TAYLOR SWIFT: BILLBOARD’S WOMAN OF THE YEAR
On Dec. 2, Swift accepted Billboard’s Woman of the Year award during Billboard’s Women in Music event at Capitale in New York. At 21, Swift is the youngest artist ever to receive the honor.
The annual award celebrates the achievements of a trailblazing female recording artist during the past 12 months and acknowledges her overall success and leadership in the music business.
For Swift, the honor comes at the close of a year in which she earned the entertainer of the year award from both the Academy of Country Music in April and the Country Music Assn. (CMA) in November. In May, Swift also won Billboard Music Awards for top country album, top Billboard 200 artist and top country artist.
For most of the past year, Swift has been on a worldwide tour supporting her 2010 album “Speak Now,” with dates in Asia, Europe and the United States. The trek has been captured on the newly released Speak Now World Tour Live album and DVD, the former selling 28,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Her 2010 album Speak Now arrived with debut-week sales of 1 million units and has sold more than 3.7 million.
Worldwide, Swift has achieved album sales of more than 20 million and digital track sales of more than 40 million, according to Big Machine Records.
And Swift has donated more than $1 million to charity in the past year. Her efforts have raised money and awareness for causes including clean water, literacy and disaster relief.
Swift, who turns 22 on Dec. 13, was in the closing weeks of her current U.S. tour when she took time on a day off to speak with Billboard.
Congratulations on being Billboard’s Woman of the Year.
Thank you. It is pretty cool.
Just a few weeks ago was the five-year anniversary of your first album, released when you were 16. Now you’re Woman of the Year. Where do you see yourself on that scale of girl and woman?
Growing up in this position, making music, writing songs and having everyone hear what I’m going through since I was about 16 years old, now I’m 21 about to be 22 — I wouldn’t have had it any other way. On a scale of being a girl or teenager or woman, I never tried to be the one to label myself which of those three I was. I’ve just tried to grow up in the most natural and gradual process that I possibly can and make choices I feel are right for me and my fans. Whether I’m a woman now, or whatever, is up to my fans to decide, not for me. I really haven’t felt the need to make some bold statement of maturity or make the “dark” record yet.
Given the Woman of the Year honor, what women do you consider to be your role models, and why?
I have a lot of role models. Faith Hill is a big role model. Reese Witherspoon is a role model of mine-she’s not in music, but I love everything she stands for. Shawn Colvin is a huge model for me. Her writing has been consistently great and thoughtful and wistful and beautiful. And also-[he’s] not a girl-but Kris Kristofferson has been a big role model for me. When I look at people who I feel have really lived their lives and recorded their lives in music so beautifully, those are my role models. They’ve all taught me lessons just by example.
Are there people you look to on the business side of what you do?
The business aspect is one of the most important things about having a music career, because every choice you make in a management meeting affects your life a year-and-a-half from now. I know exactly where I’m going to be next year at this time. That’s because I’m sitting there in those management meetings every single week and scheduling everything and approving things, or not approving things, based on what I feel is right for my career at this point.
From a business standpoint, someone I look up to, [because] he’s gotten to a place where he’s one of the only artists playing stadiums, is Kenny Chesney. Seeing a live Kenny Chesney show, you know what you’re going to get. You know it’s going to be an all-day party. He loves to sing about things he’s passionate about, and he’s made a brand without seeming like it’s a brand. I love that he’s gotten to a place where he can play such huge stadiums, and even when he’s supposedly taking downtime he’s playing stadiums. He’s always been a huge hero of mine.
I saw the Speak Now tour in Des Moines, Iowa, then a truncated version of it at the CMA Music Festival and then saw the show again in Nashville. Even though it was a production and certain things had to stay the same, it felt like the show had evolved.
Thank you. One of my favorite things about this tour-although it’s a very theatrical show, and it really reminds me a lot of my favorite musical theater productions in its scenery, costumes and production-there are a lot of moments in the show that are very spontaneous. I’m singing a different cover song every night on the B stage [at the other end of the arena], just me and my guitar. In those moments I can choose to play whatever the fans are wanting to hear or whatever I feel like playing that night. It’s been fun to be able to vary up the show so much, especially because you’ll have a lot of people who will come to more than one show, and I want them to get a different experience every time.
You’ve released a DVD of this tour. What went into the decision to do that? Why was it important to document this tour?
I really wanted to make a DVD of this show because I felt this is a year of my life that I’m going to want to remember. Every single night I stand on that stage and it feels like it’s the best crowd of the tour every night. They are so loud and emotional and so passionate, and these crowds that we’ve played for this year have been unlike any crowd we’ve played for on any other tour, and this show has been different than anything we’ve ever put on. I want to look back on this years from now and show it to my kids and my grandkids.
Have you ever had a year you just wanted to forget?
Not an entire year, but I’ve had a six-month period I’ve wanted to forget-whether you’re talking about criticism or an awful breakup or whatever trauma you happen to be going through. Every single one of us has a few months here or there that feel like dark months. For me, what helps me with sad times or frustration or rejection is writing songs about every one of those emotions, and for some reason, after I do that and I’m proud of the song, things make a little more sense to me.
