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Interview:
Taylor Swift parties like it's "1989" on new album
 

By GARY GRAFF
Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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Taylor Swift calls her new album, "1989," "is the most excited I've ever been about an album release."

And given what's transpired for the four records that preceded it, that's saying something.

The 24-year-old Swift, of course, has been a success out of the box, ever since her first single, "Tim McGraw," went platinum in 2006. Since then she's sold more than 30 million albums and 75 million digital singers worldwide and won seven Grammy Awards as each of her last seven albums debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. She`s logged 20 Top 20 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, with "1969's" first single "Shake It Off" sending her to No. 1 there for just the second time.

Though she's ostensibly been a country artist, Swift has clearly made the crossover to stadium-filling pop sensation. And the reason she's so enthused about "1989" -- which comes out Monday, Oct. 27 -- is that this time out she isn't trying to hide that fact, turning out a set that's devoid of fiddles and banjos and is decidedly more MTV than CMT.

"This album was made completely and solely on my own terms, with no one else's opinion, no one else's agenda factoring in," Swift explains. "I didn't feel that I was having to think too hard about the music direction, either.

"In the past I've always really tried to make sure that I was maintaining a stronghold on two different genres, and this time I just had to think about one, which creatively was a relief because it was kind of nice to be very honest about what I was making and to start over in a new genre."

The seed for Swift's full move to pop move was planted on 2012's "Red" album. "When people would ask me, 'What's your favorite song on 'Red,' I would always say, without hesitation, 'I Knew You Were Trouble,' " Swift recalls. "My own preference was kind of naturally gravitating towards those pop sensibilities and pop production.

"So when I went into the studio to start this album, I wanted to make sure that it was different than anything I had done before. And it wasn't until about a year in that I admitted to myself and admitted to everyone on my team that this is a pop album. We can't call it country. That would be the most disingenuous thing we can do, and out of respect for a music industry and a music town I adore, I have to be very honest about this."

And Swift says that being up front and proactive about her switch has seemed to minimize the country backlash.

"They know they're the ones who brought me to the party and they know I am very well aware of that," Swift explains. "And I honestly haven't experienced anyone really being upset. I think that me being very honest and unapologetic about it kind of helps people understand that I'm not trying to fool them. I'm not assuming I can paint a wall blue and tell them it's green.

"I think just being up front with people that you care about is the most honest way of going about your life and your decisions."

Diving into "1969," Swift teamed again with Swedish producers Max Martin -- who executive produced "1989" with Swift -- and Shellback, with whom she worked on "I Knew You Were Trouble" and two other songs on "Red." She also brought in ubiquitous pop hitmaker Ryan Tedder as well as Jack Antonoff of fun., who's the boyfriend of "Girls" creator Lena Dunham, one of Swift's closest friends.

"There wasn't much of a major strategy discussion about this album," Swift says. "We just tried to compile as many great songs as we could possibly write and focused on making a sound that's very cohesive and very signature to this album. That's how we approached it." But the process, Swift adds, was a bit more free-wheeling than what she'd done before.

"When you're making a pop album you can make a hook out of a lot of different elements that I wasn't able to do previously," she explains, citing influences such as Peter Gabriel, Madonna and 80s synth pop. "That has been really thrilling for me as a songwriter. You can do shouting and speaking and whispering and any of that, if clever enough, can be a hook."

Another difference on "1989" -- no songs about her famous ex-boyfriends (Jake Gyllenhaal, John Mayer, Joe Jonas, One Direction's Harry Styles) and lyrics Swift says are less "boycentric" than before. "I don't think anybody from my past or in my life will be really upset with this album," she predicts.

The songs are still personal though -- a case in point being "Shake It Off," which Swift says is about "how I deal with criticism and gossip and humiliation and all those things that used to really level me" quite differently than even a couple of years ago on "Red."

"A few years ago I put out a song called 'Mean,' " Swift says, "and it was from the perspective of, 'Why are you picking on me? Why are you criticizing me? Why can I never do anything right in your eyes? Why?!' And it's coming from a sort of semi-defeated place.

"Fast forward a couple of years and 'Shake It Off' is sort of like, 'Y'know what? If you're upset and irritated that I'm just being myself, I'm going to be myself MORE and I'm having more fun than you, so it doesn't matter.' Now I deal with those things by kind of laughing at them."

Swift is accompanying "1989" with new look, too -- shorter hair and sleeker fashions, which she says feel more appropriate to the kind of music she's making now.

"I like to look at albums as being sort of statements," says Swift, who plans to tour in support of the album next year. "Visually, sonically, emotionally, I like them all to have their own fingerprint. This time I'm kind of just doing whatever I feel like. I felt like making a pop album, so I did. I felt like being very honest and unapologetic about it, so I did. I felt like moving to New York -- I had no reason to, it wasn't for love or business -- so I did. I felt like cutting my hair short, so I did that, too.

"All these things are in keeping with living my life on my on terms. That's been what I've celebrated about this phase in my life, and it's made me really, really happy."

* Taylor Swift's new album, "1989," comes out Monday, Oct. 27

* Swift will appear Monday on ABC's "Good Morning America" and NBC's "Ellen" and as a key advisor on NBC's "The Voice."

* Swift's other TV appearances during the week include: CBS' "Late Night with David Letterman, Tuesday, Oct. 28; "CBS This Morning" and ABC's "The View," Wednesday, Oct. 29; ABC's "Good Morning America" again on Thursday, Oct. 30; and CBS' "The Talk" on Friday, Oct. 31.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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