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The Sweet, Charmed Life of Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift, Jeff Lipsky, Delta Sky Magazine November 2012

Who knows, she might even ask you over for supper.


Photographed for
Sky by Jeff Lipsky for Stockland Martel. Cover lettering by Martha Cerdà Alimbau.

 

Taylor Swift is just going to have a salad. What she really wants is fried chicken. Or at the very least, fried chicken on her salad.

“I think about food literally all day every day,” she says, settling her lithe, 5-foot-11 frame into an outdoor booth at the BBQ joint across the street from her high-rise condo in Nashville. “It’s a thing.”

Even so, she orders the greens with grilled chicken, water to drink. Unlike her pop princess peers, Swift, 22, has made a habit of smart choices since she appeared on the music scene at 14, a winsome song-writing prodigy whose second album, Fearless, released when she was just 18, became the most-awarded album in country music history.

       
Dress by Romona Keveza. Shoes by Charlotte Olympia. Jewelry by Lorraine Schwartz.        

Since then, Swift has dominated the pop-country landscape, dwarfing idols Faith Hill and Shania Twain and becoming not only the fastest-selling female artist ever, but also the youngest winner of both the Album of the Year Grammy and Billboard’s Woman of the Year. In 2010, Swift sold out the Staples Center in two minutes. She reportedly earned $57 million last year alone.

Swift has accomplished all this sans the manufactured coarseness that informs virtually every other modern female musical artist. Not for her the pole dancing in Daisy Dukes, or shooting cream from prosthetic boobs, or role-playing bondage, or striving to tick off the Catholic Church. After Kanye West crashed the then-19-year-old’s acceptance speech for Best Female Video at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, Katy Perry tweeted that it was as if West had “stepped on a kitten.”

In the ensuing years, Swift has made an art out of diffident modesty—a restraint that appeals not only to her legion teen fans, but to their parents as well, happy to have a break, however brief, from booty-shaking. Swift doesn’t drink or swear or even rat her hair. She briefly considered inking a heart tattoo on her foot, but the feeling passed and she is glad for it. Usually dressed in demure frocks and ponytails, polka dots in lieu of cleavage, Swift has gone for girl power with a lowercase g, class over sass, an antidote to the been-there-done-him hyper-sexualized nihilism of her rivals. At this year’s Grammys, she performed in a sack dress. And granny shoes.

Over lunch, Swift admits she is “old fashioned” about certain things. She bakes. She makes homemade jam, especially when she is feeling nostalgic about her childhood in Pennsylvania, where she was raised by her stockbroker father and former marketing executive mother, with whom as a girl she would make grape jelly using fruit plucked from the arbor that lined their front walk. (The family eventually relocated to Nashville to help Swift pursue a singing-songwriting career.)

       
Dress by Oscar de la Renta. Shoes by Charlotte Olympia. Jewelry by Lorraine Schwartz.        

“Now I make blackberry jam, because it is really easy, and I think up clever titles for it like ‘Pump Up the Jam’ and ‘Jam Session.’ Or, like, random hip-hop ones like, ‘Blackberry Jam Boots with the Fur.’ It doesn’t make sense.” She smiles. “But I like it.”

Swift says she decorates the jars with cat stickers, then gifts the goods to friends and family.

“It changes people’s lives,” she says, showing a photo of said jam on her iPhone. Swift explains that she only gives small portions. “I don’t want to overwhelm people.” She grins slyly, takes a bite of lettuce, ranch dressing falling on her lip. “I always want to leave people wanting more.”

Just then, two women approach the table, both blushing.

“My friend is from New Jersey,” says the first, grabbing the second’s arm as if for support. “And she is a huge fan.”

The huge fan smiles and nods, eyes saucer wide.

“I can’t believe you are just sitting here,” she finally manages.

Swift poses for a picture. Then another, because the first was blurry. She is warm, gracious, used to this sort of thing. She stares intently at the first woman, then says, “I’ve seen you before.”

The woman is startled. “Yes. We met at an event. How did you remember?”

Swift shrugs. As the women depart, she says she recognized her from a function three years ago. “She has a distinctive look,” Swift offers.

       
Dress by Catherine Malandrino. Shoes by Giuseppe Zanotti. Jewelry by Lorraine Schwartz.

       

Details stick with Swift. Images. She loves poetry. Dr. Seuss.

“Poetry and lyrics are very similar. Making words bounce off a page. I like anything that tells a bit of the story. And at the end, the last phrase changes everything for you. Or shocks you.”

Swift’s lyrics are less about shock then awwww, with a generous dose of moral high ground. Many songs feels ripped straight from journal pages (or tabloids), their confessional immediacy and lovelorn insistence tonic for the Twilight crowd. Quite a few showcase the wronged good girl exacting her revenge—on the lame boyfriend, the slutty rival, the hateful boss, the disloyal friend—via promises of a brighter future, wrapped in an indelible hook. Her 2012 Grammy- winning “Mean,” got right to the point: “Someday I’ll be living in a big old city/and all you’re ever gonna be is mean.” (“And a liar and pathetic and alone in life,” she later coos, in a lilt sweet as baker’s butter.)

Her recent No. 1 hit, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” (from her newest album, Red), stays on message—“We hadn’t seen each other in a month/when you said you needed space . . . What?”—if not form. The tune is pure pop confection, the sort of song that burrows into your brain and never leaves. Never ever.

“Getting a great idea with song writing is a lot like love,” Swift explains. “You don’t know why this one is different, but it is. You don’t know why this one is better, but it is. It sticks in your head and you can’t stop thinking about it.”

Swift says she isn’t worried that critics have snarked about her abandoning her country roots.

       
         

“Joni Mitchell has this amazing quote, ‘They’ll crucify me if I change and they’ll crucify me if I stay the same, so I’m going to change because it’s more fun.’ ”

Swift pauses. Tilts her head.

“If I had wanted to make the same record that I made last time around, I could have easily done that. You evolve.” Besides, she continues, “nine months ago I was onstage accepting two Grammys for a song they said was too country. And now I put out a song that isn’t country enough.” She shrugs with gentle exasperation. “The only comment I need to read is that it is number one.”

Not that Swift is immune to criticism. She confesses that every snipe “hurts.” But in the end, it is all material. “I’ve never gotten thick skin. If you close yourself off and you get this protective armor, there is a price you pay with that—of not feeling. And feeling is important when you are a songwriter.”

Especially for Swift, whose real-time, open-veined real life is represented so clearly in her work that listeners know precisely about whom she is singing. Any lingering confusion is mitigated by clues she plants in the liner notes, like capital letters spelling out an ex-beau’s name, publicity that has irked the men in question, none more so than John Mayer, who recently said her song “Dear John,” “humiliated” him.

Swift’s level of intimacy sets her apart, making her fans feel like BFFs, confidants, partners in pain, girls just like her, always the Betty, never the Veronica. It is also genius marketing.

“In general, my fans tend to be really good people. I trust them. I mean, everybody has a tiny bunch of crazies, like a file, but in general, my fans are really respectful and nice and cool.” Because of this, Swift does things that are unheard of for a celebrity of her stature, such as hand-writing her fans thank-you notes or inviting 25 of the most ardent for dinner at her apartment. “We ordered barbecue. It was a blast.”

       
         

Swift refuses to become jaded. She treasures her innocence. Differentiates it from naivete.

“I’ve never felt the need to make the dark and twisty record. Or the, ‘I’m a woman now!’ record.” Instead, she admires the Shirelles. Doris Troy. “Anything from the ’50s and ’60s.” Or current incarnations of the same vibe. “When I heard ‘Grenade’ by Bruno Mars, I was soooo mad at how good it was. I was in the car, and when I heard the hook, I just started clapping.”

She divulges that she wishes she’d written almost every All-American Rejects tune, because they are poppy and smart at the same time. “I don’t like it when music is just one thing,” Swift says, rolling her eyes. “Just catchy. Or just deep. I like when people can combine a bunch of great things. I just never want to bore people, you know?” More to the point, “I don’t want to bore myself.”

Swift is still the same person who wrote “Love Story” and “Fifteen.” But she is not 15 anymore. She is lurching into adulthood, and with it, the stories grow necessarily deeper. “I think back when I was 14,” she says. “I used movies and stories and daydreams to gather inspiration for writing songs, because I hadn’t had any boyfriends at that point.”

She has since had several. “Which, I found out,” she says cheekily, “is a much more effective way of getting inspiration. Oh yeah.” (Her current inspiration is Conor Kennedy.) But she sees progression in her future: “When I have kids, I know that’s all I’m going to think about.”

Swift wants a big family. “Not now, of course,” she cautions. Now she wants to tour and grow and fall in love, or stay in love, until she isn’t, and then she’ll write about it, in language that we can all understand, in a way that will make us sing along, feeling like it is the first time we have been heard.

And when she’s old enough, she’ll write a memoir. A tell-all. “Maybe when I’m 80. I’ll have lived enough of a life then. Because if I did it now, at 22, people would be like, ‘OK? What could she possibly have to say?’ ” //
 

Watch a behind-the-scenes video of our cover shoot with Swift.

Spill It: Tell Us What You Think!

Rebecca Harris
This is a really brilliant interview. Taylor is completely right when she says "You evolve". It's ridiculous that people expect her to be exactly the same all the time. I love Taylor and respect all her decisions. She'll always be brilliant to me.
11/2/2012 5:00:13 PM

Jay Lane
The cover of Taylor is probably the most gorgeous picture of her I have ever seen. Kudos to Jeff Lipsky. Is there any way you could send me a copy of that magazine??? Thanks, Jay
11/5/2012 11:00:04 AM

Annie
This interviewer is terrible, and for a minute I thought it was a man. Surprised it's a woman saying things like "been-there-done-him hyper-sexualized nihilism" or "slutty rival". Way to demean other women (words like "slut" are more often than not used to put down a sexually-confident woman, but nothing of the sort for an equally sexual-confident man), who maybe are not mental 12 year olds like Taylor Swift!
11/8/2012 12:35:19 AM

Rebecca W.
Can you get this mag at a store?
11/20/2012 12:10:48 AM

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