It’s fair to say Taylor Swift started big, Her first single, “Tim McGraw,” was a Top 10 country hit, Top 40 on the pop charts and platinum in 2006 — when she was just 16.
And it’s only gotten bigger since then, to the tune of more than 20 million albums sold worldwide and more than 34 million individual song downloads, making her the top-selling digital artist of all time (take that, Lady Gaga!).
So it only serves to fit that Swift, who’s now 21, would want her stage show to grow accordingly.
“I do. I absolutely love putting on a concert and the whole theatrical element of it,” says Swift, whose Ford Field stop this weekend is the first of eight stadium concerts on the North American leg of her Speak Now World Tour. “I started out in children’s theater, so bringing words and music to life in front of an audience is one of my favorite things in the world.”
The Speak Now show, which Swift unveiled during February in Singapore and has also taken through Europe, certainly doesn’t skimp on the theatrics. Weighing in at two hours and 17 songs — 12 of them from her triple-platinum 2010 “Speak Now” album — it incorporates elaborate sets, pyrotechnics, dancers, aerialists, nine costume changes, fake snow, confetti and seemingly everything but the proverbial partridge in a pear tree.
“I love a spectacle,” acknowledges Swift, who was raised in Wyomissing, Pa., not too far from Broadway. “All my life, I felt like I wanted to put on a show, not just a concert, and I told myself that’s exactly what I’d do when I got the chance.”
That opportunity, of course, is the result of a pretty impressive run since those fledgling days of “Tim McGraw.”
It’s easy to get caught up in Swift’s potent statistics. She’s deftly and decidedly crossed the pop-country divide with her three albums, two of which — “Speak Now” and 2008’s “Fearless” — debuted at No. 1 on both charts. She’s notched 13 Top 10 country singles (including four No. 1’s). She’s won 81 industry awards, including four Grammys and 11 Billboard Music Awards, and was the top-selling artist of 2010, according to Nielsen Soundscan.
Billboard, meanwhile, lists her as the top-earning country artist at more than $20.7 million, No. 6 on the list of all musicians. That’s all impressive, certainly.
“I’m very grateful that my career has gone the way that it’s gone, a gradual build. And every single success that I’ve had has been an unexpected one for me,” Swift says. But, she adds, there’s another and more telling measure of her success.
“I think the best thing about having all this happen in my life is the grocery store,” she explains. “When I go there, people are like, ‘Hey, Taylor!’ And it’s like, I know I haven’t met them before, but they’ve seen my video on TV so I’m like, ‘Hey!!’ You know?
“I love going out and living my life and having people just randomly come up and say ‘hi’ to me and be nice to me. That’s a really fun thing for me. I don’t have weird privacy issues where I’m like, ‘I don’t know you. Why are you talking to me?’
“It’s, like, so cool to feel like people appreciate the music you make and have that constantly be reminded that you’re putting out music that is in other peoples’ lives and has a positive affect on them.”
The songs serve a different purpose for Swift herself, however. Loaded with messages to the men who’ve done her wrong, including, presumably, past boyfriends including Joe Jonas and actors Taylor Lautner (with whom she appeared 2010’s “Valentine’s Day”) and Jake Gyllenhaal. In concert she’s even issued tongue-in-cheek — sort-of — warnings that there’s a price to be paid for transgressions, but Swift adds that her music isn’t all about dissing old flames.
“Writing about my life ... helps me figure out how I feel about things sometimes,” she says. “Emotions can be so messy and all over the place, and you can feel so many different emotions about one thing. So when I write a song about how I feel about that certain thing, it becomes simple and I can really process it and I can feel like whatever pain that situation may have brought me in my life was worthwhile and justified because it was supposed to come out in a song.”
Swift, who wrote all of the songs on “Speak Now” herself, is quick to point to some growth on the album — particularly the song “Back to December,” which is “the first song I’ve ever written that apologizes to someone.” And she’s looking forward to exploring more complex issues in the future.
“There are a lot of options where life can take you,” Swift says. “One of the things I’ve learned is I know absolutely nothing compared to what I’m going to know in five minutes or five hours or five days, and that will all come out on my next album, and the one after that and the one after that.”
Until then, however, Swift is happily trodding the boards on the "Speak Now" tour and occasionally popping up on the silver screen; she next voices the character of Audrey in an animated 3-D adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax,” coming in March 2012. But acting for her is a second-fiddle ambition.
“I’ve gotten to do some cool things,” Swift says, “but I know what I love more than anything in the world, and that’s making music. And I’ve been obsessing and laboring over (‘Speak Now’) for two years, so putting that out and hearing what people think about it is really where my mind is right now.”
Taylor Swift, Needtobreathe, Frankie Ballard and Randy Montana perform at 7 p.m. Saturday, June 11, at Ford Field in downtown Detroit. Tickets are sold out. Call 313-262-2000 or visit www.fordfield.com.
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