When Taylor Swift walked into Paul McCartney’s MPL Studios office in London, in early October, for this issue’s cover story, she arrived without assistants or stylists or even a makeup person. (Appropriately, Taylor chose to wear clothes designed by Paul’s daughter Stella McCartney for the occasion.) For most of the day it was just Taylor and Paul, along with Paul’s daughter Mary McCartney, a photographer, in what turned out to be a revelatory meeting of megastars from across the generations.
Taylor came armed with questions; Paul was loose and relaxed, singing to Motown songs and sharing personal stories, like the time he made veggie burgers for Quincy Jones in his kitchen. They talked about songwriting, how to keep a semblance of normal life as a celebrity, and the risk-taking albums they both made during lockdown. “I was using words I always wanted to use — bigger, flowerier, pretty words,” Taylor says in one exchange. “I have favorite words, like ‘elegies’ and ‘epiphany’ and ‘divorcée’ . . . that I think sound beautiful.”
“How about ‘marzipan’?” Paul asks.
“Love ‘marzipan,’ ” responds Taylor.
This was the reality of Musicians on Musicians 2020, a year that brought live music to a full stop, and forced artists — like all of us — into isolation. “The planning was tricky,” says senior music editor Patrick Doyle, who oversaw the package, which features 10 pairings of artists, some meeting in person and others over Zoom. “A lot of musicians didn’t want to travel or be in a room with a lot of people. But once the conversations were happening, they really let their guard down, maybe because normal life is out the window.”
Mavis Staples speaks to Chris Stapleton about the death of George Floyd and the perils of touring in the Deep South with the Staple Singers when she was young; Summer Walker and Erykah Badu discuss UFOs and living off the grid, and Badu mixes a batch of whiskey-and-tea cocktails to loosen up the photo shoot. Jason Isbell confesses to Barry Gibb that he misses touring so much he’s ready to drag a Marshall amp into his front yard and perform for the neighbors.
Iggy Pop and Elvis Costello share a sense of lost time. “I had a tour booked this year,” Iggy tells Elvis. “Then, ‘Bam!’ It’s part of the summer gone. ‘Bam!’ There goes the rest of the summer. And so immediately I have this huge muscle buildup. . . . I would have these nighttime attacks of, ‘Who am I now? Who am I going to be?’ ”
“I know when I do come back onstage,” adds Costello, “it’s going to feel great. Imagine what kind of party we’re going to have.”