Taylor Swift:’ Sexy? Not on my radar’

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Shes gone from ringletted country artist to feminist role model and the worlds most charming pop superstar. As she returns with her catchiest material yet, she talks awards-ceremony etiquette, autobiographical lyrics and why she puts nice before naughty

In Manhattans chi-chi Sant Ambroeus restaurant, the pair of smartly dressed women at the next table are making not-so-surreptitious eek faces at each other, having clocked that their neighbour for lunch is Taylor Swift. And thats nothing in comparison with the rucku gathering outside: wherever Taylor Swift dines, a swarm of fans and paparazzi soon sorts on the pavement.

This is normal life for the biggest force in pop right now, a global hotshot whose songs soundtrack lives, whose tours sell out stadia in seconds, and whose every facial expression generates thousands and thousands of tweets. Taylor Swift in 2014 is an extraordinary phenomenon. She began as a ringletted country vocalist, teenage sweetie of the American heartland, but between 2006 s eponymous first album and now shes become the kind of culturally titanic figure adored so much better by gnarly rock critics as teenage daughters, feminist intellectuals and, well, pretty much all of emotionally sentient humankind. Unlike Beyonc with her indomitable run-the-world warrior-queen stylings, or Nicki Minaj, with her cartoonified, amplified self and pantheon of alter ego, there is very little image-making going on with Taylor Swift, pop superstar. Instead, its her realness thats made her; as well as, of course, some clever selections and heavy dosages of charisma and songwriting talent. She is, as her friend the teenage media magnate Tavi Gevinson set it , nothing less than BFF to planet Earth. Which, for one thing, necessitates talking to planet Globe at a moderate volume.

When Im doing a concert, its not like, WHATS UP LONDONNNNN! I pretty much only speak at this level, she says. As a outcome, her stadium depicts have the confessional good feeling of mass sleepovers and she communicates with her vast audiences as if Im talking to them in the different regions of the dinner table.

Swift releases an album every two years without fail, which entails its time for a follow-up to 2012 s Red. We satisfy in the week before she announces new album 1989 and its lead single, Shake It Off, a breezy, uptempo number about ignoring the haters. She explains: In the last couple of years Ive had to come to terms with the facts of the case that anyone can say anything about me and call TMZ or Radar Online or something, and it will be an international headline. You can either go crazy and let it build you bitter and make you not trust people, and become really secluded or rebellious against the whole system. Or you can just shake it off and figure that as long as youre having more fun than anyone else, what does it matter what anyone else guess? Because Ive wanted this life since I was a kid.

Her cheery, stoical take over celebrity and tabloid intrusion has served her well. I am not gonna let them construct me miserable when I could be enjoying my life, she says. Thats why you ensure these artists become a tabloid regular and then become artistically and musically irrelevant, because they let[ gossipy websites] stifle them. Its not going to happen here.

For the Shake It Off video, she enlisted 100 fans as well as a loading of professional dancers: Ballet dancers, breakdancers, modern dance, twerkers and me, trying to keep up with them, sucking. She adds: I feel like dancing is sort of a metaphor for the route you live your life. You know how youre at a house party and theres a group of people over there just talking and rolling their eyes at everyone dancing? And you know which group is having more fun.

Dancing enthusiastically amid hauteur has become a Swift trademark; specifically, letting loose at awards ceremonies while everyone else remains seated and stiff. Shes been attending these demonstrates since she was a teen and, after eight years of these very stressful and competitive scenarios, sitting in the front row trying to figure out how youre supposed to act, she eventually realised that I can process this as a huge pressure cooker or I can simply look at it like I have a front-row seat to the coolest concert right now. Dancing to Justin Timberlake with Selena Gomez at last years VMAs was a particularly fine instance of the latter.

But her most famous awards-show moment remains Kanye Wests interruption at the 2009 MTV Awards. Such is Swifts global standing that the President himself called West a jackass and, five years on, the moment still hasnt quite died in the collective imagination. Or indeed, Swifts own: Last year, she dedicated her friend Ed Sheeran a jar of homemade jam with a handwritten label that said: Yo Ed Im really happy 4 u and Im gonna let u finish but this is the best JAM OF ALL TIME – T.

In short, the interruption merely amplified good feeling towards her. Less fortunate was her Grammys appearance the following year in which she wobbled her style through a duo with Stevie Nicks and subsequently suffered an online shellacking. At this years rite, she seemed determined to eclipse that with a rendition of the bruised All Too Well, a song allegedly inspired by its relation with Jake Gyllenhaal. Her performance was fierce and focused. When she finished, she turned from the piano and faced the audience with an intent gaze of defiance and held it for several seconds. The message was clear: no more the victim. Its this song, incidentally, that contains one of the lyrics shes most proud of: You call me up again simply to transgress me like a promise/ So casually cruel in the name of being honest. She pauses, pleased. I was like, Ill stand by that one.

All Too Well was taken from 2012 s Red, an album defined by widescreen, wind-machined renders of sorrow, which confirmed that country could finally be fallen from her tag of country-pop vocalist. But 1989, as she explains, is shorter on the jilted, sad, pining. Instead, its the stage after that, when you go out into the world and make a difference in your life on your own terms, make friends on your own terms, without[ literally] saying Cmon girls, we can do it on our own!

Taylor Swift performs onstage during the course of its 56 th Grammys, January 2014. Photograph: Kevork Djansezian/ Getty Images

Those words will kindle the hopes of those whove suspected Swift has experienced some sort of feminist awakening over the last few months. Recently, she was spotted browsing the feminist section of a Manhattan book shop. Even more heartening has been the array of BFFs filling her Instagram feed, Lorde and Lena Dunham among them. This seems to be one of the many fun things about being Taylor Swift: that pretty much any smart and interesting young woman in the public eye is yours for the friending. She loved Lordes debut album Pure Heroine, so sent flowers to congratulate her on its release. Lorde, in turn, get Swifts number from Gevinson( whom Swift recently advised through her first heartache) and sent her a long message apologising for once calling her too flawless to be a role model. Unsurprisingly, Swift forgave her. The first time they hung out, she says, We took a walk and sat in the park and eat Shake Shack burgers.

Her friendship with Dunham began even more simply. Swift had tweeted in praised of Girls, and the moment she followed Dunham on Twitter, Dunham responded with a direct message which said, something like, Can we be friends please? And then that was that.

Has female relationship become more important to her than romance? Without a doubt. Because the other alternative as in having a boyfriend isnt really possible right now. It simply doesnt seem like a prospect in the near future. It doesnt ever run. What works is having unbelievable girlfriends who I can trust and tell anything.

As for the endless is Taylor Swift a feminist? pieces well, they can die now. As a teen, I didnt is felt that saying youre a feminist is just saying that you hope women and men will have equal rights and equal opportunities. What it seemed to me, the way it was phrased in culture, society, was that you hate men. And now, I believe a lot of daughters have had a feminist awakening because they understand what the word means. For so long its been made to seem like something where youd sentry against the opposite sex, whereas its not about that at all. Becoming friends with Lena without her sermon to me, but just seeing why she believes what she believes, why she says what she says, why she stands for what she stands for has built me realise that Ive been taking a feminist stance without actually saying so.

I ask if tabloid scrutiny over her lyrics( and the string of famous exes they allude to ), has dissuaded her from seeking what boulder critic Robert Christgau calls her diaristic realism, or the clues she famously leaves in her liner notes. No, she says, because its that sense of reading a periodical that has always connected me to my fans in this very intense route. Nonetheless, she concedes that its an interesting tightrope walk to write autobiographical ballads in an age where mystery is altogether out the window.

With Kanye West at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2009. Photo: Jason DeCrow/ AP

The way she sees it, theres a gender element to such scrutiny. I truly resent the idea that if a woman writes about her feelings, she has too many impressions, she says. And I really resent the Be careful, buddy, shes going to write a song about you angle, because it trivialises what I do. It stimulates it seem like creating art is something you do as a inexpensive weapon rather than an artistic process. They can say whatever they want about my personal life because I know what my personal life is, and it involves a lot of TV and cats and girlfriends. But I dont like it when they start to construct cheap shot at my songwriting. Because theres no joke to be made there.

True: Swift has always been a deft lyricist. Our Song, for example a perky early make written when she was 16 indicates her precocious skill when it discloses itself as the our ballad of the title: in the last poem she sings, I grabbed a pen/ And an old napkin/ And I wrote down our song.

The hysteria and scrutiny came later, with ballads like 2010 s Better Than Revenge. Fired at the woman who took her man, rather than the man himself, it includes the snide , no quantity of vintage dress gives you dignity and a chorus thats distinctly unsisterly: Shes an actress, whoa/ But shes better known for the things that she does/ On the mattress, whoa.

For a moment, Swift seemed in danger of typecasting herself as a victimised prude. I was 18 when I wrote that, she reminds me. Thats the age you are when you think someone can actually take your boyfriend. Then you grow up and realise no one take person from you if they dont want to leave.

Were meant to assume that anyone making this much fund( at Forbess estimate, shell have raked in $64 m this year) or anyone this astronomically successful( seven Grammys, a Country Music Association lifetime achievement awarding when she was 23, and so on) must be a cold-blooded and ruthless operator. But Swifts reputation for niceness is unrivalled and, as I discover a few minutes later, entirely deserved.

Its always been important to me, thats always been a priority, she says. Every artist has their defined of the highest priority. Being looked at as sexy? Not genuinely on my radar. But nice? I truly hope that that is the impression. She agrees that nice is often used pejoratively. Altogether! But I dont care if thats not cool, to seem nice or not. Im not that focused on being cool and I never have been.

Outside, a sea of big black cameras and upraised iPhones are aimed at the door that shes about to walk through. After a glance through the windows she wraps her limbs around me in a very deliberate hug goodbye. Then she appears me in the eye and says, in a low voice: Are you ready for a photoshoot? Take my hand.

Shake It Off is out now; 1989 is out in October

This article was amended on 25 August 2014 to remove a tweet that was wrongly attributed to Taylor Swift and replace it with a message she wrote to Ed Sheeran.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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