Country beauty Taylor Swift graces the cover of the latest issue of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine with minimal make-up, a smeared smoky eye and varsity jacket. Dubbed “The Heart Break Kid” by the magazine, Swift opens up about Kanye West, her control issues, love, and even crashing her car among many other topics.
Brian Hiatt writes:
This is what it sounds like when Taylor Swift totally loses it: “Oh, my God. OH, MY GOD. OH, MY GOD. OH, MY GOD. OH, MY GOD. OH, MY GOD. OH, MY GOD. OH, MY GOD. OH, MY GOD. OH, MY GOD. OH, MY GOD. OH, MY GOD.”
Her summer tan is turning ashen; her very blue eyes are practically pinwheeling with panic. But she didn’t do anything that bad just now, didn’t start a nuclear war or curse on country radio or upload her new album to BitTorrent: We’re on a bleak industrial road outside a Nashville rehearsal studio one stiflingly hot late-August evening, with Swift behind the wheel of her black Toyota SUV – which she just backed directly into a parked car. She’s never learned how to use her SUV’s built-in GPS, was messing with Yelp and Google Maps on her iPhone instead, realized she was going the wrong way, started to turn around, still clutching the phone, and . . . crunch.
“Oh, my God,” she repeats, pausing for air. She takes another look at the car she hit. “Oh, is that my bass player?”
It totally is. “It’s fine, it’s my bass player!” She couldn’t look more relieved if she had received a death-row pardon. Popping out of the SUV, she apologizes to her bemused employee, a Ben Stiller look-alike named Amos Heller, who had been walking toward his now slightly dented car. “I’m gonna pay for it, I promise! I’m good for it! Oh, my God, Amos, I’m so sorry. I freaked out ’cause I went the wrong way and he was gonna think I’m a bad driver and then I backed into another car. This is the worst interview he’s ever had, already!”
Swift is still recovering for the whole 10-minute-drive. “I cannot believe there was a car behind me. I thought that- because I could only see the security car, and Amos’ car was so low and I didn’t look in the back camera and I was so sure no once was behind me and…”
The moment she crashed she pictured herself being taken away in handcuffs, sitting in jail in her blue polka-dot-shirt- dress. “I have a lot of anxieties that end in me being put into a police car,” she says, ponytail bopping as she shakes her head. “I am so, like, rules, and not getting into accidents. So this is perfect.”
At 22, Swift is always waiting for her luck to run out. This week, her new single, the irresistible, distinctly un-country “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” became her first Number One Hot 100 hit- and for all she knows, it could all be downhill from here. “I’m always terrified that, like, something’s going to happen,” she says, “and I’m not going to be able to do this anymore and it’s gonna all end in one day. Part of the fear comes from loving this so much and not wanting to lose it.”
Watch her segment of MTV’s Punk’d where Justin Bieber goads Swift into setting off fireworks from a waterfront balcony, then makes her think that they started a huge fire on a nearby boat: Her face betrays that same ohmygodohmygod terror. “You know know I had serious nightmares where I’d wake up in the middle of the night for, like, threw weeks after that? I really though that was it for me. I was thinking, ‘Justin is 17 so he’s going to juvie, but I’m going to big-girl prison.”
Mostly though, it’s been a smooth ride, with so few speed bumps she could practically tick them off on crimson-tipped fingers: she was terrible at 4th grade soccer, couldn’t parlay her height into basketball glory, never managed to do a split, had a hard time with math. There were some mean middle school girls, and more recently, as you may have heard a few totally exhausting boyfriends. She has that slight overbite; at five feet 11, her posture isn’t great. And yeah, there was that time Kanye West snatched her microphone and started yelling stuff about Beyonce- still not funny, as far as she’s concerned.
But she comes to understand that life- even hers- is unpredictable, uncontrollable. Messy. The Kanye episode helped her to “realize nothing is gonna go exactly the way you plan it to,” she says. “Just because you make a good plan doesn’t mean that’s gonna happen.”
Cause in point: Later that evening Swift is driving back from dinner, when unbelievably, we get into another car accident. This one is random, terrifying, and utterly not her fault. As Swift cruises down a four-lane street, what looks like an old Corvette blazes out of an intersection and veers into out lane- smacking the driver’s side of Swift’s SUV, then speeding off. They were driving, as Swift later puts it, like they had just robbed a bank.
“OK, that was my life flashing before my eyes,” she says, voice trembling. “What is this day? This is some strange alternate reality where things just go wrong a lot. That was the second time today! I’m going to have a nervous breakdown!” Her phone rings- it’s her poor security bro who sounds like he’s already had one.
There is a pond complete with Koi fish, in the middle of Swift’s astonishing many- colored Nashville condo. It sits beneath a wrought- metal spiral staircase leading to a human sized bird cage that faces floor to ceiling windows, with a view stretching to the green mountains beyond downtown. (“It’s the most comfortable place in the world,” she says of the wooden cage, built from a sketch she made. “It’s just, like, pillows and comfiness.”) Under the previous owner, this was an ultramodern bachelor pad. Over 18 months of remodeling, Swift gave the condo a sex change and a heavy dose of well-funded OCD whimsy. The ceiling is arranged in multiple motifs- billowing curtains here, a painted indigo night sky there. In one corner, under hanging crystalline stars, sits a giant bunny made of moss. He’s wearing a hat. “It’s a whole Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland structure here,” she says, welcoming me the next morning. “It’s what the inside of the brain looks like, essentially.”
On the custom built walls- some brick, some purple- wallpapered- are an endless array of photographs in ornate gold frames, some with matching gold cursive captions: Swift with her high school friend Abigail; Swift with James Taylor; Swift making that hand heart symbol thing with buddy Selena Gomez. Above the fireplace which is emblazoned with a small heart, there’s even a photo of the moment Kanye stormed her VMA stage (captioned, “Life is full of little interruptions,” a phrase that’s also in the liner notes of her last album), right next to what is presumably the actual award in question under glass.
