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Infamous Interviews: Taylor Swift for Vanity Fair, 2013

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With the recent release of Red (Taylor's Version), I thought it might be time to revisit one of Taylor Swift's most infamous interviews: her interview with Vanity Fair in 2013, when she was promoting her fourth album, Red. The profiler was none other than Nancy Jo Sales -- yes, the Nancy Jo who wrote about Alexis Neiers's Louboutins instead of her $29 little brown Bebe shoes.

Taylor's image was much different than it is now. She was milking the persona of the wide-eyed good girl who happened to be a victim of heartbreak by bad boys and mean girls. This profile managed to be fair by discussing the sexism of the media, yet skewered Taylor's image by gently stating the facts of her pr tactics.

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Taylor Swift's Telltale Heart
by Nancy Jo Sales
March 2013

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The piece opens with Nancy Jo recapping the moment at the Golden Globes when Tina Fey and Amy Poehler made a mild joke about Taylor's reputation for dating celebrities and writing songs about their breakups:

  • “You know what, Taylor Swift,” said Fey, shaking a finger. “You stay away from Michael J. Fox’s son.”

    The joke wouldn’t have worked without the audience being aware of Swift’s highly scrutinized romantic life, the stuff of tabloid obsession. The 23-year-old music mega-star has dated some of the entertainment world’s most visible bachelors, only to write chart-topping songs about how they allegedly broke her heart—or she theirs. She made $57 million last year and has become one of the best-selling female recording artists in music history, all while gaining sweet revenge. So the zinger hit home, and the audience exploded with laughter, and, as if it were middle school all over again, some went “Ooooooh.”

    Swift... was in the ladies’ room at the time. So she didn’t hear the sound of everybody who was anybody in Hollywood laughing at her for allegedly having her heart broken all over again. It was the kind of thing that happens in a Taylor Swift song: nice girl gets made fun of by mean girl while powdering her nose, then goes home and writes a song about it—which becomes a No. 1 hit.

But Taylor did NOT appreciate it, and she thinks Tina and Amy are going to hell:

  • When we were discussing that moment at the Golden Globes, and mean girls in general, Swift just smiled and said, “You know, Katie Couric is one of my favorite people because she said to me she had heard a quote that she loved”—from former secretary of state Madeleine Albright—“that said, ‘There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.’ ”

    “I was just sort of like, Oh well, you know, I can laugh at myself,” Swift said. “But what it ended up adding to was this whole kind of everyone jumping on the bandwagon of ‘Taylor dates too much’—which, you know, if you want some big revelation, since 2010 I have dated exactly two people.” Conor Kennedy and Harry Styles. “And the fact that there are slide shows,” she said, “of a dozen guys that I either hugged on a red carpet or met for lunch or wrote a song with but I apparently was, quote unquote, ‘linked’ to them—it’s just kind of ridiculous.”

However, Nancy does not let her get away with the victim shtick completely:

  • It probably doesn’t help this situation that Swift writes songs about the guys she dates and then sends her fans on scavenger hunts to find out who they are. While some women are content to just leave an angry voice-mail message or throw the guy’s clothes in the street, Swift lets the whole world know he’s been a heel. After dating former Disney star Joe Jonas in 2008, she publicly announced he’d broken up with her in a 27-second phone call. (He said she hung up on him.) She then allegedly wrote several songs about their breakup, including “Better than Revenge,” released in 2010 (in which she says of the young woman who stole him away, “She’s an actress, whoa / She’s better known for the things that she does on the mattress, whoa”).

And she goes in on Taylor's calculating give-and-take with the press:

  • But something else has driven her to the top of the charts, and that, of course, is her willingness to play peekaboo with the tabloids, to discreetly gossip about her exes—and herself. In an era in which the gossip business has exploded like a mushroom cloud, it’s actually a rather brilliant marketing move.

    taylor swift vf 3.jpeg

    Swift cultivates a gawky adorkability in her music videos, in which she often plays the unloved girl alone in her room pining over the cute guy. The bio Swift’s publicist had sent me was adorkable too: “Hi, I’m Taylor. I love the number 13. I was born in December on a Christmas tree farm”—actually a hospital, in Reading, Pennsylvania, in 1989...“My favorite thing in life is writing about life, specifically the parts of life concerning love,” her bio went on. “Because, as far as I’m concerned, love is absolutely everything.”

    But something happened to Swift’s long media honeymoon sometime over the last year. Suddenly people—and not just haters on the Internet but public figures—were making fun of her. It started with Ellen DeGeneres’s good-natured ribbing every time Swift appeared on her show and then progressed to the 2012 Country Music Awards, at which hosts Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley mocked Swift’s summer romance with Kennedy-family scion Conor Kennedy, 18. “Are they ever gonna get back together?” Paisley asked. “Never, ever, ever,” Underwood replied.

And Nancy seems to insinuate that Taylor can have some mean-girl moments, too:

  • She has sometimes seemed to get a little jolt out of knowing that the people who have been mean to her are getting their just desserts.

    She said in a 2008 interview in The New York Times that “every single one of the guys I’ve written songs about has been tracked down on MySpace by my fans”—in those days she was talking about non-celebrity guys... And then, last year, on The View, she smirked a bit as she told the lady hosts of how she sometimes gets complaining e-mails from the outraged ex-boyfriends she has skewered musically.

The shade continues:

  • “I’ve never thought about songwriting as a weapon,” Swift said as we sat drinking our lavender lemonade.

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  • “Is Taylor Swift boy-crazy?” I asked.
    She smiled. “For a female to write about her feelings,” she said, “and then be portrayed as some clingy, insane, desperate girlfriend in need of making you marry her and have kids with her, I think that’s taking something that potentially should be celebrated— a woman writing about her feelings in a confessional way— that’s taking it and turning it and twisting it into something that is frankly a little sexist.”

