“Unveiling the Bonds: A Blissful Chat with Taylor Swift”

Taylor Swift is having an absolutely fantastic week. Her latest album, which was released on Monday, is set to surpass one million sales by Tuesday. The last musician to achieve such a feat in a week was Swift herself with her 2012 album, Red. As a result, when she visited NPR’s New York office today, she felt entitled to a little bit of lightheartedness. She showed up in her Halloween costume, which consisted of a fuzzy white bodysuit with wings, explaining that it was a mix between a Pegasus and a unicorn.
The name of Swift’s new album is 1989, which is the year she was born. This means that, at just under 25 years old, she has spent almost half of her life in the music industry. During her wide-ranging conversation with NPR’s Melissa Block, she discussed how things have changed since she first started her career a decade ago. This includes not only her own experiences but also the changes that have occurred for her teenage girl fan base. Additionally, she delved into her thoughts on how the digital age has impacted media, music, and feminism. To listen to the radio version of the interview, follow the audio link provided, and for more excerpts of their conversation, continue reading below.

I sought the expertise of an external consultant, my 12-year-old daughter, for this interview. Let’s begin with a question from her. Why did you choose to address your haters rather than your motivators in your popular song “Shake It Off”?

Taylor Swift responded by expressing her admiration for the question. She explained that her intention with “Shake It Off” was to reclaim control over the narrative and adopt a more light-hearted approach towards individuals who irritate her. She no longer allows them to affect her negatively. Taylor mentioned a previous song she wrote called “Mean” a few years ago, where she tackled the same issue but from a different perspective. Back then, she portrayed herself as a victim, which is a common reaction when facing bullying or gossip for the first time. However, as time passed, she learned to brush off things that have no real impact on her life. Taylor emphasized the importance of being mindful of what people say about you, but she believes it is even more crucial to have a strong awareness of one’s true self and prioritize that above anything else.

I received a question from a 7th grader regarding the same song. She has been contemplating the lyrics and mentioned that it reminds her of middle school. She asked if I had any advice for a middle school girl to help her “shake it off”.

This young girl is absolutely right. During my own middle school years, I foolishly believed that once we graduated from that phase of life, bullying and senseless teasing would no longer plague us. I naively thought that once we became adults and ventured into the real world, people would not attack each other or try to bring each other down without reason. However, as I grew older, I came to the realization that the dynamics remained unchanged. The only difference was that we were no longer transitioning from one classroom to another.

It’s fascinating how everyone eventually has to learn how to handle people picking on each other as it is something that never truly goes away. Some people grow out of it and realize that it stems from their own insecurities, while others continue to engage in such behavior. Therefore, my advice to girls in middle school is to find ways to distract themselves from this negativity. They should explore their interests such as art or hobbies and channel their energy into those activities. It is important for them to understand that they will have to learn how to cope with this throughout their lives because it may never cease.

Moving on to the new album, there is definitely a noticeable change in sound. You have completely departed from the country genre and embraced a highly produced electronic pop style. However, in the liner notes, you mention that the storyline in these songs is different from anything you’ve shared before. I must admit, I’m not entirely perceiving that change, so could you elaborate on what sets these songs apart in terms of storyline?

In the past, my songwriting predominantly focused on heartbreak and pain caused by others. However, on this album, I delve into more complex relationships where the blame is shared equally. I write about reflecting on a relationship and feeling a sense of pride despite its failure, reminiscing about something that has ended but still brings joy, falling in love with a city or a feeling rather than an individual. This new approach brings a sense of realism to my portrayal of relationships, which is more fatalistic than my previous perspectives. I used to believe in finding “the one” and living happily ever after without struggles. However, through my experiences, I have come to realize that relationships are filled with gray areas and complexities. Even if one finds the right person, it requires daily effort to make it work. These are themes that have not been extensively explored in my lyrics before.

Perhaps the song “Wildest Dreams” can be considered an illustration of this new perspective?

That’s a great question! I actually find inspiration from a variety of artists, but for this particular record, Peter Gabriel was a major influence for me. I’ve been listening to his music a lot during the process of making this album. There’s something about the way he expresses himself that really resonates with me. His ability to convey emotions and thoughts is truly impressive. Although I don’t strive to replicate his style, I definitely draw inspiration from his intensity and passion. It’s something I hope to always aspire to in my own music.

Please rewrite the given content to make it unique and original:

Peter, the artist I’m referring to, has an extraordinary musical taste and an innate ability to anticipate what would captivate people. In the 80s, he was way ahead of his time, experimenting with synth-pop sounds and creating a distinct atmosphere in his songs, rather than relying on overly produced tracks. It was truly astonishing to witness his talent. Even in his later work, like when he released an album of modern-day covers, he managed to give people what they didn’t even know they wanted.

Now, I want to delve into the meaning behind the lyrics of “Out Of The Woods.” There’s a captivating line about someone who “hit the brakes too soon, 20 stitches in a hospital room.” This line holds both a literal and metaphorical significance. It represents a specific incident in a past relationship of mine, but it also symbolizes the premature end of the relationship due to overwhelming fear. The song reflects the immense anxiety that permeated that particular relationship, constantly fueled by the media’s intrusive scrutiny and speculative discussions. It’s challenging for me to find love amidst the clamor of outside voices.

