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Taylor Swift Takes A Fearless, Swift Rise To The Top
It’s been a, well, swift, rise for young Taylor Swift.
Since releasing her first album in 2006 at age 17, she’s unleashed two multi-platinum monsters that have sold more than 13 million copies worldwide, logged 11 Top 40 hits and 10 Top 10 country singles, was Billboard magazine’s Artist of the Year for 2009 and is the top-selling digital artist in history with more than 25 million downloads. She was No. 21 on Billboard’s Money Makers list with more than $17 million in 2009, and No. 69 on Forbes magazine’s most powerful celebrities list.
Add to that films — including “Hannah Montana: The Movie” and “Valentine’s Day” — a CMT Crossroads collaboration with Def Leppard and armloads of trophies from the Academy of Country Music (three), the Country Music Association (six, with four more nominations for this year’s ceremony in April), Country Music Television (five), the Grammy Awards (four) and the American Music Awards (six), and you have a career that’s in full and remarkably poised bloom at a very early juncture.
“It’s, um ... unreal,” Swift, who’s now 20, says with a laugh. “I don’t think I expected to be played on pop radio. I don’t think I ever expected to go to the (MTV) Video Music Awards. I never expected to get played in genres that aren’t country and ... I never expected the kind of success I’m having at country, either.
“My parents raised me to believe that the most annoying thing in the world is people who feel they’re entitled to success or fame or whatever, so I’ve just never been that way. I think it’s just better to do the work and go out there on stage and show people you love doing this and it’s your favorite thing in the world.”
Music became Swift’s thing while she was growing up in the small southeastern Pennsylvania town of Wyomissing. Her grandmother was an opera singer, but Swift herself developed a taste for country and rock. “Def Leppard was played in my house a lot,” she recalls.
Her own interest in music surfaced early, via Disney movies. She locked into country after hearing LeAnn Rimes when she was 6 years old, and by age 10 Swift was performing at fairs, festivals, karaoke contests and talent shows around her hometown. She made some initially unsuccessful trips to Nashville, Tenn., channeling the rejection — from the music business and from other children — into an early song called “The Outside.” She won praise for her performance at a U.S. Open tennis tournament and ultimately landed a recording contract after Scott Borchetta of Big Machine Records saw her perform at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville.
During the past year, meanwhile — and certainly since the release of her second album, “Fearless,” in November 2008 — Swift has raised the stakes of her stardom. The six-times platinum “Fearless,” in fact, was recently proclaimed the most awarded album in country music history, the only release ever to win Album of the Year at the Grammys — where she was the youngest artist ever to take home that prize — and also country album honors from the Grammys, the CMA, the ACM and the AMAs.
“It’s the same kind of album I made (in 2006) — just two years older,” says Swift, whose acceptance speech at last fall’s Video Music Awards was famously interrupted by Kanye West, who felt the trophy should have gone to Beyoncé. “Sound-wise, it’s the kind of songs I like to write, which are country songs, but I guess because of the subject matter and because of some of the melodies I love to use, I guess they have crossover appeal.
“I like to think of it more as spillover, because I’m a country artist and I write country songs, and I’m lucky enough to have them played on pop radio.”
There’s no question that the songs on “Fearless” — all written or co-written by Swift, who was also an executive producer — cut into some personal territory. “Forever & Always,” for instance, is about her breakup with pop star Joe Jonas of the Jonas Brothers, while “Hey Stephen” is about Love & Theft’s Stephen Barker Liles, who toured with Swift, and “Fifteen” — “My favorite song I’ve ever written,” she says — chronicles freshman year exploits with her best friend, Abigail.
“I really tried to not write songs about being on the road and sleeping in hotel rooms and the tour bus,” explains Swift, who lives in a 4,000-plus-square-foot condo in Nashville and has been romantically linked to actor and “Valentine’s Day” co-star Taylor Lautner, among others. “I got albums when I was younger and there would be songs about that sort of thing, and I couldn’t really relate to it.
“So I really try to write more about what I feel and guys and love because that’s what fascinates me more than anything else — love and what it does to us and how we treat people and how they treat us. So pretty much every song on the album has a face that I associate with it.”
That’s brave terrain for an artist of any age, much less one as young as Swift. But Swift, who’s already working on material for her third album and who also wrote a song, “Best Days of Your Life,” for former “American Idol” contestant and opening act Kellie Pickler’s latest album, says that’s all part of being, well, “Fearless.”
“What the word ‘fearless’ means to me is not that you don’t have fears,” she explains. “It’s not that you’re not afraid of anything. Being fearless to me means you’re afraid of a lot of things, but you jump anyway.
“I think that’s what we’re doing on this album, and it’s what I want to do for as long as I make music — which I want to be forever, so there you go. I want to be fearless forever.”
Taylor Swift, Kellie Pickler and Gloriana perform at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 26 and 27, at the Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are sold out. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
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