'Anything That Connects': A Conversation With Taylor Swift Just shy of 25, Swift's been in the music industry nearly half her life. In an extended interview with NPR's Melissa Block, she addresses what's changed in music, media, feminism and her own career.
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'Anything That Connects': A Conversation With Taylor Swift

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'Anything That Connects': A Conversation With Taylor Swift

'Anything That Connects': A Conversation With Taylor Swift

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And these beats are propelling Taylor Swift back into the stratosphere.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHAKE IT OFF")

TAYLOR SWIFT: (Singing) I stay out to late, got nothing in my brain. That's what people say, that's what people say. I go on too many dates.

BLOCK: Her new album, released Monday, is on track to eclipse 1 million sales in its first week. The last artist to go platinum in a week in the past two years - that was Taylor Swift.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHAKE IT OFF")

SWIFT: (Singing) Boy I keep cruising, can't stop, won't stop moving. It's like I've got this music in my mind saying it's going to be all right.

BLOCK: Her new album is titled "1989." That's the year Taylor Swift was born, which means she's not quite 25 years old. And she joins me from New York, where she moved this year. Taylor, welcome to the program.

SWIFT: Hey.

BLOCK: I enlisted some expert outside counsel for this interview, my 12-year-old daughter. And I want to start with a question from her.

SWIFT: That's amazing.

BLOCK: Here's her question - in your hit song "Shake It Off," why did you address the song to your haters and not your motivators?

SWIFT: I think that with the song "Shake It Off," I really wanted to take back the narrative and sort of have more of a sense of humor about people who kind of get under my skin and not let them get under my skin. This is an issue that I wrote about before. I had an album...

BLOCK: With "Mean," yeah?

SWIFT: Yes, exactly. Oh, I was just going to say that.

BLOCK: Amazing.

SWIFT: Wow, OK, so I don't even have to tell you that. But there's a song that I wrote a couple years ago called "Mean," where I address the same issue, but I address it very differently. I said, why you got to be so mean? Like, an address - like, from kind of a victimized perspective, which is how we all approach bullying or gossip when it happens to us for the first time. But in the last few years, I've gotten better at just kind of laughing off things that absolutely have no bearing on my real life.

BLOCK: Well, here's a related question about the same song from a seventh grader. She's thinking about the lyrics. And she says that sounds a lot like middle school. Do you have anything that you can tell a middle-school girl to help shake it off?

SWIFT: She's exactly right. When I was in middle school, I had this fantasy that when we were in school, we had to deal with bullying and kids picking on you for no reason or picking on you because you're different. And I thought that when you grow up, that it's not like that anymore. And I realized when I grew up that it's the same dynamics except we're not walking from classroom to classroom.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHAKE IT OFF")

SWIFT: (Singing) Yeah, 'cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play. And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate. Baby I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake. Shake it off, shake it off.

SWIFT: So I guess what I try to encourage girls who are in middle school to do is to figure out a way to distract yourself from that negativity. Figure out what kind of art you love to create or your favorite hobby or something to throw all of your energy into, and realize that you're going to have to learn how to cope with this at some point because it's never going to end necessarily.

BLOCK: There's definitely a different sound on this new album, right? You've left country completely behind. This is a really highly-produced electronic pop album. But you also say to your fans in the liner notes that this is a different storyline than I've ever told you before. I'm not sure I'm hearing that. So what do you think is new about the storyline in these songs?

SWIFT: In the past, I've written mostly about heartbreak or pain that was caused by someone else and felt by me. In this album, I'm writing about more complex relationships where the blame is kind of split 50-50. I'm writing about looking back on a relationship and feeling a sense of pride even though it didn't work out. And I think there's actually a bit of a realism to my new approach to relationships, which is a little more fatalistic than anything I used to think about them. I used to think that, you know, you find the one and it's happily ever after and it's never a struggle after that. And you have a few experiences with love and relationships and you learn that that's not the case at all. Even if you find the right situation relationship-wise, it's always going to be a daily struggle to make it work.