Taylor pretends that she doesn't want the details of relationships known, but she authorizes an anonymous friend to talk to Vanity Fair about the details so they don't come from her:

  • She won’t go into personal details about any of her relationships—it’s one of her rules—but she does authorize someone who knows her well to discuss them with me.

There's also the weird issue of Swift dating two teenagers:

  • I asked Swift’s friend if she found it odd that Swift’s last two relationships had been with such young men— teenagers, actually. Conor Kennedy, the son of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., was just 17, technically jailbait, and a senior at Deerfield Academy when they started seeing each other last summer. The friend said that Conor was “just like a two-month thing,” and that Swift “says he was awesome,” although his youthfulness did prove to be an issue.

Nancy discusses Taylor's apparent fascination with the Kennedys:

  • Swift’s fascination with the Kennedy clan seems to have pre-dated her brief relationship with Conor. In 2011 she told The New Yorker, “I’m just so obsessed with the whole history of J.F.K. and R.F.K.”... After that, Swift suddenly appeared to be in the Kennedy fold, visiting the family in Hyannis Port on the Fourth of July and sailing with them on Nantucket Sound. She and Conor were photographed kissing, and then holding hands at the gravesite of his recently deceased mother, Mary, who committed suicide in May of 2012. When Ethel Kennedy was asked what she would think of having Swift as a “granddaughter-in-law,” she said, “We should be so lucky.”... In the early fall, Swift was seen visiting Conor at [his high school] Deerfield; he flew to see her in Nashville.

Taylor tries to claim that she was not buying a house next to the Kennedys', but Nancy Jo did some digging and found out that she was:

  • The relationship seemed to have weathered the unflattering buzz around speculation that Swift was buying a house in Hyannis Port that sits just outside the six-acre Kennedy compound.

    "One of these things I say to myself to calm myself down when I feel like it’s all too much … If there’s a pregnancy rumor, people will find out it’s not true when you wind up not being pregnant, like nine months from now, and if there’s a house rumor, they’ll find out it’s not true when you are actively not ever spotted at that house.”

    In November of 2012, the Cape Cod Times reported that the seven-bedroom, 4,440-square-foot 1928 Colonial at 27 Marchant Avenue in Hyannis Port had been bought for $4.8 million by a shell company identified as Ocean Drive LLC. The filing papers for the company name as its manager Jesse P. Schaudies, a lawyer in Nashville. Schaudies works for 13management—that’s Taylor Swift’s management company.


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The interview took place inside Swift's apartment, which is...I can't even describe it, you just have to read:

  • The moment you walk into Swift’s giant penthouse, you know she isn’t faking it with all those love songs about high-school heartbreak and dreaming of the perfect guy. She really is that romantic. She may just be the girliest girl in America. Her foyer is covered with frames of brightly colored paper flowers; inside, you’re greeted by a six-foot topiary rabbit. There are antique birdcages everywhere and mobs of crocheted throw pillows. There’s a koi pond in the middle of the living room.

    I asked Swift what she would call her style. She said, “Tim Burton-Alice in Wonderland-pirate ship-Peter Pan.” She collects old bottles, antique books, and precious little knickknacks. In her bedroom, [everything] was white and fluffy.

    Along the stairwell leading up to her apartment’s second level... were framed photographs of Swift with her inner circle: actresses Emma Stone and Selena Gomez; Caitlin Evanson, the fiddle player in her band; Hayley Williams, of the indie band Paramore. “I need to have pictures of people I love everywhere,” Swift said.

    There were pictures of her posing with her heroes James Taylor (whom she was named after; her mother was a fan) and Kris Kristofferson.

    She also had a framed photograph of that moment at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards when Kanye West interrupted her acceptance speech for best female video... The incident wound up looking bad for him, good for her... But now Swift is the one who’s on the receiving end of some negative press, and it seems to be really bugging her.

Taylor also reveals glimpses of the frightening side of being a celebrity:

  • Her bodyguard, a stalwart Tennessean, rode up with us in the elevator; he’d been following us in his car. Swift has a 24-hour security detail. “It’s because of the guys who write and say they want to chain me up in their basements,” she said. “One was in California and drove all the way to Nashville and tried to get into this building.”

    She also told me she didn’t trust reporters, ever since she caught one (a female) rifling through her purse.

Sometimes, it's easiest for writers to let celebrities hang themselves with their own noose:

  • “I’m sick of the tabloids’ saying I obsess over guys,” Swift told me. “Why would you obsess over guys?"

    “I think there is a lesson in knowing that you can live your life in a way that you’re proud of and people are still gonna take shots,” she said. “And that’s not just in the world that I live in—that’s in middle school, and that’s in high school, and that’s in college, and that’s when you get your first job.” “Why you gotta be so mean?” say the lyrics to her song “Mean” (2010).



I know I should have a poll about Taylor Swift and her public image or something, but I really need to know: would you have a six-foot topiary in your house?

Yes
12(8.2%)
No, I do not need that nightmare fuel.
74(50.7%)
Maybe
11(7.5%)
Only in my garden
49(33.6%)


More infamous interviews: Rooney Mara, John Mayer, Britney Spears, Tom Hiddleston, 5 Seconds of Summer, Jessica Alba, Angelina Jolie, M.I.A., Chris Evans, Jennifer Lopez, Kate Winslet, Beyoncé, Channing Tatum, Cara Delevingne, Johnny Depp, Miles Teller, and Courtney Love

Notorious photoshoots with The Beckhams, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, and Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.

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Tags: interview, magazine covers and articles, ontd original, taylor swift
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