Celebrity isn't something that most musicians aspire to. Often enough, it's an unavoidable by-product of success.
Celebrity and success have come to Taylor Swift in an unusual way, at least by today's odd, new standard of winning singing contests first, followed by a slow, painful dissension into obscurity.
Swift will be performing April 30 at the North Charleston Coliseum. Opening act Kellie Pickler, is a notable exception to the fleeting stardom of American Idol stars. Acoustic act Gloriana is also on the bill.
At 14, Swift was hired as a songwriter by Sony Publishing and worked her way toward her debut album in 2006 at 16. The first single, "Tim McGraw," pulled just the right strings for the country market. Yet, it was "Teardrops on My Guitar," a wallflower's unrequited love song, that secured Swift's role as a rising star in both country and pop circles. Last year's sophomore release, Fearless, included the simply put "Love Story," a happy-ending anthem that broke records and peaked interest on the farm, at the prom, and anywhere that pipes in hit music (we heard a dance remix in line at Subway last week).
And Swift, now 19, did it all without offering tired Top-40 renditions and suffering through hair and outfit critiques from a seemingly drunk Paula Abdul.
"Even with my career progression since my first album came out, I felt like it wasn't an overnight success, and I'm so happy about that," she says. "Having those three years of playing free shows and playing shows in bars and opening up for people have really made me very grateful."
But Swift's story makes her hard to pigeonhole — a songwriter and musician with her own catchy, relevant stories at an age when most young performers are singing some postmenopausal woman's or middle-aged man's faded interpretation of teen angst.
"I write about my life, and as my life changes, so does my music," she says. "Hopefully, that formula will keep working. I always try to stay in the here and the now. I have never tried to really venture too far ahead of what I've actually gone through. So my albums end up being like diaries."
The debate that gets a little grease every time a country star shows up on the pop chart got a lot of traction with "Love Story," but Swift brushes off the crossover critics.
"It really annoys me when people say that they don't listen to country music or they don't like country music, because there's so many different types of country music," she says. "I don't sit down when I write a song and think, oh, this isn't country enough. When I'm writing a song, I'm sitting in my bedroom, pouring out my feelings, and hoping everything goes well. When a song feels good after I write it, I don't overcomplicate it by trying to country-fy it up."
The albums may be all about the music, but Swift says her first headlining tour is all about the show and offering the unexpected.
"Surprise is one of my favorite parts of a show because that's what keeps you on your toes," she says. "I love going to concerts and hearing the songs. But, for me, that's not what makes me walk out of a concert and say, 'Wow, that was great.' I want it to be more of a production and a theatrical story. Where you say, 'Oh, there was that moment and that moment!'"
The stage comes from a drawing Swift made, with themes shifting around her and turning into something different for every song.
"It's a new technology, and I'm excited about being one of the first people to use it," she says. "There are a lot of surprises that happen throughout the show. I want to make sure everyone stays for the encore, because that is, hands down, the best part."
Mom plays matchmaker for TV-star son
In a 20-minute conference call with reporters from several cities, amidst questions about songwriting and touring, Taylor Swift politely — and, in some cases, enthusiastically — answered questions about her guest role on CSI, a Rolling Stone cover shoot, and her temperament as a little girl (not surprisingly, she was a people person, in case you were curious).
But the most memorable part of the Q&A came from one reporter who dutifully fulfilled her job as interviewer, and then dove into the role of matchmaking mama. Her son has been a supporting actor for years on a successful television series, and he thinks Swift is adorable, according to mom (names are omitted to protect the potentially embarrassed).
"He wanted me to tell you — he's in a lot of movies and stuff — and he says, 'When you talk to Taylor, tell her I look much younger now ... and I'm making a comedy.' He just wants you to know that."
Swift took the compliment and encouraged mom to tell her son, "Hi."
"I will give you his number because he is dying to meet you," mom said. "And he's pretty famous himself, but not quite as much as you."
The conversation moved on, but mom came back to her son again.
"When you go out to L.A., Taylor, you're going to have to meet him," she told the singer/songwriter. "He's been in [an obscure college film] and a whole bunch of movies. And he's really gorgeous and he has all of these women falling all over him. And he says, 'Mom, if you're interviewing Taylor Swift, tell her I look young and great and she has to meet me."
"I'm going to get a boyfriend out of this call," Swift said, obviously flattered.
"And he's really cute," mom replied. "You'd get a great mother-in-law, too!" —Greg Hambrick