Taylor Single in the City
BY: MAUREEN ORTH
Taylor Swift has declared her independence. And if the extremely poised and polished young woman with the bright red Kewpie-doll mouth and big-city blunt cut had been wearing white gloves when we first shook hands in the entryway of her gigantic New York loft, it wouldn’t have been surprising. She reminds me much less of a country-star cutie than of a cool and collected aspiring Grace Kelly. At 24, Swift is very much in control—of herself, her music, and her empire.
Newly transplanted to Manhattan and surrounded by a coterie of girlfriends (mostly famous ones), the singer is consciously uncoupled from boyfriends or even dates. Though her previous album, Red, was a paean to specific lost loves, bitterness, and heartbreak, her new, totally pop album, 1989, is a rebuke to all that—to the naysayers, to the cattiness, and even to her country roots. Named after her birth year, the album “is based on me learning to care less about what people think of me,” says Swift, though she admits that it’s hard to do in your early 20s. “Once you think about it, aren’t the people who are living their lives without worrying about other people’s opinions having more fun than those judging them?” she says, with her white rescue kitten, Olivia Benson, nestled beside her. This heightened awareness not only shields Swift from “the public meltdown they are all waiting for,” but it also equipped her with the confidence to change her life completely. “My last album was about trying to figure out how to get past a broken heart,” she says. “This album is the phase after that, where you pick up the pieces and you’re finally OK. In my case, you move to a city you’ve never lived in, you cut your hair, you build your life around your girlfriends, and you write songs about whatever you feel like writing songs about.”
We are sitting in the large open living room of Swift’s new two-story, five-bedroom TriBeCa apartment, which was built as a warehouse in the 19th century and previously owned by Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson. It still has the original exposed-beam ceilings running throughout, and Swift has filled the generous spaces with comfy sofas and piles of antique luggage used as side tables, some accessorized with nature curios, like a pair of stuffed birds under glass. The effect is more Harry Potter than Girlie Modern: “I’m very enthralled with the way things used to be,” she notes. Her favorite room, however, is the bright rectangular kitchen, with a long center island topped in white marble, where she can indulge her love of baking. The only acknowledgment that a star lives here is the cluster of unobtrusively displayed music awards she won in 2013—unless you count the framed black-and-white Polaroids of friends Lena Dunham, Karlie Kloss, and Lorde on the walls of the TV room. (Swift recently acquired one of Polaroid’s vintage models.) The loft is their gathering spot for impromptu dance parties or games of pool. Also on the walls are pictures of her dapper 22-year-old brother, Austin, a senior at Notre Dame, along with her best guy pal, English singer Ed Sheeran, giving the finger, but mostly it’s girls’ night out in the bachelorette pad.
Swift, crossing her legs in a chic black-and-white Autumn Cashmere mini and lace-up black stilettos, emphasizes that girlfriends are her primary social life. “We see each other whenever we can, and we text all the time—it’s a lot easier to be a really great, close friend when that is the only personal relationship you have,” she says. Amusingly, when I ask her to list her best friends, she easily rattles off four or five and then checks her texts for more. “Jaime King, Selena [Gomez], Odeya [Rush], Hailee [Steinfeld] …” Her life today, she says, is her career and her friends, and she is no longer even yearning for the Big Relationship. “I’m too young to get married. Not agewise, but I know myself, so why try to meet someone right now when I know I’m too young to do something serious?”
Since the age of 12, when she first persuaded her parents to leave their three-bedroom farmhouse in Pennsylvania so she could try her luck in Nashville, Swift’s precocious talent has always been anchored in her ability to express uncensored feelings in memorable lyrics (she won a songwriting contract at only 14) alongside catchy rhythmic hooks. In Red, Swift spared no emotional devastation and stopped just short of naming the names of her loves-gone-wrong but nevertheless provided tantalizing clues in special code in the album notes. Among the most-guessed-at targets were actor Jake Gyllenhaal and boy-band lothario Harry Styles. She herself claims, “I’ve only had three real relationships, and none of them lasted more than four months.” But when Swift received tabloid backlash for dating Conor Kennedy, the seemingly vulnerable 18-year-old son of Robert Kennedy Jr. in the late summer of 2012, she acquired a reputation in scandal sheets and gossip blogs as a boy-crazed serial dater.
Name-calling becomes a problem when you have 44 million Twitter followers, as Swift does, and many are young teens. The accusations bothered her terribly. “I stopped understanding how amazing this whole thing was when I first started to experience the cynicism with which people look at the lives of famous people—as if they’re not real,” says Swift. She came to a realization: “I was at a level with my music where I was becoming a target.” The singer thought she was “doing what normal 21- or 22-year-olds do, and it’s being turned into some sort of a crime.” She had to learn to stop caring—or, in the words of her album’s first hit single, “Shake It Off”—but that emotional distance came with a price. “I haven’t gone near a guy in a year and a half. There are usually 15 paparazzi waiting outside my house, so if I’d had a guy over here, there would have been photos of him,” she says. “I have friends who will say to me, ‘The press is hating on me for partying,’ and I’m like, ‘Then why don’t you stop partying?’ If you honestly want them to have nothing to write about, give them nothing to write about.”
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