Taylor Swift had a lot to say in our recent cover story (on newsstands now), tracing her eventful path to Lover, her political views and many other topics in a lengthy, revealing interview. There was even more to the caffeine-fueled conversation, which Swift made it through on four hours of sleep after staying up greeting fans at her parents’ Nashville house. Here are some highlights:
On releasing “The Archer” after “Me” and “You Need to Calm Down.”
That’s sort of the world in which a lot of the album lives. It’s weird, because in pop, I love hooks and bop and catchy melodies so much. And I also love writing the songs you need to ugly cry to. So I really enjoy “You Need to Calm Down” and the brattiness of “damn, it’s 7 a.m.,” and then the next song being like, this is how I feel about myself in my lowest moments… It was unexpected when people liked “The Archer” seemingly sort of unanimously, I was like, What? This doesn’t happen to me. This almost feels like foreign and strange.
On Lover‘s place in her catalog
Reputation was so far from what I usually do. And Lover feels like a return to the fundamental songwriting pillars that I usually build my house on. It’s really honest; it’s not me playing a character. It’s really just how I feel, undistilled. And there are a lot of very personal admissions in it. And also, I love a metaphor. I love building on the metaphor for a very long time. You know, the whole of Reputation was just a metaphor, but this is a very personal record. So that’s been really fun.
Writing the title track of Lover
I was sitting up at the piano up in my loft, and I had the chorus. It just kind of happened immediately. It was one of those ones that I wrote very very, very quickly. And I was working out the cadence of the first verse and it just sort of fell together. But then I took some time to write the bridge because I wanted to really level up with that bridge. That one would for me would be less of a ranting bridge and more of a story-time fable type bridge. Sometimes I like to imagine a bridge as like a sort of fairy-tale lullaby fable expanding upon a song that has been not as detailed until that point. “Can I go where you go/ Can we always be this close forever and ever” is less detail then when you go to the bridge and you realize like, oh, it just got really personal in the bridge. It expands on it all.
Writing “Paper Rings”
We just were messing around, just wanting to make something really, really fun. And I had all these lyrics about all these funny memories of how something can start off in a really quirky way and surprise you. Like how it says, “I hate accidents, except when we went from friends to this.” So I wanted to show the quirkiness of a relationship and how it’s like, wow, this really fell together in really interesting, funny, playful, cute pieces. And now it’s something we’re both really stoked happened exactly the way it did.
On her creative burst circa 2016
I was writing constantly. And a lot of the things I was writing ended up being songs for Reputation. So after 1989, I didn’t write really anything. After I made 1989 and put it out, did all the promo stuff, went on tour… The Grammys happen, which is like this unbelievable blitz of excitement, followed by me going, “Oh my god, what am I going to make next?” I had no idea what to make next, because I was so proud. 1989 — I’m still so, so deeply proud of that record. But I was like, where do we go from here? I have no idea what comes after this. And so, when my life took a very dramatic shift, all of a sudden I knew what to make next — which is a strange dichotomy to feel like, ‘whoa, this is all really weird, twisted, dark and dramatic, but I can’t stop writing.’
I think I would have made Reputation whether or not I actually put out the album or ever made another album again. That album was a real process of catharsis, and I thought I experienced catharsis before, but I’d never had until that album, because it was creating this strange defense mechanism. And, I’d never really done that in that exact way before. The only way I’d done it in the past, was with “Blank Space,” which I wrote specifically about criticisms I had received for supposedly dating too many people in my twenties. I took that template of, OK, this is what you’re all saying about me. Let me just write from this character for a second.
On the Reputation Tour
That’s just such a fun album, Reputation. I’m so proud of how that whole process was because I’d never had an album that made more sense to people after they came to the concert. Literally people would be like, I came to the show and now I completely love the record. Now I get the record. Whereas before with 1989, I felt like it was such a great listen but it was harder to portray it live because when you when you see it live, you’re like, “Oh, I love that song and now she’s performing it live.” But it never had songs that came alive live.
With Reputation, I wanted to keep my head down, not say anything, but work harder than I ever worked. It was really motivational for me to just have the stadium tour to prepare for and prove myself almost. My career was in a weird spot, but still have that kind of ignite something in you to work harder, to practice longer, to think of bigger, better concepts for the live show. I was thinking, if anything can pull me out of this weird disillusionment I have with the way that things have gone in my career that I was feeling back then, I knew it would be playing live. If I could be proud of the live show and if I could feel that connection with fans, that would remind me of why I love this.
On the challenges of choreography
It’s really hard for me to memorize choreography. Dancers keep count, but I can’t memorize choreography that way. So I have to assign movement to an exact lyric. Everything in my brain has to be assigned to a lyric. Because I have to learn choreography in a way that reverts back to songwriting. My vibe is I have to rehearse so, so many times for so long that I can do the choreography without thinking about it. Because when I’m thinking about choreography, my face says it. You can see it in my eyes. There’s a fear and, like, a deadness to my eyes if I’m trying to remember choreography.
On being less caught up in chart battles
I’m just a little more chill about stuff like that now. Obviously, you want to do well, and you want to do things that people like and you want people not to make fun of you for that. A lot of the pressure that I feel in my career is just the fact that I’m compared to everything I’ve ever accomplished in the past and also new artists. I can’t live in that pressure cooker. Charts — I truly, truly do not understand how they work anymore. My friend Ed [Sheeran] is such a chart monger. He’s obsessed with how it works and the math of it. I have no idea what goes on with the math with it now, it used to be so easy. I don’t even get how, people get a big release week, because they they sold T-shirts, or they sold concert tickets with their albums. It’s just very confusing. But I was stoked about the “ME!” music video getting that many YouTube views. I was like, well, that’s like, that’s something to write home about.
On the longevity of songs
I think it often takes a lot of time for people to understand how they feel about music. And I know that now because there’s a song on Red called “All Too Well” that I’m really, really proud of, and it took people about three years to note that that was one of the best songs. I didn’t see that starting to pop up when people would talk about my music until about two or three years after the album had its moment. So one thing that’s actually really comforting about music — and I know that people consume at a crazy speed now — but I think that things settle for people after a long period of time. My music kind of assigns itself to maybe a moment in somebody’s life; that’s the way that my fans usually describe it. So when you’re dealing in memory curation in a way, if they have memories that include one of my songs, they go and they live their lives and those memories become further in the past and more nostalgic to them, and the music becomes more important to them.