New York, N.Y. – Taylor Swift takes the top spot on our list. From an Album of the Year Grammy to the megahit Speak Now, our Entertainer of the Year earned a career’s worth of commercial and critical success—in just 12 short months.
2010 will go down in history as the year we all saw Taylor Swift differently. The 20 year-old kicked things off with a No. 2 single debut (“Today Was a Fairytale”), a hit movie (Valentine’s Day), and four Grammy wins, including Album of the Year for her 2008 CD, Fearless. She spent months headlining arena concerts and big-ticket awards shows. But there was one achievement—the Oct. 25 release of her third record, Speak Now—that topped everything. Buoyed by strong reviews and the radio-friendly hit “Mine,” Speak amassed a jaw-dropping 1,047,000 units in first-week sales, the highest tally for any release in five years. For all that, the confidently sweet woman who was only 2 months old when Entertainment Weekly launched in 1990 is now our youngest-ever Entertainer of the Year.
Most impressively, Swift single-handedly wrote all 14 songs on Speak Now—which makes sense considering how astonishingly personal each track is. Though she hasn’t confirmed the identities of any of her subjects, she’s widely believed to be singing about exes Taylor Lautner (“Back to December”), Joe Jonas (“Last Kiss”), and John Mayer (“Dear John”), as well as her MTV VMA spotlight thief Kanye West (“Innocent”), actress and romantic rival Camilla Belle (“Better Than Revenge”), and influential music blogger Bob Lefsetz (“Mean”). Over a late breakfast in Beverly Hills, Swift talked with EW about her record-setting sales and controversial lyrics—and even said a few words about Kanye West and her new boyfriend, Jake Gyllenhaal.
Entertainment Weekly: Before Speak Now was released, were you nervous about it selling?
Taylor Swift: It was an emotional roller coaster leading up to releasing that record. I tend to live somewhere between hope and fear. I’ve never wavered so much in my life than I did in the weeks leading up to the record release.
EW: As the first week went by, were you getting updates on how it was doing?
Swift: I wasn’t given any sales updates. That was by choice. I didn’t think that we could sell a million records, to be completely honest with you. I felt like, “There’s no way I can do this, and the fact that people are speculating whether I can or not immediately gives everyone a reason to say ‘It did less than projected’ if I sold 999,999 records.” But everybody else seemed to think that we could do this impossible thing.
EW: So how did you find out about the number?
Swift: I got a call, and it was a bunch of people from management and my mom and my dad on the phone. I remember Scott Borchetta, my record-label president, saying, “Congratulations. I guess you’re my million-dollar baby.” I made him say it, like, four times because I couldn’t actually believe it. First I was screaming, and then I was really silent, and then I was really emotional, and then I was dancing. I still can’t wrap my mind around it.
EW: And now people are saying you’ve saved the music business.
Swift: I write music about my life and love and relationships, and I hope that people like it enough to bring it into their world and make it about their life and their love and their relationships. That’s where I have to draw the line as far as what I am and what I am not.
EW: Which song on the record were you most scared to write?
Swift: I never had that feeling. There were, of course, songs on the record— and I think you can probably use your imagination about the ones I’m talking about—where I knew people would draw their own conclusions about who they were about. I would take a few seconds and think, “Okay, you need to really have an idea of what you’re doing here and what the consequences could be.” Because I realize there are consequences to your actions. But the reason I write songs is to help clarify how I feel and get past it. Writing a song like “Mean” helped me. The songs on the record that are really raw—those songs helped me more than anything.
EW: Were you surprised by how quickly and specifically people started speculating about the subjects of the songs?
Swift: I imagined that people would make their own guesses. Sometimes I would laugh because I would see it in print and it would say, “This song, which is written about her ex, so-and-so…” And they would write about it as if it was fact. The fact is, I haven’t ever confirmed that any song is about any particular person. There’s something kind of freeing about that. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all still up in the air.
EW: When you wrote “Innocent,” did you know immediately that you would sing it on the VMAs, where Kanye West had caused that ruckus last year?
Swift: I didn’t know that until about a week out. That woke me up in the middle of the night. Before I had gone to sleep I had decided that I didn’t want to perform on the show. Or even go. Then I woke up in the middle of the night and I realized that I had to, and that I wanted to perform that song.
EW: You’re partially responsible for this because you wrote the song, but how do you feel about the fact that you and Kanye West continue to be linked?
Swift: It’s such a long story and it’s such an old story. I wasn’t given much choice in the matter, but the one choice that I do have, that I continue to make, is to not talk about it.
EW: You caught some flak this year for some of your performances, particularly your duet with Stevie Nicks at the Grammys. Did that bother you?
Swift: Words are everything to me. Words can build me up and make me feel so good. And on the flip side, words can absolutely demolish me. I am nowhere close to being bulletproof when it comes to criticism. Feeling everything is part of being a songwriter. If I block out those feelings of pain and rejection, then I don’t know what I would write about. I’d rather feel pain when I read something terrible about me than feel nothing.
EW: Okay, moving on: Have you seen any good movies lately?
Swift: Um, yes! [Laughs] What have I seen lately? None that are out yet.
EW: How about Love & Other Drugs, starring Jake Gyllenhaal?
Swift: [Smiles] It’s a good movie.
EW: So what’s it like to go away for a weekend with someone and have it end up on the cover of a magazine?
Swift: I write in great detail about my personal life, but I don’t talk about it.
EW: Is anyone in your life allowed to say, “You can’t write a song about me”?
Swift: Nothing is off-limits as far as writing. You can’t have parts of your life you don’t write about.
(Cover Story, Page 33)