Moving away from the metaphor, let’s discuss the actual event. As curious as you may be, I prefer to keep the specifics between the two individuals involved. Including that lyric in the song was a deliberate decision on my part. It served as a subtle reminder to the media that they aren’t privy to every detail of my relationships or my life. I can experience something deeply significant and traumatic without them knowing about it.

Finding those moments of privacy is quite rare. Moments where you can do something without anyone else knowing, if that’s what you desire.

My life has become quite unusual, as I’ve grown accustomed to the constant attention from people wanting photos and the presence of crowds wherever I go. I’ve come to realize that the only time I truly have privacy is when I’m in my own apartment or home, as I am viewed as public property everywhere else. To cope with this perception, I focus on maintaining a positive mental outlook and treat people with kindness. If I ever feel overwhelmed, I simply choose to stay home.

In a way, I also make myself accessible through social media. I have been sharing Polaroids of my fans holding my new album on my Twitter feed. I have even invited fans to my homes for listening parties, where I made them cookies. It’s a delicate balance, as I want my fans to feel comfortable and be themselves in these situations. These moments provide a break from the chaotic and overwhelming experiences they usually face when interacting with fans.

I’ve spent countless hours online trying to understand what my fans want from me. This led to the creation of the 1989 Secret Sessions a few months ago, which took place before the album release. I carefully selected fans from Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter, specifically those who had been incredibly supportive and had made numerous attempts to meet me in the past. I invited 89 of them to my living room in each of my houses across the US and my hotel room in London. During these sessions, I played them the entire album and shared the stories behind each song. I asked them to keep these secrets about the album and its lyrics to themselves until the official release. We spent four hours together each night, taking Polaroids and enjoying each other’s company. It was a chance for them to share their stories at their own pace, free from any rush or panic. And true to their word, they didn’t gossip about the lyrics or spoil the surprise for other fans. When the album leaked online two days before its release, it didn’t trend on Twitter because my fans protected it. They actively commented on illegal posts, expressing their disapproval and emphasizing the value of respecting art.

Witnessing this level of dedication and protection from my fans was truly remarkable and heartwarming.

What do you believe other artists could learn from this? You are achieving great success with your album, at a time when many artists are struggling to sell albums like they used to.
I genuinely believe in the power of albums. Throughout the entire process, from conceptualization to completion, I prioritize creating a cohesive visual theme and emotional essence for the album, including its physical packaging. I believe there should be an enticing reason for people to go to a store and purchase a CD. It’s important to consider that while some foresee the decline of the music industry, there is still a significant portion of the population who daily commute with their children, playing CDs in their cars. They have a CD player in their vehicle. Hence, I understand that the industry is evolving, with a rise in streaming. However, there remains a substantial audience who aren’t partaking in streaming, which is precisely who this release caters to. With the physical CD, we have created an exclusive edition available at Target. This edition includes three additional songs and songwriting voice memos that were initial rough ideas recorded on my cell phone. By incorporating these into the album, we offer fans insight into the songwriting process. Moreover, there are five sets of 13 Polaroids from the album photo shoot, enclosed in an envelope within the CD. Depending on the version of the album they purchase, fans will receive a different set of Polaroids, each adorned with lyrics written on the bottom. It truly provides a unique experience that differs from simply downloading the music itself. It’s almost like a collector’s edition, emphasizing the value of owning the physical copy.
I can understand other artists potentially thinking, “Sure, this is great for Taylor Swift. She has the resources to accomplish all of this. It’s excellent marketing, but it’s not real art — and the rest of us are on a different level. We just can’t compete with that.”

I believe that the rapid changes in the music industry offer valuable lessons for us all. Each major release and its ability to connect with people teaches us something unique. It’s important to remember that this is a case-by-case situation. If another artist attempts to replicate the exact same marketing campaign or host secret living room sessions, that can be great, but only if it resonates with their fans. If it fails to make that connection, it simply won’t work for them. Therefore, it’s essential for us to tailor our release plans to our own careers and fans, truly understanding and connecting with them. I have spent countless hours online every night, discovering what my fans want from me. So, when the time came to release an album, I knew exactly what to do.

Let’s go back to when your debut album was released, back when you were 16. You had moved to Nashville with your parents, chasing your dream. You were writing intensely personal songs about young love and heartbreak. Can you tap into those songs now? Is it possible for you to channel that 16-year-old girl, or even the younger version of yourself who wrote those songs?

I actually wrote my first album when I was 14 and 15, so it’s been almost 10 years of making albums now. The formula has remained unchanged; I strive to create an album that represents the last two years of my life. Essentially, people have had the opportunity to read my diary for the past decade. I still craft personal songs, although some may view this as oversharing or too much information. However, this has always been my way of living and managing my career. Therefore, I feel it’s crucial to continue giving people insight into my actual life, even though it may come at a higher cost now.

