The teenage star on her music idols, dealing with hecklers and jamming with Def Leppard
Country music darling Taylor Swift has a problem. "I can't stop writing songs," she says. "I can't stop. I can't turn it off." Almost 19, Swift claims that she's written more than 500 songs, and that a fifth of them were considered for Fearless, the followup to her triple-platinum 2006 debut. On her new disc, Swift continues to turn her diary entries into great pop songs: Most of Fearless' tracks, including "Love Story" and "Forever and Always," are about boys, while on "Fifteen" she reminisces about the oh-so-distant past when she was a high school freshman. The precocious Pennsylvania native has had an impressive month: She sang the national anthem at the World Series and jammed with her idols, Def Leppard, for a CMT special. Just finishing a tour with Rascal Flatts, Swift is plotting her own headlining tour for next year, after school finishes. "I've already drawn up the stage plans," she says.
Who are your country music idols?
I got LeAnn Rimes' first album when I was six, and I just loved how she had a career at such a young age. But my love for country was cemented by three great female acts: Shania Twain brings an independence and a crossover appeal. Faith Hill has this beauty and grace and old-school glamour. And the Dixie Chicks have this "we don't care what you think" quirkiness.
Do you ever write songs that aren't about boys?
I like writing songs about boys and relationships. And when someone breaks up with me, I like to write about it, because I feel like I have the last word. That's the fun part.
When you use names — like on "Hey Stephen" — are those real people?
I have no issue with naming names. My personal goal is for my songs to be so detailed that the guy the song is written about knows it's about him.
What do you consider a country classic?
Loretta Lynn's "Fist City." She says, "I'm not a-sayin' my baby is a saint, 'cause he ain't." Isn't that a cool line? "And that he won't cat around with a kitty." That's so amazing!
What type of music do you wish you knew more about?
Hair metal. I've always been so focused on Def Leppard that I never explored other metal bands. That's what my band talks about, and I can't keep up.
What is your favorite memory from performing with Def Leppard?
These guys have sold more than 60 million records, so I thought that they would be divas and snobby. When I walked in, I very timidly and politely asked Joe Elliott if I could sing one of the lines in "Hysteria," and he goes, "Honey, I've been singin' that song for 25 years — you sing whatever you want."
What songs are you currently obsessed with?
There's a song called "After Tonight" by a Canadian artist, Justin Nozuka. It's got a rootsy sound to it. It's like Jack Johnson, and I'm a huge Jack Johnson fan. My ringtone is his song "Taylor" — though I ignore the fact that the song is probably about a prostitute or a stripper. I'm also into Katy Perry, but I'm really obsessed with Sinéad O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U." When Prince wrote that song, 5,000 songwriters put their pens down and went, "All right, I tried."
In concert, you've covered Eminem's "Lose Yourself." Do you see a correlation between country and hip-hop?
They're two of the most honest genres, because we just like to sing about our lifestyle, our daily activities. Pride is something that both hip-hop and country share.
How many times have you sung the national anthem?
Hundreds. When I was 11, it occurred to me that this was the best way to get in front of a large group of people. I'd sing it wherever I could — 76ers games, the U.S. Open, garden-club meetings, I didn't care. I actually used to sing it for the Reading Phillies, and a few of the members of the Phillies now, like Pat Burrell, were on that minor-league team.
What's the hardest bit to sing?
The beginning. It's a really surreal moment when 40,000 people in a baseball stadium are utterly silent. By the time I get to "and the rockets' red glare," it's smooth sailing.
Your fans call themselves the "Taylor Nation" — what are the really hardcore fans like?
I get a lot of criers, but I love criers because I like emotional people. Sometimes people show me tattooed arms or midriffs with my signature, which is interesting. And, I love huggers, but sometimes I get gropers. When it goes beyond 10 seconds — that's excessive.
What's the craziest thing you've seen in a crowd?
There's always the frat boy who has my name painted on his chest, which is awesome. One of my favorite moments of the night is when I'm in the middle of my acoustic set and I'm in a really poignant moment and I hear a group of guys with Southern accents going, "Marry me!"
How do you respond?
Dolly Parton had the best response to that, and I'm going to start using it. Some guy screamed from the crowd, "I love you, Dolly!" and she goes, "I thought I told you to stay in the truck!"
This is a story from the November 27, 2008 issue of Rolling Stone.