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Powered by GulfNews.com, one of the most popular daily English language newspapers in the United Arab Emirates.

Swift's fearless ascent


05/03/2009 12:28 AM | By John Preston

Come and look at this," says Taylor Swift. She leads the way into the specially customised tour bus that will be her home for the next six months.

We go past the fully functioning fireplace and the massive flat-screen television, under the arch with her motto — "Never Never Never Give Up" — written across it in swirly gold letters, then past the Napoleonic bed with its fluffy toys and the framed double-platinum copy of her album Fearless on the wall.

And there is what looks like a large black trap door. "What's that?" I ask. "It's a treadmill!" she says excitedly. "Look, it hinges down so I can have a run whenever I feel like taking some exercise. Isn't that really cool?"
Two years ago, if Swift wanted to go for a run, or to a gym, no one would have taken much notice. But not any more. Now, whenever she steps out of her bus there will be thousands of people clamouring for her autograph, or trying to take her picture, or just lunging forward hoping to grab a piece of her.
Last year, Swift's second album, Fearless, spent 11 weeks at No 1 in the Billboard charts — thus making her the biggest-selling artist of 2008 in America. No other album, let alone a country music album, had spent as long at the top of the charts in a decade. According to Billboard's Music Moneymaker list, this boosted her annual income to over $45 million (Dh165.3 million).
Swift has been planning for success — for massive, global success — since she was 10. Nine years on, everything is on track.

As she streaks ever upwards, her parents — stockbroker father, Scott, and mother, Andrea — look on in pride.
Swift is devoted to her parents and there's a song on her last album about how much she loves her father — "I have an excellent father/ his strength is making me stronger."

However, one can't help feeling that the dynamics in the Swift family must have changed quite a bit lately. Andrea Swift will be accompanying her daughter for much of the tour. But while Taylor will be in the double-bed on her tour bus, Andrea will be in one of the bunks nearby.
Yet, if Swift's inner core has been forged out of the toughest steel, on the outside there are still a few trappings of youth.
Offstage, there's an engaging sort of gawkiness to her as she teeters across the floor in her high-heeled boots, her shoulders hunched forward, her arms hanging loosely by her sides as if she's not quite sure what to do with them. All that disappears, though, the moment she steps in front of a camera.
Instantly, she starts pouting her lips, teasing up her cascade of blond ringlets and jiggling her hips about. "Is this a kind of me-enjoying-the-moment shot?" she asks the photographer, "Or do you want me looking directly to camera?"
 
First song

Not long afterwards, she sits down on one of the leather sofas on her bus and hugs a cushion to her chest as she describes how she wrote her first song aged 10 because she was unhappy at school.
"I guess that's something everyone goes through. But it hit me really hard because I had this big group of cool friends and then one day they just decided not to be friends with me any more. I don't know why — in fact, I still don't. The one thing I had to hold on to was that I could go home afterwards and write a song about it.

"One of the great joys about it was that it enabled me to have the last word. And I still feel like that now. If someone hurts you and you write a song about it, and that song is going to be played on the radio and everywhere... well," she says opening her grey-blue eyes very wide in a plausible imitation of innocence, "that's just about the best revenge you can possibly imagine."

Nashville

A year after completing her first song — "I think it's floating around somewhere online; I sound just like a little chipmunk" — Swift had compiled a sizeable portfolio of work. She'd also recorded her first demo.
After much persuading, her parents agreed to drive her from their Christmas tree farm in Pennsylvania to Nashville so that she could hawk it round the country music stations.
"I'd seen a TV programme about the country singer Faith Hill, and it said that she had gone to Nashville when she was young. So I got this epiphany and decided I had to go there too — because Nashville is where dreams come true!" But you were only 11! "Uh-huh." I mean...That shows incredible self-belief. "Thank you!" she says.

"Mind you, I think I knew I was a bit weird even then. For instance, my brother Austin is 17 years old now and he doesn't know what he wants to do with his life. My mum is always saying to him, ‘Look, Austin, you're the normal one. Taylor is the one who's weird. People just aren't supposed to figure out what they want to do when they're 11.'
"But I did — and I've never altered. And now I'm really pleased that I was miserable in school."

In order to be near Nashville, she persuaded the family to move house. The Swifts duly settled in Hendersonville, a small town 16 kilometres away. Hendersonville, Taylor says, is a "little bit more down-home than Nashville. There are a lot more trucks, put it that way."
And so began what she describes as "a really weird existence. I was a teenager during the day when I was at school, and then at night it was like I was 45. My mum would pick me up from school and I'd go downtown and sit and write songs with these hit songwriters."

The prevailing wisdom in Nashville held that no sane person under the age of 25 would ever dream of buying a country album.
Swift, who had been listening to Dolly Parton and Patsy Cline since age 10, was convinced this was nonsense. "All the songs I heard on the radio were about marriage and kids and settling down. I just couldn't relate to that. I kept writing songs about the guy who I dated for a couple of weeks and who cheated on me, about all the things I was going through... I felt there was no reason why country music shouldn't relate to someone my age if someone my age was writing it."

After a year Swift had to play her new songs for the assembled top brass at RCA.
"Basically, there were three things that were going to happen. Either they were going to drop me, or shelve me — that's kind of like putting me in cold storage — or give me a record deal. Of course, the only one of those that you want is the record deal.
"But they announced they were going to shelve me, and ‘monitor my progress' until I was 18."

As far as she was concerned, this was just as bad as being dropped. "I mean, I was 14," she says, her voice arching upwards in indignation. "I genuinely felt that I was running out of time. I'd written all these songs and I wanted to capture these years of my life on an album while they still represented what I was going through."

So she did something unprecedented in Nashville: she walked away from the biggest record label in town. At the same time, she told Sony not to bother selling any of her songs as she wanted to sing them herself.
After setting up a showcase concert, she was the first artist signed to an indie label being set up by former DreamWorks executive, Scott Borchetta. Swift's first album — Taylor Swift —came out when she was 16. It sold pretty well, making it into the Billboard Country Music Top 20.
Then, sales started to rise, the album hauled itself up the charts until it reached No 1 in the mainstream chart. Last November came her second album, Fearless. This was faster off the blocks. It went straight to No 1 and stayed there for eight weeks. 

wholesomeness

There has never been any scandal attached to her, no lurid tabloid headlines, no embarrassing video clips. She's never drunk alcohol, never gone through a period of adolescent rebellion and still lives in Hendersonville with her parents when she's not on her tour bus.
"It's true that I've never had a burning desire to rebel against my parents," she says.

"But in other respects I think I have rebelled. I mean, I rebelled against my record label when they wanted to shelve me, and I've rebelled against people trying to push me around in the recording studio.
"To me, that's always been much more exciting than going out and getting drunk. I remember at high school trying to cheer up my girlfriends who were crying in the bathroom after some party when they couldn't remember who they'd made out with the night before."

Then she leans forward on the oxblood sofa and says, "You see, I don't ever want to be that girl in the bathroom crying."

— The Telegraph Group Limited, London 2009

 
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