If I were to go back and perform one of my earliest songs, like “Tim McGraw,” from my debut album, would I be able to connect with it? Well, it’s a bit of a mixed answer. When I perform live, there are certain songs that my fans really want to hear, and I always make sure to include those in my setlist. One of those songs is “Love Story,” which I wrote when I was just 17. I will continue to play that song for as long as I’m doing concerts. I can still connect with it because of all the incredible stories I’ve heard from fans about how it has played a special role in their lives – like walking down the aisle or becoming our first worldwide hit.

However, when it comes to “Tim McGraw,” I don’t really connect with it as much anymore. Sure, there’s a sense of nostalgia associated with it, but it was a song about first love and I’m in a completely different place in my life now. I believe that we can only grow so much emotionally, and it becomes difficult to truly connect with the wide-eyed ideas of love that I had as a 15-year-old.

Interestingly, I’ve been reflecting on that song lately – I was even listening to it today. It struck me that “Wildest Dreams” is, in many ways, the 10-years-older version of “Tim McGraw,” as it also conveys the sentiment of wanting someone to remember me a certain way. In “Tim McGraw,” it was a black dress, and in the new song, I envision it as a fancy dress.

Definitely. I didn’t consider that aspect before. The main difference between “Tim McGraw” and “Wildest Dreams” is the context of the relationships they portray. “Tim McGraw” was written about a relationship that had already ended, with the hope that the person would remember me fondly. On the other hand, “Wildest Dreams” delves into a relationship that is just beginning, while also hinting at its eventual end.

As a mother of a 12-year-old daughter, I’ve noticed her and her friends’ adoration for your music. You have a significant influence on a vulnerable and impressionable group of individuals. This leads me to wonder if you have ever considered shifting your focus from personal experiences to broader messages that could resonate with young girls, introducing them to bigger ideas and the wider world beyond themselves.

What kind of messages do you mean?

Well, I’m referring to exploring different perspectives and experiences through your music. I don’t mean to downplay the impact of love songs or pop songs, but have you ever thought about writing about other topics that could redirect girls’ attention away from solely introspecting?

I understand that we are currently facing a self-esteem crisis, where girls constantly compare their behind-the-scenes lives to the highlight reels of others. However, I believe it’s essential for me to address topics I’m passionate about in interviews. Feminism, for instance, is something I bring up consistently because it’s important for young girls to understand its meaning and to identify as feminists themselves. They should comprehend the challenges women face in today’s society, whether it’s in the workplace or through media influences. They need to learn what kind of behavior to accept from men and what to reject, while forming their own opinions. In my opinion, my best contribution to them is to continue writing songs that make them contemplate their own emotions and simplify their thoughts. This is crucial, especially at their age, as they often experience a whirlwind of emotions that can quickly lead to anxiety.

We are currently faced with a significant crisis relating to self-esteem. Nowadays, young girls have the ability to scroll through pictures showcasing the most glamorous aspects of other people’s lives, while being confronted with the less glamorous realities of their own lives. As soon as they wake up, they look at themselves in the mirror and inevitably compare their reflection to a filtered and flawless photo of a popular girl who appears to have it all together. This is an experience that you and I didn’t have to grapple with when we were their age. The ease and availability of comparing oneself to others can easily lead to feelings of inadequacy.

Even at the age of 24, I still don’t consider it a priority for me to be seen as cool, edgy, or sexy. These three themes are constantly forced upon girls through the media, and when they feel like they don’t fit into these categories, I believe the best thing I can do is show them what my life really looks like. I am content with my life, and I have never once felt cool, edgy, or sexy. And it’s crucial for these girls to know that being those things is not essential. Instead, it is far more important for them to be imaginative, intelligent, hardworking, strong, smart, quick-witted, and charming. Unfortunately, these qualities seem to have taken a backseat in terms of priorities. Therefore, I strive to convey bigger and more meaningful messages to them, and I am giving all my efforts to accomplishing that.

It’s actually quite surprising to hear you say that you never feel cool, edgy, or sexy. I mean, you attend numerous red carpet events and fashion shows. Do these three words not align with how you perceive yourself?

Not at all. In regards to your daughter’s age, I believe a significant part of our self-esteem and self-image is shaped during those crucial years. Unfortunately, that period of my life was marked by a lack of acceptance, inclusion, and a sense of belonging. However, as time has passed, I have grown and no longer prioritize seeking validation in those areas.

Regarding feminism, to me, it simply means advocating for equal rights and opportunities for both men and women.

In the music world that I am a part of, gender equality is still an ongoing issue. It becomes apparent every time I come across headlines that imply I will write songs about the men I interact with. Strangely enough, my male musician friends and songwriters can freely write about their relationships without facing the same scrutiny. The way our relationships are judged and valued differs between men and women in the public eye. If a man is known for having multiple relationships, it is seen as charming or playful, whereas women are often criticized or shamed for the same. This double standard is evident when you open a magazine and see comparisons like, “Who’s the hotter mama: J-Lo or Beyoncé?” Such comparisons are never made for men. If we continue to perpetuate these comparisons and create winners and losers, we are doing a disservice to our society as a whole.

Scroll to Top