At this year’s Grammy Awards, it was hard not to witness the maturing of Taylor Swift.
Her intense performance – complete with wild, whiplash-inducing, head-banging thrusts that threw her blonde tresses backwards and forwards at the piano – revealed an artist in the process of taking her work to the next level. Swift was composed, intense, and looking more in command of her stage presence than ever before. Though some critics tried to fault her body language when Daft Punk won for Album of the Year with Random Access Memory over Swift’s Red (she nearly went into surprise-face mode at the first R), there is no mistaking that the 24-year-old wunderkind is utterly unafraid to be herself.
Mugging for the cameras, laughing at getting photo-bombed by friend Jennifer Lawrence, and appearing to gain confidence with every passing year, Taylor Swift is a young, ambitious, and thoroughly independent woman. Even her choice of a glittering Gucci chainmail gown was impressive – despite the fact that her range of movement seemed rather limited given her front-row lame dancing. She laughed when asked about the gown, which met with unanimous praise in fashion circles: “I think it’s bulletproof! It’s really heavy and all the things that you would expect it to be. It’s like a suit of armour.”
That’s one of Swift’s most endearing charms – she doesn’t care about being cool in an entertainment industry that is awash with toxic cynicism and sniping. Taylor was a strong-willed teen dynamo at 15 – she shows no signs of backing down now. “It’s healthy to show your emotions and be honest,” Swift says. “I’m not going to hide from my fans if things aren’t great in my life. And I’m going to be just as open with my feelings when things are wonderful. I want to be real and not afraid to express myself and be myself.”
She may not have won any Grammys this year, but having picked up 8 Billboard awards and various other prizes last year, Swift has little cause for complaint. Her previous CD, Red, is approaching the 4-million mark in sales, and her legions of female fans embrace her fiercely passionate attitudes about love and the layers of contradictions faced by young women. Even in the largest of arenas, Swift is able to create an intimate bond with audiences, as she has succeeded in tapping into her generation’s deepest secret feelings.
The lithe pop-country star has grown with her audience, and showed off her new, updated sound when she seduced us with her performance of her No. 1 hit song, “Shake It Off” at this year’s VMA’s. Her new album, “1989”, (her birth year) takes an inspired look back at the ‘80s, (due out Oct. 27), and will surely continue to nurture the intimate bond she’s had with audiences, successsfully tapping into her generation’s deepest secret feelings.
Recently she donated $100,000 to help save the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, which was facing bankruptcy. Prior to the Grammys, Swift was dancing up a storm at Clive Davis’ annual pre-Grammy party the night before in a fabulous brown print lace dress that showed her fab long legs to full advantage.
STRIPLV: Taylor, your life seems like a whirlwind. How do you stay grounded, despite all your extraordinary fame and fortune?
SWIFT: I lead a pretty normal life. I’ve always tried to stay close to the way I lived or wanted to live before all this happened to me. I don’t think that if you happen to have enjoyed some success that you need to change your lifestyle in a big way. That would seem too strange for me. I love being able to stay close to my family and I’m lucky that I’ve been able to stay close to many of the same friends I’ve known for years. And the new friends I’ve made have also made me feel very secure and helped me stay in touch with real things and not get carried away.
STRIPLV: Do you look to advice from your friends?
SWIFT: Your friends help you keep things in perspective, even though sometimes your world can look a little strange with everything that’s going on around you. All my friends are very sensible and aware and they’re never afraid to tell me what they think. I don’t want people around me who are telling me what they think I would like to hear. I love being surrounded by friends who can look at life in a clear and normal way and who are brutally honest and genuine. It’s been so important for me, having people around me who I can rely on and who are both supportive and also willing to give me honest advice when I need it. In this business, you depend on friends like that.
STRIPLV: Do you still have friends from your days in high school?
SWIFT: Yes. One of my oldest and best friends is Abigail. We’ve known each other since we were 15 and in high school, and we can remember the times where we would ask our parents for gas money. That’s perspective! I’m so grateful that we’re still able to hang out and understand each other so well. I need those kinds of friends.
STRIPLV: You also have some very high profile friends in the entertainment industry, like Selena Gomez and Lena Dunham and Emma Stone. Do they give you advice?
SWIFT: We like to talk about everything – except our work! (Laughs) In my case, I spend so much time working on my music or touring that I need to be able to take some time away from that. When we get together, it’s always about reconnecting with each other, talking about relationships and love and boys – all the basic things! (Laughs)
STRIPLV: We hear you’re working on your new album. What can your fans expect from that?
SWIFT: My ambition was to start a new book with the next album and not just a new chapter. I’ve surprised myself a little, because we’ve already put together a lot of songs and I feel like the album has taken on this new sound, which was what I was looking for. I’m pretty happy with the way things have been going, because you never know how long the process will take. I feel like I’m ahead of schedule.
STRIPLV: Will the new album continue to deal with similar themes about love and relationships?
SWIFT: My songwriting will always have a confessional aspect, because I naturally draw on my life and my stories and that’s how I’ve been able to connect with my fans. My songs are my way of sorting through my emotions and expressing my thoughts and feelings about love and how my life has been evolving. I don’t want to keep repeating the same things, though. You want to be able to explore those themes in different ways and have something new to say.
STRIPLV: Do you think your songs can inspire women to be strong and determined?
SWIFT: I don’t have any of that in my head when I write my songs. All my songs are inspired by personal feelings and observations about life and evolve from that kind of a place. It’s maybe a natural extension of my talking about not taking crap from people or getting out of bad situations that people might find inspiration and feel empowered because of that. That would make me very proud and happy if my writing about my feelings can reach people and make them think about their lives and do something positive. I’m inspired by so much in life and I want to be able to express inspiration as much as disappointment or sadness. My fans know that I’m sharing my deepest feelings with them and I think that out of that trust comes a bond and a sense of kinship.
STRIPLV: Does it become more of a challenge as your stature has grown and expectations are much higher now than when you were starting out?
SWIFT: It’s always difficult. I can get very anxious about not wanting to disappoint my fans, or even when I’m about to go on stage and I have to tell myself to relax. My greatest fear comes when I think I’m not taking enough risks and that I might become boring. You want to be able to take things further artistically. I also worry about appearing to be trying something new just for the sake of innovation. When I’m listening to music, it’s disappointing to hear when there’s suddenly a dance break or rap that has no reason for being there. I don’t want to add elements to an album just to be part of the latest or hippest trend but which have no relation to the underlying emotions or feelings of the lyric. I don’t want to be doing something like that just to make the songs become more commercial. You need to maintain the integrity of each song.
STRIPLV: Do you try to avoid worrying about what the critics say about your music?
SWIFT: Since my first record I’ve had critics saying that I was too this or too that, and I’ll only start worrying if people say that something I did was too much, the same, or too boring. I want to keep growing. So much of my music is figuring out who I am and looking back and seeing how a relationship may have changed me at one time and then I needed to get back to being who I really am... I’m still young and I think all young women relate to the confusion and other things that you struggle with when you’re going out into the world and trying to define yourself.
STRIPLV: Sometimes your life must appear so surreal – like when you’re going from one awards show to the next or playing at huge stadiums.
SWIFT: Most of the time I’m so tired afterwards that I just go back to my hotel room and order room service. Once in a while, if I’m with Selena or other friends that I haven’t seen in awhile, I’ll go out to dinner afterwards and we’ll have fun. But usually there’s a lot of stress getting ready for an awards show, things like getting your hair done or deciding on what you’re going to wear, that you just want to get back to your hotel afterwards.
STRIPLV: Is it hard for you to go outside and just do normal things like shopping?
SWIFT: Shopping and just going out of the house is a social occasion for me. I know that if I leave the house, I have to be ready to deal with meeting fans, taking photos with them, and signing autographs. I have to make sure that I’m not in a bad mood or feeling insecure, because it’s important to me to have that connection with my fans. So I know that if I’m having a bad day, then I probably won’t go outside, because I know that I need to be ready to be available and enjoy those moments that I get to be with my fans. That’s so important to me and I would never want to appear anything less than happy to meet the people who support me. I’ll never take that for granted.