Sprouting beyond her country roots and into pop’s concentrated limelight, Taylor Swift is all grown up
Taylor Swift is a kiss-and-tell kind of girl. She kisses. She tells—often in raw, resonant, emotional detail in her songs. Just don’t ask her to reveal who, exactly, she’s singing about: She’d rather leave that up to the tabloids, which she doesn’t read, or your own imagination, which she tries not to think about. Instead, the 22-year-old Nashville transplant likes to keep her focus on the music, which has changed considerably since she first emerged as a new-country darling in 2006. Now, with Red, her fourth album, Swift is taking some risks, she says. And while she keeps her cards close to her chest, she opened up to VIBE about stalking Young Buck’s car collection, evolving into a mega pop sensation and the bad points of good guys.
VIBE: On Red, you wrote 10 songs alone, and co-wrote 6. What’s your favorite?
TAYLOR SWIFT: Well, there’s two: “I Knew You Were Trouble” and “Treacherous,” and they’re about the same person. “Treacherous” is about falling for someone who is a dangerous choice, a risk, but you go for it anyway. There’s a line that says, “Nothing safe is worth the drive.” For me, that line defines the album.
The song is about taking a step toward this relationship knowing this can really hurt you. But it’s taking a risk, not a safe one, and the fact that that can be much more worth it than…
The safe, boring guy?
You’re taking some risks in your career, too, in terms of the genres you’re embracing.
I like to let other people discuss genre and what they think falls into what category. For this album, I wasn’t worried about what people were going to say. When I’m in the studio I try to always write from an emotional place. Did that emotion feel like a totally insane chaotic bass drop or like something more acoustic?
“I love hip-hop! The first one I memorized was “Fireman” by Lil Wayne. Ever since then… It’s Nicki Minaj, Wiz Khalifa, The Game.”
Are you a hip-hop fan?
I love hip-hop! The first one I memorized was “Fireman” by Lil Wayne. Ever since then… It’s Nicki Minaj, Wiz Khalifa, The Game. When I was in high school, my boyfriend and I would drive around and he’d always point to this neighborhood where Young Buck lived. We would drive by and look at his cars and be like ‘Oh my gawwwwwd! Those cars are so coooool! I wonder if he’s in there!”
Will we hear America’s Sweetheart rapping anytime soon?
I can’t imagine myself rapping. No. That would be more of a comedy thing.
You’re 22 now, and you’re diversifying. Do you want to shake that sweetie-pie image?
Some people take fashion risks or give really edgy interviews. I leave the risks to my music. And listen: People have a lot going on in their lives. A million things. Developing a complex opinion about every celebrity isn’t exactly high on people’s to-do list. So people end up seeing me as one thing. If America’s Sweetheart is that thing, then I’m fine with that.
There are worse things.
There are worse things.
Why did your parents name you Taylor?
Two reasons: Because of James Taylor. Also they liked the fact that it was a name for a boy or a girl. And my mom thought, if I went into business and someone got my résumé, they wouldn’t be able to make a decision about me based on my gender
So this you-can-make-it-no-matter-what thing was baked into you.
Absolutely. Even before I was born.
But you’ve also said you’re really superstitious.
Yeah, I think if I say something it will jinx it, and then it won’t happen. I’ve been built up and let down enough times in life that I feel like things can change in an instant. I don’t know… I have a lucky number—13—I knock on wood. I think about luck and hope that things don’t go wrong.
What kind of letdowns are we talking about?
If you’re not careful, things can go away. I’ve seen people with great careers until they started taking them for granted. I am so scared of a misstep, of one thing getting blown out of proportion and ruining everything. Everyone says this is the time in your life you’re supposed to make mistakes and learn lessons. I can’t do that the way everyone else can. If I make one mistake, it’s a news story. It’s a weird way to grow up.
Does it get harder, the more mega-famous you get, to keep your lyrics authentic?
One thing that makes it easy to keep writing personal songs: I know that I’m never going to say who any song is about. That’s the one thing I have. I write songs to convey a message to whoever I wrote it about. People can speculate all they want, but I’ll never tell. I want my fans to listen and think about their ex-boyfriend or their situation.
Tell me about “I Knew You Were Trouble.” Any regrets about pursuing that relationship?
No. If it makes you feel anything, it’s worth it. I run into people who are really complex characters. They’re not great boyfriend material—but they’re great characters to write about. Those people can inspire me so much more than someone who’s nice and simple and great. That’s a nice thing to have in a human being. But do you want to write songs about that person? No.
In other news catch Taylor Swift’s new music video for “Blank Space”: