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Tuesday, 23 February, 2010 1:18 AM

Taylor Swift is Not 'Just a Girl' Anymore

Photo by Kristin Barlowe

Big Machine recording artist Taylor Swift

By Holly Gleason
© 2008 CMA Close Up News Service

It's hard to believe a year and a half ago I sat in a building that'd be my label, where the walls weren't even painted, and we were stuffing envelopes with what would be my first single," said Taylor Swift with the "aw shucks, hey world" enthusiasm that defines her suddenly high-profile personality. "We were just hoping people would listen to a song called 'Tim McGraw.'"

They've done more than listen. With more than 40 million MySpace streams as of Feb. 16, three singles slammed into the Top 6 like home runs into bleachers ("Tim McGraw," "Teardrops on My Guitar" and the six-week, chart-topping "Our Song") and a self-titled album that spent 15 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart, audiences and listeners are diving headfirst into the current unleashed by Swift, the first female solo artist in Country Music history to write or co-write every song on a double-Platinum-selling debut album and the youngest person to write and sing a No. 1 Country single ("Our Song") wholly on her own. In January, she reached new sales milestones with the digital Platinum certification of "Teardrops on My Guitar," and digital Gold of "Our Song." Swift joins an elite group of superstars with her digital Platinum status, as the only other Country artist to achieve this level of certification are the Dixie Chicks, Rascal Flatts and Carrie Underwood.

"I realize I am a business," conceded the 5-foot-11-inch blonde who gushed "This is definitely the highlight of my senior year!" upon winning the Horizon Award at the 2007 CMA Awards. "I'm lucky to have that. It changes the way you look at things. But I know I'm not 25. I'll have a whole year to be 25 when I am. So as much as I love to talk about business, I'm still 17."

But Swift's years, risen to 18 since the Awards broadcast, overflow with a lifetime's worth of adventure. One has to study Hannah Montana to see anything even remotely like what she has experienced: Swift was just 11 when, having dragged herself to writer nights and karaoke contests back home in Wyomissing, Pa., she followed the stars in her eyes to Nashville. At 13 she secured a development deal with the RCA Label Group and, at 14, became the youngest writer in the Sony/ATV Music Publishing stable.

"I felt set apart," she admitted. "After high school, my friends were going to sports or cheerleading, and I was being driven to a songwriting appointment. But, you know, I'd go sit with my co-writers and talk about what had happened at school that day."

Writing was Swift's salvation during those awkward years. She came up with "Teardrops on My Guitar" when the ache for the guy-she-liked-who-liked-her-friend became unbearable and "Wrapped Up with a Smile" when she was concerned over a pretty "perfect" friend who was masking her bulimia.

"High school is a different universe," she observed. "It's 10 times more dramatic than anything you'll see in a public place. There's an energy when everybody's dressing up for homecoming, when everyone's crying in the hallway because somebody's boyfriend dumped her. Being young gives me a platform to speak for people my age."

"Every Tuesday at 4:00," said Swift's frequent co-writer Liz Rose, SESAC's 2007 Songwriter of the Year, "Taylor would walk into Jody Williams Music as a high school kid, go up those stairs, close the door and say, 'I have an idea.' She wrote the truth, all the things kids are living. She put it all out there - and the boys buy her records just as much [as the girls] because they've been Drew," the guy immortalized by "Teardrops on My Guitar." "They've hurt girls. They know."

More than that, it isn't just kids who tune into Swift; her ability to articulate vulnerability in her lyrics has earned respect throughout the Country community, to the degree that she tied Alan Jackson for the 2007 Songwriter/Artist of the Year honor from the Nashville Songwriters Association International. And for all the stories of her MySpace page launching the Swift juggernaut, an old-fashioned, carefully orchestrated radio campaign also had a lot to do with it.

"I got into MySpace because my friends were all about it," she said, laughing. "It's how we communicate. I didn't want people to think my MySpace was something a record company did as a promotion thing. But letting people in, letting them know who you are, is a good thing.

"We put out 'Tim McGraw' because we wanted something we knew people would listen to, if only to see what it was," she continued. "All I wanted was for people to give me a shot: Let me play in your conference room or be on your morning show."

Six months of setup and then patiently working her first album, tours with McGraw, Brad Paisley, George Strait and Rascal Flatts, videos that juxtaposed teen fantasy indulgence with real girl innocence - and all of it was Swift, a young woman who understood absolutely the importance of not watering down her identity.

"You have to be very picky about what you put out," she said. "Those songs show you as a person. I love my label because if I said to Scott [Borchetta, President/CEO, Big Machine Records], 'I know this is a No. 1 single but I don't want it on my record,' he'd say 'OK.' That's why this works."

"Taylor is incredibly smart and able to tap into what's going on," said Robert Deaton, CMA Awards producer and Co-owner/Director, Deaton Flanigen Productions. "She reminds me of Reba: She has this innate ability to put across exactly who she is. That's very rare at any age.

"And she's unafraid."

She's also very musical. In December 2007, she returned to the studio with producer Nathan Chapman, this time as co-producer. "I have a lot of ideas," she said and began running them off. Her indefatigability is surpassed only by the focus and intensity of her talent.

"We wrote every Tuesday until it got so crazy," Rose remembered. "And even then, when she had a day off, Taylor would call and say, 'Wanna write?' I swear, I don't know when she doesn't have a guitar in her hand."

Lots of young people dream of fame, fortune and screaming fans. Swift's dreams were always bigger, embracing the work as well as the enjoyment of the payoff. Most of her peers don't include visits to every radio station in the country, in multiples of three to eight a day, in their fantasies or fame, or begging for a chance, or trying to keep up with schoolwork amidst the writing, the concert dates and the fans whose numbers seem to grow with each show and each new day of airplay.

"To get to go out there and meet these people," she said, ticking through the hallmarks of what has become her life. "Getting to meet those guys at Country radio, who are my heroes . to give my label, which is only two years old, their very first CMA Award . you think about those things, but it's just so much."

For now. But forever? Based on the momentum and energy, intelligence and enthusiasm, how far Swift has come and how far she sees when scanning the years to come, not to mention her willingness to chronicle the reality of coming-of-age in the 21st century for everyone to hear, just about anything seems possible.

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