She’s come to grips, sort of, with the fact that her days of exclusively good press are over. “I just gotta take it day by day, ” she says. “I don’t think anyone is ever truly viewed as only one thing, as only good, as only well behaved, as only respectful. In the beginning, when there would be a tiny news story about something that wasn’t true, I thought that meant my fans weren’t gonna show up to my next concert. But now, knock on wood- I feel like my fans have my back and I have theirs. And she knows she can’t always be the good guy. “It’s just part of the dynamic of a good story,” she says. “Everybody is a complicated character.”
It’s somehow not surprising to learn that Swift had her first drink ever on her 21st birthday. “I know I couldn’t get away with it until then,” she says the night before. We made it into the restaurant without a fuss, except for a pigtailed little girl who gaped with I-just-saw-the-Easter-Bunny joy. “I didn’t really care to know what I was missing, and I know it was illegal, and that my luck would be that I’d get caught. And then you think about all the moms and little girls who would have thought less of me. I’m still not much of a drinker, but I’ll have a glass of wine every once in a while.” And has she gotten drunk? “I’m not gonna talk about that! No one wants to picture that!”
It can’t be easy, living like this. Gomez recalls going out to dinner with Swift when she noticed another patron eavesdropping. “She got startled that they were listening,” Gomez says, “and she got nervous, and then the person left and she felt awful. She was like, ‘I hope he didn’t leave because of me. I hope he doesn’t think I’m mean. Do you think he’s going to tell everyone I’m mean? She cares so much.”
Swift has reoccurring anxiety dreams, and, predictably enough, one of them involves being arrested for something she didn’t do. “I keep trying to tell them that I didn’t do anything,” she says, “and they won’t listen, or my voice doesn’t work.” Another one is quite vivid. “I’ll be in a room with piles of clothes all over the floor, and I can’t clean it. And no matter what, they keep piling up and I can’t move. It freaks me out! It makes me wish I could clean it, cause I love cleaning. But the piles get bigger, or there’s piles on the ceiling, and I don’t even know how that’s possible.” She knows what that one’s about. “I think I have a fear of things spiraling out of control,” she says. “Out of control and dangerous and reckless and thoughtless scares me, because people get hurt. When you say ‘control freak’ and ‘OCD’ and ‘organized,’ that suggests someone who’s cold in nature, and I’m just not. Like, I’m really open when it comes to letting people in. But, I just like my house to be neat, and I don’t like to make big messes that would hurt people….I don’t want to let people down, or let myself down, or have a lot of people that I know I wronged.”
Swift has never seen a therapist. “I just feel very sane.” she says.
A viral video called “Taylor Swift Can’t Believe It” shows Swift winning award after award, acting lottery-winner astonished every time, continually mouthing, “What?” Needless to say, Swift has never seen it. “I really get my feelings hurt when people make fun of me,” she says. “I never won anything in school of in sports, and then all of a sudden I started winning things. People always say ‘Live in the moment’ – if you rally live in the moment at a big awards show and you win, you freak out!”
“Those are just her mannerisms,’ says one of Swift’s best friends, stylist Ashley Avignone. “She does the same thing if I tell her something on the couch at home.”
The morning after the VMA’s we meet for breakfast in Beverly Hills- her security sneaks her through the back of the restaurant. US Weekly’s headline for her performance was “Taylor Swift Gets Sexy” – because she wore shorts. It’s a really interesting idea that you wear shorts and all of a sudden it’s very edgy,” she says. “Which, you know, on the bright side gives you room to grow- I don’t have to do too much to shock people.”
Swift has one more thing to do before she leaves L.A. – a performance at a Stand Up to Cancer telethon, broadcast live on more than 20 channels. She has a bunker- buster of a song for the occasion, called “Ronan.” Swift’s eyes grow wet telling me about it: It’s the story of a not-quite-four-year-old boy who died of cancer, told from the perspective of his mother. (Swift incorporated ideas from the mom’s blog, giving co-songwriting credit.) Nearly every line is unbearably upsetting- it makes “Streets of Philadelphia” sound like “Party Rock Anthem.” (The lyrics that keeps getting me: It’s about to be Halloween/You could be anything you wanted if you were still here.”) Andrea Taylor’s mother – blonde, warm eyed- passes out tissues as Swift rehearses the song at the Shrine Auditorium. I take one.
Soon trailed by a small entourage that includes her mom and her stylist, Swift enters the theater’s darkness. She stands just offstage, biting her lip, head down, as Alicia Keys sings. In a similar moment before this year’s Grammy performance- which earned her a redemptive standing ovation- Swift told herself, “This is either where you prove the people who like you right, or prove the people who hate you right. It’s up to you. Put on your banjo and go play.” She un-hunches her shoulders breathes deep, and walks toward the stage. “Come on baby with me,” she sings with exquisite tenderness, over a hushed guitar. “We’re gonna fly away from here/You were my best four years.”
Swift makes it through the song. But afterward she breaks into a jog toward her trailer, weeping uncontrollably the whole way, smudging her eye makeup into wild streaks. Ten minutes later, when I say goodbye, she hasn’t stopped. “I was trying not to cry the whole song,” she says shrugging helplessly.
Some of the event’s stagehands were watching Swift from the sidelines, beefy arms folded. Goateed, ankle- tattooed, wallet- chained, they wouldn’t looked at home wielding pool cues at Altamont. But they’re soon frozen in place, transfixed by Taylor Swift, and by the tie she’s half way through “Ronan,” I catch one of them silently brushing away a tear.
Check Out Scans From ‘Rolling Stone’ Below: