The Reinvention of Taylor Swift
So my brother comes home the other day,” Taylor Swift says, “and he goes, ‘Oh, my God – I just saw a guy walking down the street with a cat on his head.'”
As an ardent fan of ready-made metaphors, as well as of cats, Swift was excited by this. “My first reaction was, ‘Did you take a picture?'” she says. “And then I thought about it. Half of my brain was going, ‘We should be able to take a picture if we want to. That guy is asking for it – he’s got a cat on his head!’ But the other half was going, ‘What if he just wants to walk around with a cat on his head, and not have his picture taken all day?'”
For Swift – four-time multiplatinum-album-maker, seven-time Grammy winner and billion-time gossip-blog subject – being famous is a lot like walking around with a cat on your head. “I can have issues with it,” she says. “But at the end of the day, I can’t be ungrateful, because I chose this. But sometimes – sometimes – you don’t want to have a camera pointed at you. Sometimes it would be nice if someone just said, ‘Hey, I think it’s really cool that you have that cat on your head. I think that’s interesting.'”
It’s 1300 hours in the San Fernando Valley, and Project Sparrow is in full effect. In a nondescript parking lot at a soundstage in Van Nuys, California, a Blackwater-esque platoon of personal-security professionals stands at the ready. Every doorway and stairwell is guarded, and every window is blacked out. The occasion: a Taylor Swift video shoot.
In 2014, a Swift shoot requires the kind of operational secrecy and logistical complexity rarely seen outside of a SEAL raid. Before Project Sparrow – the code name chosen by the video’s director, Mark Romanek – there was Project Cardinal, a multiweek mission where Swift’s social-media team scoured the Web for a representative group of fans to appear in the video. When one girl posted a photo of her invitation, she was quickly uninvited, then presumably renditioned to whatever CIA black site holds Swift’s enemies. (Jack Antonoff, of Bleachers and fun., who has recently co-written several songs with Swift, says that “just having her songs on my hard drive makes me feel like I have Russian secrets or something. It’s terrifying.”)
At the moment, Swift is in a makeup chair in her dressing room, getting false eyelashes applied. She’s wearing a black miniskirt, black tights and a fuzzy pink top with a cartoon drawing of a cat, and her wavy blond hair is pinned back tight. She’s five feet 10, but she looks much taller, even with her lanky legs wrapped underneath her like a pretzel twist. “I need lunch like, whoa,” Swift says, and an assistant tells her there’s a sushi order happening. “Oooh,” she purrs. “Get a boatload.”
The video is for Swift’s soon-to-be-Number One single, “Shake It Off,” which she’ll perform for the first time at the VMAs later this summer, but which at this point only a handful of people outside the room even know exists. There are worries about spies and recording devices. “Don’t even get me started on wiretaps,” Swift says seriously. “It’s not a good thing for me to talk about socially. I freak out.” As for who might bug a Van Nuys production office on the off chance that Swift is inside: “The janitor,” she says, as if naming one candidate among hundreds. “The janitor who’s being paid by TMZ. This is gonna sound like I’m a crazy person – but we don’t even know. I have to stop myself from thinking about how many aspects of technology I don’t understand.”
Swift pauses, as if weighing just how paranoid she’s comfortable with sounding. Then she plows ahead. “Like speakers,” she says. “Speakers put sound out . . . so can’t they take sound in? Or” – she holds up her cellphone – “they can turn this on, right? I’m just saying. We don’t even know.”
Swift says she never feels completely safe, especially when it comes to her privacy. “There’s someone whose entire job it is to figure out things that I don’t want the world to see,” she says. “They look at your career, they look at what you prioritize, and they try to figure out what would be the most revealing or hurtful. Like, I don’t take my clothes off in pictures or anything – I’m very private about that. So it scares me how valuable it would be to get a video of me changing. It’s sad to have to look for cameras in dressing rooms and bathrooms. I don’t walk around naked with my windows open, because there’s a value on that.”
And yet, despite the DEFCON-3 level of security, in a lot of ways Swift has never felt more free. She has a new album out in October, 1989, that she’s insanely excited about, because it signals her transition from a country star who likes pop to a straight-up pop star. She recently bought a luxe apartment in New York. And despite what you may have read in the gossip press, Swift hasn’t been involved with a man in quite some time. She’s not dating. She’s not canoodling. She’s not even sexting. Taylor Swift is single and loving it.
“I really like my life right now,” she says. “I have friends around me all the time. I’ve started painting more. I’ve been working out a lot. I’ve started to really take pride in being strong. I love the album I made. I love that I moved to New York. So in terms of being happy, I’ve never been closer to that.” Which is not necessarily the same as being happy.
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