It seems Taylor Swift is everywhere these days except Nashville. The guy selling newspapers on the corner in the nation's capital listening to gospel tunes through his ear buds has heard her newest ditty "Shake It Off," even if it was a muffled version in a passing car. Since her fifth album release and a public battle with Spotify following her decision to remove her music from the free streaming service, something has shifted. Instead of People and Cosmo, this week Swift is gracing the cover of Time and stories about her are littering news sites such Bloomberg and Forbes. It appears she is finally being recognized for the calculating business woman I think she has always been. It's just taken others time to catch up and realize it. An editorial she wrote in the Wall Street Journal last summer was a warning shot to Spotify: "My hope for the future, not just in the music industry, but in every young girl I meet... is that they all realize their worth and ask for it."
Earlier this month, Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood made a big to-do about saying farewell to Swift on the annual Country Music Association (CMA) awards, adding that Swift would always have a home in Nashville. I found this to be particularly irritating because Taylor Swift left Nashville a LONG time ago. As in after her debut album that featured her first hit, "Tim McGraw." And even that album provided clues pointing to the inevitable breakup.
But it has taken the release of 1989 -- the year Swift was born -- for everyone, including Swift, to openly admit her breakup with Nashville. And despite the well-intentioned invite from Paisley and Underwood, I don't predict that Swift is going to pull a Faith Hill and come running back to Nashville. (Read on to find out why my predictions about Swift tend to be accurate). In fact, it is doubtful that Swift and Nashville are ever, ever, ever getting back together. (Seriously, who thought that was a country song?)
As the Time magazine article eloquently puts it, "The old marriage was always one of convenience." It certainly proved convenient for Nashville, which continues to struggle with its boy bands releasing increasingly bad songs about driving girls in tight jeans around in their pick 'em up trucks while drinking beer. Clearly Nashville needed Swift -- who has sold three of the 16 albums this millennium that sold more than a million copies in one week -- more than Swift needed Nashville. But the marriage worked for both despite the fact there was nothing remotely country about most of Swift's music or concerts save the banjo she pulled out to play on her anti-bully anthem, "Mean."
Full disclosure, I am not a Swift hater. I have admired her since I had the chance to interview her in 2007 for the Reidsville Review, when she was on one of her first tours opening for the legendary George Strait and Ronnie Milsap. I found her to be smart, open, honest, funny and without pretense. I was impressed then with what a savvy, no-nonsense business woman she appeared to be at such a young age. She literally had me at "hello." When I introduced myself, she ran up to me and gave me a big hug like I was her long, lost friend. I was blown away by how genuine she was then and I believe still is. I gave her a copy of the front page story I had written about her and had her sign one for me. I told her I had done the same thing for Toby Keith following a performance at the Berrien County Fair in Michigan, before he was a household name. I predicted in 2007 that she was going to be even bigger than Keith, a comment that was met with a genuine laugh from Swift. That was clearly an understatement.
Nashville's "loss" is NYC's gain. The home of the Grand Ole Opry tried to hang on to Swift for too long despite the fact that she had clearly outgrown her country roots. Now that Swift has bid it adieu for her newly adopted hometown, here's hoping the new reigning women of country music, the Miranda Lamberts and the Kacey Musgraves, to name a few, will continue to put the country in music that puts those boy bands, yes I am talking about you Florida Georgia Line, to shame.
My front page interview that ran in the Reidsville Review in January 2007 with Swift follows. Would love to get your feedback.
Taylor Swift is paving her own way through Nashville
Taylor Swift brings a maturity to her music that belies her 17 years. Think of the curly headed blonde country singer-songwriter as an edgy Carrie Underwood. But don't expect Swift to get lost in the crowd of Kelly Picklers singing in Nashville today.
What sets Swift apart is her songwriting ability. Swift wrote or co-wrote every one of the 11 songs on her self-titled debut album that was released in October including her first hit single, "Tim McGraw," which is which is currently No. 9 on the Billboard hot
country songs chart.
"I want to be edgier," she says. "Speaking my mind has been what I was raised for. If you are allowed to write your own songs, why not say something that is completely honest?"
That may be one of the reasons Swift was invited to open for country legends Ronnie Milsap and George Strait on their current tour that began earlier this month. The trio is scheduled to perform in the round at the Greensboro Coliseum on Jan. 20. It is the
tour's only North Carolina stop.
"It was so exciting when I got that magic phone call," Swift said in a telephone interview from a Wal-Mart parking lot in her adopted hometown of Hendersonville, Tenn., where she was among several country music artists at a charity event before the holidays. Fans paid to tour Swift's tour bus with her and the money went to pay for toys for needy children. "I'm just so excited to be touring with George Strait. He really is the king of country music."
Swift had just gotten off the road from touring with country music sensation Rascal Flatts, when she got the call to tour with Strait and Milsap from January through March. Swift says she didn't hesitate to say yes. "I want to be working as much as I can," she
said. "I give myself five seconds a day to think, 'Oh my God, this is really happening.' And then I spend the rest of the time trying to make it last."
Swift says she is patterning her career after another rising country star, Dierks Bentley, whose current album "Long Trip Alone" was named among Country Music Television's Top 10 Country albums of 2006. "Dierks was known for not resting until he knew he was going to be around for a while and that's my plan," Swift said.
Swift replaced Hickory native Eric Church as an opening act on the Rascal Flatts tour in the fall after Church had some scheduling issues. "They are awesome," she said about the trio, adding that she fell victim to some pranks on the tour, one on stage in front of 20,000 people. Swift said that four members of the crew snuck up on her and sat down next her on stage while she was playing and began reading newspapers. Another time, she had a 5-minute meet-and-greet with fans before the show and when she
arrived, 500 people were waiting for her. "I signed every single autograph after the show," she said laughing.
While her friends were going to movies, playing video games or hanging out at the mall, Swift was writing songs. "I have been a paid songwriter since I was 14," said the farm girl, who was raised near Reading, Pa., and inspired by her opera-singing grandmother. Her efforts paid off.
Liz Rose, who co-wrote seven of the songs, told The Associated Press that Swift was born to be a singer-songwriter. "She's a genius, coming in with ideas and a melody," said Rose, 49. "She'd come in and write with this old lady, and I never second-guessed her. I respect her a lot."
Swift has no intention of slowing down. Despite the fact that she rarely has time to drive what she refers to as her "big splurge," a silver Lexus hard top convertible, Swift says she loves being busy. "When I do have time to drive it, it's like heaven on Earth,"
she said, adding she has only had her driver's license for a year.
Her demanding touring schedule means that Swift also doesn't have time to attend high school so she is being homeschooled. But she does miss hanging out with her friends, which she got to do some over the holidays and for her birthday in December. Swift says despite how much her life has changed recently, she is still the same girl who wrote on her jacket cover, "to all the boys who thought they would be cool and break my heart, guess what? Here are 11 songs written about you. HA."
"I really try to be the same person that I am on stage as I am off," she said. "I don't do things differently. I don't try to censor who I am. I think what's important is to just be who you are."