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Taylor Swift Remembers Middle and High School Years

Everyone under seventy remembers those four short, sweet, painful years of high school. Everyone remembers the pain of being dumped by the boy or girl we thought we could not breathe without. Everyone remembers the terror of feeling awkward about anything that made us different.

Talor Swift opens up about her memories of middle school and high school in the February 2012 edition of Vogue Magazine:

[W]e wind up in a conversation about how one never really gets over high school. If Swift has been criticized for being somewhat arrested in her creative development—stuck in prom, as it were—that tendency has lent her an uncanny ability to capture in her songs the vulnerable mind-set of teen girls everywhere. “Why you gotta be so mean?” she sings in the straight-up country song that defined her amazing year in many ways and has been nominated for two Grammys. Clearly, her school days remain all-too-vivid.

Swift, who grew up on a Christmas-tree farm in rural Pennsylvania, tells me that when she was in fourth grade her family moved to Wyomis­sing, an affluent suburb of Reading. “So . . . middle school? Awkward,” she says, launching into the first of many comic riffs. “Having a hobby that’s different from everyone else’s? Awkward. Singing the national anthem on weekends instead of going to sleepovers? More awkward. Braces? Awkward. Gain a lot of weight before you hit the growth spurt? Awkward. Frizzy hair, don’t embrace the curls yet? Awkward. Try to straighten it? Awkward!” She starts to laugh. “So many phases!”

As hard as it is to imagine now, Swift always felt like an outsider. “I think who you are in school really sticks with you,” she says. “I don’t ever feel like the cool kid at the party, ever. It’s like, Smile and be nice to everybody, because you were not invited to be here.”

When I confess I played the cymbals in marching band during my freshman year, she high-fives me. “All of my favorite people—people I really trust—none of them were cool in their younger years,” she says. “Because if you know how to be cool in middle school, maybe you have skills you shouldn’t. Maybe you know how to be conniving, like, naturally.” She laughs. “There’s always that seventh-grade girl who looks like she’s 25. And you’re like, How do you do it? How do you do it, Sarah Jaxheimer?” She lets out a comically ear-piercing shriek: “Why is your hair always so shiny?!” (Later, I Google Sarah Jaxheimer, and sure enough, she has perfect, lustrous Jennifer Aniston hair.)

Swift finally stopped caring about being cool. “I think that happened as soon as I left school, when I was sixteen, because then all that mattered was music and this dream that I’d had my whole life. It never mattered to me that people in school didn’t think that country music was cool, and they made fun of me for it—though it did matter to me that I was not wearing the clothes that everybody was wearing at that moment. But at some point, I was just like, I like wearing sundresses and cowboy boots.”

Apparently, so do a lot of other people. A couple of weeks earlier I watched Swift perform for a stadium of 50,000 people in Philadelphia, for all intents and purposes her hometown crowd. I had never seen so many teens and tweens and little girls with their mothers in sundresses and cowboy boots. “I look out at the stadiums full of people and see them all knowing the words to songs I wrote,” says Swift. “And curling their hair! I remember straightening my hair because I wanted to be like everybody else, and now the fact that anybody would emulate what I do? It’s just funny. And wonderful.” The fact that Swift, at 22, already appreciates the delicious irony in that speaks volumes about her grown-up sense of perspective. That she’s also the only kid at the table when it comes to filling huge stadiums also suggests she has a heft beyond her years. How many artists can even fill a stadium these days?

“Um . . . Kenny Chesney, U2, and Paul McCartney. There aren’t many stadium shows anymore,” she says. “It’s no small feat, and I know that. When you walk out onstage in front of 65,000 people, it can bring you to tears. If you really take it in at the end of a song and you hear that many people screaming, it will make you cry.”

Do you ever get freaked out?

“This is what I’ve wanted to do my whole life,” she says. “It never freaks me out. Never. Ever.” She pauses for a moment. “But you know what does freak me out? When is the other shoe going to drop? I am so happy right now. So I am always living in fear. This can’t be real, right? This can’t really be my life.”

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