[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 developmentstuck in prom, as it werethat
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.
who grew up on a Christmas-tree farm in rural Pennsylvania, tells
me that when she was in fourth grade her family moved to Wyomis&SHY;sing,
an affluent suburb of Reading. So . . . middle school?
Awkward, she says, launching into the first of many comic
riffs. Having a hobby thats different from everyone
elses? 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, dont embrace the curls yet? Awkward. Try to
straighten it? Awkward! She starts to laugh. So many
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 dont ever feel like the cool kid at the party,
ever. Its 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 peoplepeople
I really trustnone 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 shouldnt. Maybe you know
how to be conniving, like, naturally. She laughs. Theres
always that seventh-grade girl who looks like shes 25.
And youre 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
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 Id had my whole
life. It never mattered to me that people in school didnt
think that country music was cool, and they made fun of me for
itthough 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
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?
Its 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 shes
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 arent many
stadium shows anymore, she says. Its 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
what Ive 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 cant be real, right? This cant really
be my life.