Like any typical teen, this high school senior has spent her fair share of time obsessing over boys. But turning heartbreak into top 10 hits? Anything but ordinary
The ”about me” section on Taylor Swift’s MySpace page is full of the sort of self-characterizations you’d expect from just about any 18-year-old girl: ”In my spare time, I like to drive past my ex-boyfriends’ houses and conduct random baking experiments in my kitchen…. I will never straighten my hair to impress a guy ever again…. I’ve never been the kind of girl who needs a boyfriend. I believe that love will find you when you’re not looking for it. So I’ve been actively not looking for it for about three years now. I’ll let you know how that works out for me. It probably doesn’t help that I write songs about every guy I talk to.”
These otherwise normal musings are, it turns out, also the stuff of which both confessional teen anthems and stardom are made. Scroll above her ”about me” — which reads like a prose teaser for her songs of wistful romance (”Our Song”), revenge (”Should’ve Said No”), and rejection (”The Outside”) — and you’ll find some not-so-average numbers: 28,422,020 profile views, 37,581,161 song streams, and 595,103 friends (at press time). But it’s not just the high school senior’s social-networking stats that are impressive. Country music’s newly minted superstar had her self-titled debut album rank among the top 10 sellers for 2007 in all genres; it’s sold 2.4 million and looks like a triple platinum shoo-in. Her first three singles have collectively been purchased another 2.7 million times. At the moment, she has smashes in two formats: ”Our Song” just finished a six-week run as the No. 1 country song, while ”Teardrops on My Guitar,” her first crossover hit, is in the top 10 on pop radio and still ascending. Country-shy MTV is even giving the video some test airings.
On top of all this, if Grammy voters decide they’d prefer a winner who’s likely to not only show up but be steady at the podium, Swift stands a decent chance of beating Amy Winehouse for the Best New Artist trophy on Feb. 10. And though this pretty pristine teen seems to be the embodiment of the anti-Amy, Swift and Winehouse have something else in common besides a nomination: Of all the singers who’ve become stars in the last couple of years, they’re the two who could be the ”career artists” the industry craves — self-possessed singer-songwriters with strong personal vision and the potential to still be galvanizing a mass audience two, three, maybe even 10 Grammy eligibility periods down the road.
”I think songwriting is the ultimate form of being able to make anything that happens in your life productive,” she says, sitting in her favorite L.A. spot for quick-stop California cuisine, In-N-Out Burger. Leaning in over her double cheeseburger to fix you in her blue-eyed stare, she vouches for the veracity of her lyrics, all true-life tales from the front lines of adolescence. ”If you get out of a bad relationship that was a complete waste of your time and emotions, you can write a song about it and it can become a benefit to your career. How sweet is that?” About as sweet as the chocolate shake she’s using as a dipping sauce for her fries.
Not that the 5’11” siren would want to defame any of the boys back home in Tennessee, but…”I don’t edit out names or personal details. I feel bad for guys a little, after I’ve written songs with their names in them, because they move on to different relationships and their new girlfriends are smacking them in the car when the song comes on.”
Sometimes they come back. ”Teardrops on My Guitar” is the quintessential unrequited-crush ballad, about being madly in love with that oblivious classmate who can’t stop telling you about his new girlfriend — the stuff of John Hughes movies, and of time eternal. The real ”Drew” who’s name-checked in the song, the one who supposedly couldn’t see her mooniness for the trees, showed up over the holidays, just as she was leaving her family’s house near Nashville to meet pals Carrie Underwood and Kellie Pickler at a hockey game. It wasn’t clear whether he hoped to make up for past myopias. ”My dad said, ‘Hey, there’s someone here to see you.’ And it was Drew, from ‘Teardrops.’ I hadn’t talked to him in three years, so it was…interesting. I was like. ‘Wow! Hi. You’re late.”’
A lot of Swift’s songs might be getting back at somebody for past slights; in her liner notes, she writes, ”To all the boys who thought they would be cool and break my heart, guess what? Here are 14 songs written about you. HA.” But for Swift, revenge is a dish best served with warmth. There’s a playful sweetness even to her saddest and angriest songs — including her next single, ”Picture to Burn,” a truly gleeful comeuppance anthem (”I hate that stupid old pickup truck you never let me drive/You’re a redneck heartbreak who’s really bad at lying”). And at least a few of those 14 songs are really just romantic reveries, including her 2006-07 breakthrough hit ”Tim McGraw,” which is about hoping an old flame gets wistful every time ”your” song comes up in rotation, and the even bigger ”Our Song,” which describes a couple creating their own song, figuratively and literally. Those two were inspired by a ”cute little relationship” she had in ninth grade, just before moving from small-town Pennsylvania to Nashville — as opposed to the gnarlier tunes (like ”Should’ve Said No”) inspired by a Tennessee beau she refers to as ”Bad Cheater Guy.”
NEXT PAGE: ”There’s heartache in her songs and her voice. It feels fresh, because the rawest heartbreak is probably the first heartbreak.”