Tuesday, 23 February, 2010 1:18 AM
Taylor Swift is Not 'Just a Girl' Anymore
by Kristin Barlowe
Machine recording artist Taylor Swift
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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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