For most 21-year-olds, summertime means partying, tanning and hanging with friends. Not so for Taylor Swift, who's spending the season selling out arenas and stadiums around the country. Her Speak Now tour has packed the NFL homes of the Patriots (twice), Steelers and Lions, with more on the way. "I'm still a little surprised every time we pull into a stadium," says Swift, checking in from Nashville. "It's really nuts." By the time Swift rocks Madison Square Garden for two nights in November, she'll have logged 98 shows this year. She promises even more in 2012 – and she'll also be working on her fourth album. Of course, she's already written enough new songs. "You know me," she says. "I've got lots."
Your show features aerialists, fireworks and innumerable costume and set changes. Is It hard to remember all those cues?
There are so many little details that every night is like a mental challenge. You're just glad everything worked out.
What's your greatest memory from the tour so far?
On our first night at Gillette Stadium in Massachusetts, right as I sang a lyric in "Fearless" – "With you I'd dance in a storm in my best dress, fearless" – I felt a drop of rain hit my hand. Then another, then another, then a monsoon broke out. I saw girls with their perfectly curled hair turn sopping wet. I thought, "They're all gonna leave." Instead, they went nuts, dancing in the rain, screaming louder. It was awesome.
What inspired all the crazy sets?
Videos of musicals like Grease, The Music Man, Bye Bye Birdie . . . I saw Annie Get Your Gun and Wicked on Broadway, and I was captivated. Now we have costumes by the designer from Wicked.
How do you unwind after a show?
Well, I have another meet-and-greet afterward. It's called the T Party, and we have a giant tent with a Moroccan-living-room setup every night. During the show I have people scour the audience for the craziest people out there, the ones that paint their faces or cover themselves in balloons or dress up like a banana or wrap themselves in Christmas lights or dress up like my alter ego [T-Swizzle] from the video I did with T-Pain. Sometimes I'll say, "Row 14, six seats in – go get that seven-year-old girl who knows all the lyrics to 'Dear John.'"
I read that at one show, some of the men's bathrooms were converted to women's, because the audience is, like, 80 percent ladies. True?
That's so funny! Someone actually wrote a review and reviewed the bathroom access? Ha! There seem to be lots of boys out there, more than ever.
You tweeted that you had fun at the Museum of Natural History in New York recently.
I was going to go to the New-York Historical Society, but it was closed. I almost cried. But we saw the dinosaurs and stuff, which was a close second. Lately, I've been obsessed with history: the history of our country, the history of music.
Let's start with the music.
I've been obsessed with Fifties and Sixties music, like the Shirelles and the Beach Boys. Like "Wouldn't It Be Nice" – if I ever had a wedding, I'd walk down the aisle to that song.
And American history?
I just read a 900-page book called The Kennedy Women, which goes back to the first Kennedy woman coming from Ireland in the 1800s. This morning I bought books about John Adams, Lincoln's Cabinet, the Founding Fathers and Ellis Island.
You covered "Dancing in the Dark" and "Livin' on a Prayer" in Jersey recently. Big fan of those guys?
Those are two of my heroes, for different reasons. Springsteen made albums that matter. His lyrics are a lot like poetry. With Bon Jovi, there's just a melodic stickiness to their songs that I've always been drawn to. Also, Jon Bon Jovi was the first rocker in the Eighties to smile a lot. I learned that on Behind the Music when I was, like, nine years old.
At shows, you've been writing lyrics by artists like Tom Petty on your left arm. How'd that start?
One day at rehearsals I was having a rough day, and I wrote a lyric by my friend Selena Gomez on my arm: "You've got every right to a beautiful life." It looked cool, so now I put lyrics on my arm every night. It's like a mood ring.
What was your first reaction when you heard about Amy Winehouse?
I saw it on Twitter and I didn't think it was real. I can't come to terms with anybody dying at 27. That's not OK. It's not enough time.
This story is from the August 18th, 2011 issue of Rolling Stone.