BLOCK: And when you think about sort of sharing the responsibility for a relationship, is the song "Wildest Dreams" maybe an example of that?

SWIFT: That's actually a really good example of the way I go into relationships now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILDEST DREAMS")

SWIFT: (Singing) He said, let's get out of this town. Drive out of the city, away from the crowds. I thought heaven can't help me now. Nothing lasts forever. But this is gonna...

SWIFT: If I meet someone who I feel like I have a connection with, the first thought I have is when this ends, I hope it ends well. I hope you remember me well, which is not anything close to the way I used to think about relationships.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILDEST DREAMS")

SWIFT: (Singing) Say you'll remember me standing in a nice dress, staring at the sunset. Babe, red lips and rosy cheeks, say you'll see me again, even if it's just in your wildest dreams. Wildest dreams.

BLOCK: You know, I've been thinking about this a lot because I am the mother of a 12-year-old girl. And she loves your music. Her friends love your music. You have a huge platform among a very vulnerable and impressionable set of the population. And I wonder if you think about turning your lens outward, turning it away from the diary page and sending a broader message to girls who would be really receptive to hearing about big ideas and the big world that's outside?

SWIFT: Like, what kind of messages?

BLOCK: Well, other characters. I mean, I don't mean to minimize the effect of a love song or a pop song, but do you ever think about writing in the voice of other characters, other experiences, things that might turn girls away from themselves in a different way?

SWIFT: There's nothing that's going to turn girls away from themselves at age 12. I think that I have brought feminism up in every single interview I've done because I think it's important that a girl who's 12 years old understands what that means.

And in talking to so many girls that age, we are dealing with a huge self-esteem crisis. These girls are able to scroll down pictures of the highlight reels of other people's lives and they're stuck with the behind-the-scenes of their own lives. It's so easy and readily available to compare yourself to others and to feel like you lose and you're not as cool. I just try to tell girls that this is what my life looks like. I love my life. I've never, ever felt edgy, cool or sexy - not one time. And that it's not important for them to be those things - it's important for them to be imaginative, intelligent, hard-working, strong, smart, charming. I think that there are bigger themes I can be explaining to them and I think I'm trying as hard as I possibly can to do that.

BLOCK: You mentioned earlier that you try to talk about feminism. What does feminism mean to you?

SWIFT: I mean, by my basic definition, it means that you hope for the equal rights and opportunities for men and women.

BLOCK: And how does that play out in the music world that you're a part of? I mean, do you feel like that's not an issue for you anymore?

SWIFT: It's completely an issue. It's an issue every day that I read a headline that says careful guys, she'll write a song about you. Meanwhile, I have, you know, best friends who are male musicians and songwriters who write songs about their girlfriends, their ex-girlfriends and that joke is never made about them.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OUT OF THE WOODS")

SWIFT: (Singing) Oh, I remember. Are we out of the woods yet? Are we out of the woods yet? Are we out of the woods yet? Are we out of the woods yet? Are we in the clear yet? Are we in the clear yet? Are we in the clear yet? In the clear yet, good.

BLOCK: Well, Taylor Swift, thanks so much for coming in to talk to us. I appreciate it.

SWIFT: Thank you. It's been good to talk to you too. Tell your daughter hey for me.

BLOCK: I will do that. Taylor Swift, her new album is "1989." Taylor, happy Halloween.

SWIFT: Yeah, happy Halloween. Bye.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OUT OF THE WOODS")

SWIFT: (Singing) Are we out of the woods yet? Are we out of the woods yet? Are we out of the woods yet? Are we in the clear yet? Are we in the clear yet? Are we in the clear yet?

BLOCK: And you can hear much more from our interview at npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OUT OF THE WOODS")

SWIFT: (Singing) Are we out of the woods yet? Are we out of the woods yet? Are we out of the woods yet? Are we out of the woods? Are we in the clear yet? Are we in the clear yet? Are we in the clear yet? Are we in the clear yet? In the clear yet, good.

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