You said earlier that you already know what you’re doing a year from now. Dolly Parton has talked about mapping out her life in seven-year plans. How far in the future do you look? Do you have an idea where you want to be in 2018?
I love that Dolly Parton plans out her life in seven-year plans. I thought that was brilliant. There’s so much about Dolly Parton that every female artist should look to, whether it’s reading her quotes or reading her interviews or going to one of her live shows. She’s been such an amazing example to every female songwriter out there. As far as in the next seven years, I’ll be 28 or 29, so I don’t know. It just depends who I meet. But I’ve always hoped that I continue to write music for the rest of my life, and the clearest future I see is always my next album because I’m always obsessed with the latest song I’ve written, my newest idea about the newest thing for my newest album. That’s been my obsession for the last six months to a year.
In country music, women were often marginalized, and Roy Acuff famously told Kitty Wells’ manager in the ’50s that a woman could never headline a tour. Clearly you’ve proven that’s wrong. Do you feel those barriers are broken down? Or is there still more work for women to do in the business?
For me, I’ve never really thought about boys versus girls. I’ve never thought about any kind of prejudice about women in country music because I never felt like it affected me. I was fortunate enough to come about in a time when I didn’t feel that kind of energy at all, and it was always my theory that if you want to play in the same ballgame as the boys, you’ve got to work as hard as them. I was always playing just as many shows as they were and playing on the same shows as they were. I was willing to pay my dues as an opening act, playing in clubs and bars and playing in tiny venues. The new male artists were doing the same thing, so I never saw an issue there.
You have scores of teenage fans, and many of them look to you as a leader and role model. Do you feel like you are a role model? How do you handle the idea that your words or actions may influence others?
As you enter down a career path it becomes very clear what that career path is going to ask of you. One of the things that is a huge part of making music and putting it out into the world is understanding that you now have a role in shaping the lives of the next generation. And you can either accept that role or you can deny it and ignore it and say it’s a parent’s job to raise their kids. But the reality is what you wear matters. If you’re a singer and on TV and in the living room of some 12-year-old girl, she’s watching what you’re wearing and saying and doing. For me, when Faith Hill performed on an awards show, everything mattered-everything she said, did, wore, I tried to copy it. That’s what little girls do, so there is a big responsibility and I take it very seriously.
Big Machine Records founder Scott Borchetta said that when you were starting out, you’d take your guitar everywhere and play for anyone to attract attention. Now there’s so much demand it could overwhelm you. Was there a moment when you realized you had crossed that line?
I’ve always had a huge goal of never becoming one of those guarded, semi-paranoid, privacy-obsessed celebrity people. I don’t feel comfortable around people who always think someone’s trying to get something from them. I like having friends, and I like having a lot of friends. You end up with a very small group of people that can be around you if you’re very guarded, so for me I like to hug my fans and talk to them about their breakups and problems just like I did when I was 16.A lot has changed since then, but a lot hasn’t as well. I don’t want to be one of those people that doesn’t trust anyone. How are people supposed to trust you if you don’t trust anyone?
You’re known as a savvy user of social media, particularly in country music, and there are days when you’ll tweet a few times and then sometimes not at all. There are many people who tweet more than you do, so it seems the messages you send are pretty effective. In your view, how often should an artist tweet, and what do they need to be about?
I don’t want my Twitter page to turn into something that’s operated by other people, and I don’t ever want it to be like, “Team Taylor fans, attention! This will be happening,” from some sort of webmaster. Sometimes I feel Twitter pages can become very promotional in their nature, and I don’t want that. I just want it to be where I can tell them, “Thanks so much for the [American Music Award] nomination,” or tell them what I’m watching on TV at that moment. I like for it to be a little bit random and spontaneous. I want it to be as human as possible, because it’s just me sitting there with my phone deciding what to tweet.
If you could go back to 2006 and offer yourself any advice, what would it be?
I wouldn’t offer myself any advice, because I love how this has gone.
How did you decide to cut your hair?
I was on a photoshoot and they wanted to do, like, clip-in bangs and straighten my hair. I just said, ‘Why don’t you just cut them?’ They did.
Is it hard to have bangs with curly hair?
It’s actually not. I think I can figure out a way to incorporate them, I was playing around with it in my hotel room and I think that it might work both ways, but we’ll see. It’s just fun to play around with your hair and change it up. I never change it up, so this is nice.
What inspired your transformation?
I wanted to change my look a little bit and I’ve loved the way that bangs look on other people. I always seem to want to straighten my hair in the winter. And I think I just decided to go a step further this time.
How does your style routine generally change in the winter?
I usually wear more jeans. Spring and summer, I’m usually all dresses and skirts, so winter is like jeans, leggings, tights, dresses, dark colors and straight hair.
Are there any pieces in particular you’ve invested in for winter?
I’ve gotten a lot of Rugby and Ralph Lauren stuff because I think it looks very winter-y and Christmas-y, so that’s been stuff I really liked getting.
What’s your go-to New Year’s Eve outfit, hair and makeup?
It would probably be some sort of sparkly dress and straight hair and maybe a bold smoky eye and a nude lip