In recent years, country-pop singer Taylor Swift (L) has become infamous for going through a string of celeb beaus like, from left to right, Harry Styles, John Mayor and Taylor Lautner, and using them as inspiration for her self-penned songs. Image: AFP
Call her golden girl or goody-two shoes, but it is not easy being Taylor Swift.
She has maintained her position as one of the world’s biggest pop starlets in the past few years while being relatively untainted by controversy, even as every detail of her personal life is lapped up by fans and put under the glare of social and traditional media.
If rival Miley Cyrus is the exhibitionist riding on her out-there brand of sexuality, Swift is the tease whose self-penned songs appear to be confessional without revealing much.
Despite much speculation that recent songs such as her 2010 hit single Back To December and Dear John are about famous ex-boyfriends such as Twilight star Taylor Lautner and singer John Mayer, Swift herself has always been tight-lipped about her muses.
Forget, too, about any Justin Bieber-style public meltdowns from the 24-year-old from Pennsylvania, who got her start as a country singer before making a hugely successful crossover to pop.
In a 10-minute telephone interview with Life! from Tokyo – a stop in her current, wildly popular The Red world tour – she says that having to deal with living in the public eye has made her very careful about keeping the less savoury side of her behind closed doors.
“It’s interesting because every day of my life is documented in some way, either there’s paparazzi outside my apartment or fans see me at a restaurant and they tweet about it,” says the singer, who will be here to perform two nights at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Monday and June 12.
“And that’s an interesting thing to come to terms with because some days, you’re completely in the mood to meet strangers and you want to meet as many people as possible.
“And then there are days when you know when you have a bad day and you don’t want to meet anyone or talk to anyone. When I wake up and I have sort of a bad attitude once in a while, I know I can’t leave the house because it’s not an option to not talk to people,” she says.
“My life is a very social experience these days,” she adds with a laugh.
Staying at home when she has gotten up on the wrong side of bed is the price of success. She topped Billboard’s list of highest-paid musicians of last year, making close to US$40 million (S$50 million) through music sales, royalties and digital music and video-streaming revenue, not to mention the sold-out stadiums on The Red tour in support of her latest album of the same name.
Like her counterpart and former child star Cyrus, Swift practically grew up in the music business.
Inspired as a pre-teen by crossover country-pop acts such as The Dixie Chicks and Shania Twain, the waif-like blonde started performing around Pennsylvania. To aid her budding singing and songwriting career, Swift’s family moved to an outlying suburb in America’s songwriting capital, Nashville.
The move paid off tremendously when her selftitled debut, released at the age of 16, became an instant hit, staying at the top of Billboards country music charts for 24 weeks and peaking at No. 5 in the mainstream charts.
Since then, all her albums, Fearless (2008), Speak Now (2010) and Red (2012) have all peaked at No. 1 on the main Billboard charts. To date, she has sold 26 million albums and 75 million digital single downloads.
Swift is also one the most decorated young music stars of recent times, with a truckload of awards that includes seven Grammys (she is the youngest artist ever to win Album of the Year), 15 American Music Awards, 12 Billboard Music Awards (she is the youngest artist to pick up Woman of the Year) and 11 Country Music Association Awards.
In November last year, Swift was awarded one of country music’s highest honours – the Country Music Association Awards’ Pinnacle Award. The only other artist to have picked up the trophy, given to country artists who have achieved global success and recognition, is American country juggernaut Garth Brooks, 28 years her senior.
Her rise from Nashville to global pop superstardom can be summed in how music magazine Rolling Stone described her in two separate articles – she was deemed “country music darling” in a 2008 article but by 2012, she was already “pop’s unstoppable princess”.
Her dainty good looks belie a canny singersongwriter whose infectious country-pop melodies and whimsical, straight-talking lyrics have connected with legions of fans. While not one to kiss and tell, she emphasises that her lyrics are a document of the things that have happened to her in real life.
She explains: “In a huge sense, documenting my life is a No. 1 priority and documenting it as accurately as possible in the form of music.
“Priority No. 2 is making sure that I’m documenting my life in a way that the fans can understand and isn’t too over their heads or things they want to hear.”
Her fans, she will have you believe, drive every aspect of her creative decisions, especially the songs that she plays in her many sold-out shows.
“Pretty much everything I do is based on what they want, not what I want. I don’t play my favourite songs that were not popular in concert, I play the songs they want to hear.”
The same principle applies to her yet-to-bereleased new album, her fifth and the follow-up to Red, which has sold more than five million copies to date.
“Moving forward in my career, we’re in a very important planning stage right now, getting everything together for the next project.
“Every single choice that I make is determined by what I think (fans) will like and what I think will be good for them to see or hear on the new album.”
She was secretive about the new songs though and declined to give details, not even the date when they are expected to be released.
With a laugh, she says: “I wish so badly that I could talk about the new record, I really do, that’s all I want to talk about, it’s all I think about, I’m obsessed with it.
“All I can really tell you is that it’s my favourite thing of all I’ve ever done and I promise you, you’ll know why.”
Swift was less guarded when it came to the subject of her Asian tour, the final leg of The Red which started in March last year. Her Singapore date on June 12 is the last stop on the tour, which has taken her all over North America, Europe and Australia.
“I think one of the things that’s really cool is that my fans all seem to be very similar in spirit and the things they love,” she says of playing for her fans in Asia.
“They love lyrics, they tend to be optimistic and they tend to be nice to one another and they love dressing up in crazy costumes for the show and memorising all the words to the songs, but different things separate fans in different cultures, there are different gifts they give you.”
Her fans in China, where she played for the first time last month, gave her coffee mugs with cats on them (“which was really nice because I like coffee mugs and I like cats”), while her followers in Japan tend to give her traditional Japanese fans.
“But they also give a lot of hair accessories, which I really like because now that my hair is short, pretty much all I can do with it is a hairclip or a headband.”
Swift is looking forward to her gig in Singapore, which will feature local act Imprompt-3, winners of the Cornetto’s Ride To Fame Competition to pick the concert’s opening act.
She last played a sold-out show at the Indoor Stadium in 2011. Tickets to her return concert on June 12 sold out quickly. After her Bangkok gig on Monday was cancelled with the Thai army’s declaration of martial law, Swift added another Singapore show on the same night. Extra tickets were also released for the June 12 show.
According to the organisers, 70 per cent of the tickets on Monday have been sold so far.
And just like with her last gig, the plan is for her mother to come with her. Swift’s mother actually spent part of her growing up years in Singapore when Swift’s grandfather, who worked for an engineering company, moved here for work.
“My mum grew up in Singapore,” the singer tells you as a parting shot, before your allotted interview time is up. “Her parents were travelling around for my grandfather’s job. It was always really wonderful to bring her back so she can see her old neighbourhood and see where she grew up, I think it’s really nostalgic for her.”
Taylor Swift RED Tour presented by Cornetto
Date: June 8 and June 12
Venue: Singapore Indoor Stadium
Admission: $108, $188, $228 and $288 from Sports Hub Tix (go to www.sportshubtix.sg or call 6333-5000 or 3158-7888), the Singapore Indoor Stadium box office and SingPost outlets
This article was first run in The Straits Times newspaper on June 4, 2014. For similar stories, go to sph.straitstimes.com/premium/singapore. You will not be able to access the Premium section of The Straits Times website unless you are already a subscriber.