Taylor Swift's new record covers an extremely busy period in her life – personally and professionally – so she had no shortage of material to cover. "First I wrote 30 songs, then 35, then 40, and I kept going, because it never felt right," says Swift, 20. "I pushed myself ruthlessly and tried never to be satisfied with my writing." The album, which some retailers think could sell a million copies its first week, touches on her high-profile relationships with Taylor Lautner (on "Back to December") and Joe Jonas (on "The Story of Us"), as well as her surprise upstaging by Kanye West at the 2009 VMAs ("Innocent"). But responding to rumors that the two reconciled backstage at this year's VMAs, Swift just sighs and says, "It's a long story."
How long after the VMA incident with Kanye did you write "Innocent"?
Some songs take 30 minutes to write, and some take six months, which was the case with "Innocent." When things affect me intensely and really hit me hard, it can take a while to figure out what I think about it and what to say about it.
What happens when you need to write something immediately?
The people closest to me are used to me deserting a conversation and bolting into some corner of the room with my phone out, hunched over, singing some melody or lyric or hook into my phone. I wrote "The Story of Us" about running into an ex at an awards show, and I came home and sat down at a kitchen table and told my mom, "I felt like I was standing alone in a crowded room." She tried to console me, but I was gone at that point.
Who is the song "Mean" about?
"Mean" is about a writer who kept going off on me, blasting me. There's a place for constructive criticism, but then there's a line that gets crossed. Every time I'd read something new, it would just level me, and my only way of handling it was to write a song about it.
Whose wedding did you imagine ruining in the song "Speak Now"?
A friend of mine who was hopelessly in love with a guy she grew up with. But one day she found out he was engaged to this horrible, controlling, mean girl who made him cut out his family and friends. So I said to her, "Are you going to speak now, rush the church and say, 'Don't do it,'" you know? Sure enough, that night I had a dream about one of my exes getting married, and I woke up and wrote the song. In the end, the guy got married, and she's sad.
How are you adjusting to moving into your new Nashville condo?
I'm so happy. I live at the top of a building, but it feels like a house. This city feels like home. I cook a lot. This morning I woke up at 5:15 a.m. with jet lag and made three different breakfasts, then I made cookies for meetings I have today, then a pitcher of iced tea.
Do you have a specialty?
I have a Japanese Teppanyaki grill in my kitchen. So I make fried rice and teriyaki and filet mignon and shrimp. My friends love that.
You recently posted a photo on your Twitter account of an Owl City album spinning on your record player. What's in your vinyl collection?
I've gotten into vinyl because I love the event of going out to a record store like the Great Escape, which is down the street from me in Nashville, and buying a record, taking it home, putting it on the record player and listening to it. It makes music more of an activity. I've gotten used Tom Petty records, like the first album, with "Rockin' Around (With You)" and "Breakdown" and "Hometown Blues." I have a bunch of stuff: Tracy Chapman, Ryan Adams' Easy Tiger and Demolition, Band of Horses' Infinite Arms, Emmylou Harris' Roses in the Snow. . . . Speak Now is coming out on vinyl, which I'm really excited about.
What are you dreaming up for your live show next year?
After I finish writing a song, I picture it in concert. I imagine it as a music video and as a photo in the CD booklet. The visual element is my favorite way to tell those stories, and all that comes rushing in after I write a song. So since "Speak Now" is about interrupting a wedding, I'd really like to do that every night.
Is there a question you've never been asked?
Would you rather live on a houseboat or in a lighthouse? I'd rather live in a lighthouse, because you're probably living on a peninsula, you can take walks. Hands down, lighthouse.
Is it harder now to be a role model for young kids, even as you reach 21 and grow up?
There are girls out there who are determining their thoughts and dreams and opinions about who they want to be. If I have a small part in that, I take it seriously. A lot of moms come up to me at the grocery store and say, "Thank you for being a role model for my daughter." When I was nine or 10, Faith Hill was my favorite singer, and everything she said, wrote or did, every video she made, mattered to me. She helped determine who I wanted to be.
So you're not going to have a wild night out when you turn 21 in December?
I don't think I was born to be in the club. Just to throw that out there.
This story is from the November 11th, 2010 issue of Rolling Stone.