On Friday night, I got a glimpse into Taylor Swift’s mind—and her apartment. An essay I wrote recently for an unrelated contest gave me the opportunity to spend six hours in the New York City penthouse apartment of the world’s most successful pop star today. I was one of 89 fans who were chosen to eat cookies baked by Taylor herself, hold Grammy awards, listen to one of the most anticipated albums of the year weeks before its official release, and ultimately hang out with Taylor Swift in her own home. The night left me spiraling into a playlist of “Long Live” and “Enchanted." I received an insight into the personal life of the one and only Taylor Swift, one unreleased track at a time.
Swift played many roles throughout the night. She was a writer; she explained before each track the metaphors—molded at 2 am and immediately recorded into her iPhone as a voice memo—that eventually became a chorus, a verse, a hook, or a bridge. She was a confidant; several fans described to her their personal struggles aided only by her albums. She was an artist; the pride of premiering her creations was clear from her beaming smile that stood taller than her 5 feet 11 inch frame. She was a leader; she introduced a demographic of predominantly adolescent girls and young adult women to a 1980s synthpop vibe that somehow derived from her very country debut album. She was a true daughter; she humorously and good-heartedly mocked the entrances of both her mother and her father on separate occasions. She was an actress; she expressed the passion behind and mimed each word to her songs with unedited reactions—and dance moves—that made the emotions behind each melody even more tangible. She was a big sister; there was no hesitation to empathize with a 15-year-old with artificial curls who related far too much with a song about being betrayed by a friend. (I later realized that Taylor’s mother, Andrea, shares the same compassion; she is every bit as welcoming and warm as her daughter.) Swift acted with the patience of a grade school teacher as she calmed down the outbursts of mumbling middle school girls with handfuls of overwhelmed and emotionally exhausted tissues in their laps; she knew exactly which comments to humor, which to take seriously, and which to subtly disregard for the sake of everyone in the room. She determined the difference with a wisdom and natural ease possessed by few. But most of all, throughout the night, Swift was one of us.
As the gaggle of teenagers sat on fluffy pillows just centimeters from Taylor’s chair, we were surrounded by a shiny, black grand piano, framed pictures of celebrities such as Ed Sheeran and Ina Garten, Grammys, Billboard Awards, VMAs, a congratulatory message from Gillette Stadium for her sold-out Red Tour shows there, a fish tank full of aged baseballs, the pervasive scent of expensive candles, antique books contained by massive bird cages, and countless other affluent and sophisticated intricacies in every room. (Far more than you’d ever expect, considering you don’t often see paparazzi pictures of Swift buying boxes and boxes of decorations at Home Goods on the weekends. I’m convinced that she takes full advantage of Amazon Prime’s free two-day shipping in the Home & Kitchen department.) More striking, though, than any of these luxuries, were the things that made Taylor Swift, the world’s biggest pop star, appear more like Taylor, our friend that we’ve known since she was in high school.
One room—which I’ve been referring to as “the room with the cat food bowl in it”—had a stack of Blu-Ray discs next to an average sized TV. Her selection included The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Friends With Benefits, and, naturally,Frozen. Another TV in the living room had a pile of tangled wires under it attaching a MacBook to the screen via the same HDMI cable and adapter that I have for my late-night Netflix binges. The end table had traces of cat hair from Meredith and Olivia, who were at the time being tossed around a circle of girls in a spare bedroom. The small details like these juxtaposed themselves with the perfection of her kitchen china. They were reminders that at the end of the day, Taylor Swift is still the band geek on the bleachers, sitting with the rest of us, resenting the head cheerleader.
As impeccable as her glide in five-inch (and thirteen hundred dollar) Louboutin heels, framed black and white photos and pristine Polaroid pictures lined the walls of several rooms. They documented her private life—friends we didn’t know she had, producers we didn’t know she worked with, vacations we didn’t know she took. The relationship between celebrity and fan astounds me. TMZ and Perez Hilton attempt to document every aspect of her life for the public, but, contrary to popular belief, Swift has managed to keep relationships and experiences to herself. After seven years, I feel that I know Taylor Swift better than I knew most of my graduating class. But being in her apartment that night proved even to me, the biggest of fans, that she has every right to not post that picture on Instagram, and she knows it.
Through her new album, titled 1989, Swift has excellently proven her growth as a songwriter, a vocalist, and an all-around woman. What strikes me most is my overwhelming feeling of pride. Taylor has managed to grow up in the spotlight for eight years now, transitioning from a high school kid in a sundress and boots to an independent and successful woman. She has never once faltered, neither in her public image nor her talent, and there is no sign of that happening any time soon. The maturity and humility that radiates from her presence in the room—whether that be an arena, a penthouse apartment or a child’s hospital room—is accurately reflected in her new album. She has managed to grow up gracefully, from appropriately awkward to enviably elegant, while still maintaining the quirky and quintessential elements of her personality that I first fell in love with back in middle school. If you are understandably hesitant about the influx of dub-step, horns, and drums on a Taylor album, I hope its greater theme of independence, happiness, feminism, and success will prove more important.
