want to kill anybody. At least right now I don't; but I can't make any promises! ... I think it's fun to have a sense of humor about it. Obviously all my songs are about boys. And you can either have a sense of humor about it or you can actually be hurt by it and damaged by these little relationships. The truth of the matter is that when somebody is a jerk to you and you write a song about it and it becomes a Top 10 hit, that's good for you. It's totally, completely sweet."

On her huge hit, "Our Song," whose rhythmic, rap-influenced phrasing is atypical for Nashville: "I never went to any songwriting classes or anything like that. The way I wrote that song, it's just something I taught myself. And I wrote it in, like, 15 minutes, for my ninth-grade talent show. I wanted a song that would make people tap their feet. I got that and a whole lot more! A No. 1 single for six weeks. Whatever! No big deal! ... It's almost exactly the way I heard it in my head when I wrote it. When I write songs, I hear the entire production in my head. I even heard the banjo rolls. People have said it's kind of weird, but it's the only way I know how to write."

On her real-life coda with Drew, the unwitting star of "Teadrops on My Guitar," Swift's smash ballad about an unrequited crush: "He showed up at my house when I was leaving to go to a hockey game with Kellie and Carrie [Underwood]. This car pulls up and two guys get out, and one of them is Drew. I hadn't talked to him in two-and-a-half years. He was like: Hey, how's it going?' And I'm like: 'Wow, you're late? Good to see you?' But we were civilized. I have theories about what he was doing. He had his friend with him, so maybe he was trying to prove to people that the song really is about him or whatever. Or maybe he was really trying to be friends. Or maybe he thought I was still pining away from him. Whatever!"

On where she's finding source material for her new album, given that she hasn't been getting mixed up with any boys as her career has taken off: "You can draw inspiration from anything. If you're a good storyteller, you can take a dirty look somebody gives you or if a guy you used to have flirtations with starts dating a new girl or somebody you're casually talking to says something that makes you sooooo mad - you can create an entire scenario around that. You don't have to date people or be married to people to write songs about them."

By J. Freedom du Lac |  February 28, 2008; 5:11 PM ET Interviews
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JFree, I guess we are going to have to agree to disagree. First it was Miranda Lambert, now Taylor Swift. They are both sub-par, interchangible, blond, country chicks in a field that is littered with them. You can't swing a dead cat without hitting another blond girl singer in the genre. I am a confirmed s-kicker for many years. Maybe that is my problem: I'm too old to appreciate this new crop of kids. I was with you in your admiration of the Dixie Chicks, but not these two girls.

Posted by: Contrarian | March 3, 2008 1:05 PM

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