For Rolling Stone's cover story on Taylor Swift, writer Vanessa Grigoriadis tailed the 19-year-old country-pop star as she jetted from L.A. to New York and back to her Nashville home, chatting candidly about her quick rise from karaoke competitions to the national spotlight. Grigoriadis opened up about her time with Swift for our story behind the story, and shared some undiluted interview from their conversations, where Taylor revealed her taste in boys and how she copes with life on the road:
Do you have a Google alert on your name?
It's very tempting. But if you read something about yourself it makes you wonder what the public perception is of you. It makes you wonder if you look like a different person. And to be constantly questioning yourself is never good.
How do you act with boys now?
Right now I play it cool. If he doesn't want to be with you, then let him do what he wants to do. The worst thing in the world to do is kick and scream and nag. The only time I lose my temper is in songs. I'm enthralled by relationships and I love the drama in them, but that's usually where it lives. I'm not a dramatic person. I like to let people state their case before I get irrational about things.
What do you look for in a guy?
If they mention their ex-girlfriend within the first hour of conversation it's not going to go anywhere. It also says "damaged" a little bit. I don't do that. Relationships when they're over... a lingering ex-girlfriend is a girl that I never want to be. I've dated guys who have lingering ex-girlfriends and I've always said I'm not going to be that because I don't want to ruin his future relationships. And what if you're with someone great? You don't want to have lingering ex-boyfriend-itis.
I have girl-next-door-itis. I was always the girl who would be friends with the guy and he liked the other girl, the girl he couldn't have. And I was the one who he could confide everything in, we're friends! Then he would get the other girl and I would say nothing. I would write songs about it... Taylor Swift albums one and two.
What's a recent dream you had?
I had a dream this girl was chasing me. I was like, I don't want your boyfriend! It was a couple I know and I like both of them. I can't even remember everything that was going on but I was like, running. I wouldn't do that! That's my biggest fear. Getting in trouble for something I didn't do.
What's your relationship with your brother like?
My brother is 16. We used to fight like cats and dogs but when I went on the road I started really missing him. I'd come back and he'd be four inches taller. So we started hanging out when I came home. He's got a taste in music that's really eclectic and cool, he introduced me to Kings of Leon, things I wouldn't have ventured into. He likes Jack White. He's into the coolest production and how does that sound and I'm all about words. I've found that boys are more into production, actually. He plays lacrosse and goes to high school and gets good grades. He doesn't want to do music. He's the opposite [of me].
What's your life like on the road?
I've had to adjust. You can't be particular about where you write songs, you can't be particular about where you feel comfortable — home becomes anywhere with a bed. You learn how to pack, especially in New York City and L.A. where you have to have a lot of outfits because you might get your pictured taken all the time. It's a weird principle to think like that. It's a new thing for me. The other day I had to ask directions from the paparazzi. It was like, we're not from around here, y'all! Y'all know how I get home?
How do you maintain your equilibrium?
I don't ever want to change who I am or what I do all based on the perception of things. I like to look at myself and say everything is the same except my schedule, to look at it that way in my head. So I go to the mall with my friends and if it takes a little longer because I have to take pictures with people that's fine. I like to do the things I used to do. It doesn't bother me. When someone comes up and says, "I love your music" that's the best thing in the world, that's so cool. I love pictures. I love people. I realized that I have very long arms so I can take the perfect arm-length picture with fans. I can take the perfect MySpace pictures.
What would you have majored in at college if you went?
I would not have majored in music because when music becomes technical for me I don't like that part of it. I can't read music. I can a little bit. When you're reading music for me it turns into math. I like for it to go the way it's going to go. I'm not as much into technique as I am into the emotion of it.
What's your relationship like with your mom?
My mom is very rational. My mom always said, "I don't feel like you just get discovered, there's a lot more that goes into it. I want you always to have high hopes but low expectations." We'd run into so many little kids on the circuit who felt entitled to success because they wanted to do something they were obviously going to be able to do it and just because they wanted to be famous they were going to be famous. For me it was never about being famous because my ultimate dream was for people to care about the words that I wrote. I met those kids. I saw the moms that would push their kids and say, "Honey, you've got what it takes. You're going to make it." And me and my mom would look at those kids and say how do you know that? There's no way to know it. So my mom was anti-stage mom and saying, "Honey, I don't know if you're going to make it. All you can do is try your hardest."
What happened to the girls who were mean to you in middle school?
You know, I've kind of let that grudge go. And I let it go completely when I played a show in my hometown a year after my album came out and [at the signing] after the show, all those girls showed up they waited for three hours in line and they had my shirts on. And I started to realize, wow, we were kids. And you know what? They don't remember it.