As far as the album goes, yes, Swift is pushing the envelope. But this really should not be a shock to any of us. This is Taylor Swift, the same Taylor Swift who walked along the beach as a toddler to sing songs from The Lion King to strangers sitting in the sun. This is the Taylor Swift who, at 11 years old, recorded a demo CD of Dixie Chicks songs and went up to record labels on Music Row asking for a record deal. This is the Taylor who, at 12 years old, sang the National Anthem at a Philadelphia 76er’s game to a crowd of thousands of people. This is the girl who at 14 years old walked away from a development deal with RCA after being shelved for another year. This is the girl who signed with Big Machine Records when all Big Machine consisted of was Scott Borchetta and his dream. This is Taylor, who, at 16 years old, released her debut single, named after one of the most influential country music singers at the time, and then proceeded to walk up to Tim McGraw in the audience of the 2007 Academy of Country Music Awards and serenade him on live television—and introduce herself. This is the girl who, at 19, wrote her own Saturday Night Live monologue where she, in a clever and classy way that we’ve come to expect from Swift, poked fun at herself and at an enormously famous ex-boyfriend. This is the girl who sold over a million copies of Speak Now, a country album, in its first week—that feat is unheard of in Nashville. Taylor is the one who brought home the Grammy for Album of the Year at 19 years old—the youngest winner in history. She’s the one who, at 22, released the year’s most emphatic break up anthem and refused to tone it down or silence herself; “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” has since been certified Quintuple platinum. So now, at 24, Taylor is declaring herself a pop artist. She’s gone completely out of her comfort zone as an artist, songwriter and musician. She’s left her safe zone—Nashville—and gone on to take a chance at conquering something bigger. Swift has got guts. Yet we all seem so surprised, so unsure. And so, I must ask: why would we expect any less from her?
My night at Taylor’s apartment confirmed a few theories I had previously formed. First of all, despite her always-perfect skin and red lips, she has no problem taking off her heels and dancing to “Shake It Off” just as emphatically—and poorly—as the rest of us. Taylor is the most welcoming human being I’ve ever met; she has a warmth that exudes from her when you have a conversation. Her compliments are nothing but sincere and when she looks into your eyes and says something nice it actually feels like she is looking into your soul. She really is the same as she appears in interviews—intelligent, sweet, excitable, and anything but jaded. She is incredibly witty, a characteristic I have always thought we had in common. (That was confirmed when she started to laugh at a comment I made and countered, “That was so funny! We have the EXACT same sense of humor!”) Despite my seven years of loyal fandom, I do not know everything about Taylor; she values her privacy and goes to great lengths to protect it—there is much more to her than you will see in her E! True Hollywood Story. Throughout her progression from a frizzy-haired, teenage country-girl to a fabulously mature New Yorker, Swift has continued to relate to us, and as she takes risks and expands her career, that does not fade. Just as she always has been, she is truly the girl-next-door. Her house is just a little bigger now.
Singer-songwriter Taylor Swift released her newest single yesterday during a live stream that was as surprising and riveting as the song itself. “Shake It Off” exudes triumph; it is Swift’s declaration of happiness despite the public criticism she faces daily. The single is an instant anthem; yes, it relates to the rumors about Taylor on the cover of this month’s gossip mag, but the rest of us mere mortals will listen to it in the car after experiencing a fight with a friend, a long-overdue break up, or a rude comment from our boss or the popular girl at school. The real-life application of the song should come as no surprise, though—after all, that is Taylor’s specialty.
Debut singles are meant to create talk. They create a roar within a fan base as if to say, “Listen up! Get ready! Something’s coming!” Taylor’s release did just that. “Shake It Off” is already expected to hit #1 this week, and was in radio rotations within hours of its release. Similar to her last album’s debut single (“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”), “Shake It Off” has an infectious melody and a killer beat. Though the lyrics cannot compare to Swift’s other masterpieces, the message is clear and important. While many may think the verses are just lighthearted and fun, when examined closely, Taylor is addressing an issue that is important to her. She boasts, “I never miss a beat/I’m lightning on my feet/And that’s what they don’t see." This is Swift's way of proclaiming that she’s doing just fine—rather well, actually—regardless of what critics may perceive.
Taylor’s upcoming album, she revealed, is called 1989 and is set to drop on October 27, 2014. 1989 is inspired by the music and culture of the 80s, which Taylor called “a time of limitless potential." She also said that the album will be classified as "straight-up pop," whereas her past two have walked the muddled line between pop and modern country (much to the infuriation of the less-than-progressive country music fans who tweet at Swift with rage during the CMA and ACM awards each year). Will 1989 sound like a poorly revived soundtrack to a John Hughes film? Perhaps. Taylor’s song “Sweeter Than Fiction,” released late last year on the soundtrack for the film One Chance, had that sound—an awkward, out of the blue, feigned 1980s composition juxtaposed with the voice of this generation. That could very well be a preview of this album’s contents. “Shake It Off”, with its obvious Martin/Shellback influence, however, does not fall under that category. If it is any indication of what to expect from 1989, fans will receive a typical, contemporary pop album in composition, and Swift will receive sales, sales, sales.
The genre of 1989 will remain a mystery until its release, but one aspect that I would safely bet on is Swift’s ability to relate. Since she began her journey toward an insurmountable level of fame at 16 years old, Taylor has successfully written to relate to her fans. As she clarifies in “Shake It Off,” “the haters gonna hate,” but that will not stop her from doing what she does best—Swift refuses to sever the intimate and honest bond she has built with her fans. I have no doubt that on her upcoming record, Taylor will continue to write the 4-minute autobiographical masterpieces we all have come to expect from her. She is a writer first and foremost, and has been since the age of 11. Taylor Swift’s lyrics are going to continue to resonate with fans. Genres, labels, and classifications be damned--she’ll just shake them off.