Taylor Swift Interview: Changing Things Up With ‘1989’ and Turning 25 [EXCLUSIVE]
“I know that I don’t have the option of making music that sounds just like what I’ve done before,” Taylor Swift tells PopCrush, talking about what went through her head when making her new album, ‘1989.’ “People will call me out on it. They’ll see right through it.”
“They’ll see that I was lazy,” she adds with a laugh. “So with this album I definitely changed things up and I think I changed them for the better.”
‘1989’ is Taylor’s first “official” pop album (meaning, there’s not a single track here that was made with country radio in mind), but it’s not a total musical rebirth — just her next act as an artist. Her commitment to telling a story with her lyrics hasn’t changed.
During our conversation about ‘1989,’ Taylor chats with us about developing as a songwriter and the tracks on the album that she’s most proud of (as well as Ed Sheeran and Lorde‘s favorite songs). Plus, just before celebrating her 25th birthday this December, she reflects on the past 10 years of her life — and why she wouldn’t want to fix any of the mistakes she’s made. Read the full interview below.
Who was the first person to listen to ‘1989,’ and what was their reaction?
I think one of the first people that I played the entire album for was my friend Ella, who goes by Lorde. She’s one of my favorite people to kind of bounce ideas off of — she gives really good advice. And it’s interesting to see what her favorites are. Another person that’s heard the entire album is Ed Sheeran. Having friends where who I completely respect their musical opinion is really helpful because they all have their different favorites and stuff, and their different favorites definitely reflect them as musicians, for sure.
Ella’s favorite is a song called ‘Welcome to New York,’ and Ed’s favorite song is called ‘Bad Blood.’
Which song on ‘1989’ was the most difficult to write?
You know, it’s interesting because the songs that are difficult to write always end up being less interesting than the ones that just kind of come from some crazy sparks of creativity. A lot of the songs on the album that I’m most proud of are ones that I got an idea and just kind of rolled with it and went with it, and 20 minutes later I had most of the song done. So I kind of have been following that. I’ve been following the idea that if you get a really crazy lightning bolt idea, then that’s the one you should chase and the one that you show follow. If it’s a little bit harder to get into the groove with a song, then maybe… it’s just not as good of an idea.
So it’s learning to trust your natural instincts.
Definitely. I think as a songwriter, the more and more you write and the more albums that you put out, the more you learn about what to do with an idea, how to build it, how to craft a song, how to craft a song differently than you’ve done it before.
It’s a really exciting challenge to make a fifth album. I know that I don’t have the option of making music that sounds just like what I’ve done before. People will call me out on it. They’ll see right through it. They’ll see that I was lazy [laughs], so with this album I definitely changed things up and I think I changed them for the better.
How do you know when you’ve really got a good song?
I think the way that I determine whether a song’s good enough to make the album is if I want to keep going back on my iPod and listening to it over and over and over. There are songs that I want to listen to over and over and over, and then there are songs that I kind of just stop gravitating toward after a few months. You never want to be too seduced by the excitement of creating something new that you can’t be critical of it. So I write for two years, and usually most of the stuff that I write in the first six months to a year gets thrown out.
Which new songs did you listen to the most on your iPod?
I think the one that I kept going back to, over and over and over again, is a song called ‘This Love,’ actually. It’s a song that I wrote by myself. It’s kind of like hypnotic in a way, and it kind of is somewhat romantic and wistful and relaxing. But I would also listen to ‘Out of the Woods’ a lot.
What lyric from the album are you most proud of?
There’s one song on the album that I wrote with Imogen Heap called ‘Clean,’ and almost every line in that song is one that I’m proud of, so I’m really excited for people to hear that one.
I brought her the idea, I brought her the verse and chorus of the song, and one of the most important elements of that song is the production, so she created this kind of incredible sonic world for this song to live in. And I’m so excited to have worked with her because she’s just, I think, one of the most interesting and unique artists out there.
What was the inspiration behind ‘Clean’?
The song ‘Clean’ is one that I wrote about sort of coming out of a relationship, or trying to move on from some struggle that you had in your life, and feeling kind of tarnished by it. And it kind of talks about how if you really allow yourself to feel pain, I think maybe it’s easier to get past it. For most people that I’ve known who’ve fought through struggle, a lot them who have really just faced the pain head on have come out OK a lot faster than the ones who just pretended to be in denial of it.
The song is so kind of haunting because [of] Imogen’s background on the song, she’s singing on it. So, it’s so exciting [for me].
Speaking of exciting things: You’ve given a once-in-a-lifetime memory to some lucky fans with your ‘1989’ Secret Sessions. What’s been YOUR personal biggest fangirl moment with an artist you love?
The ‘1989’ Secret Sessions were my favorite part of this whole thing of putting out ‘1989’ because these were people who had never met me before, and they had been to shows or they waited outside ‘Good Morning America’ or they have an amazing blog dedicated to my music, and I never got to say thank you until we did these secret listening sessions in my houses all across the country and London.
But I think — as far as fangirling goes — meeting Imogen Heap was an amazing experience for me because she was all I listened to in high school. Getting to not only meet her, but work with her and watch to see what she does in the studio was really inspiring.
What was the first thing you said Imogen when you met her?
Hi, I’m so happy to meet you? [Laughs.] I try to keep it in check. I try to act as, like, normal as humanly possible.
You’re turning 25 this year. What advice would you give your past self from your present self?
I think looking back because I’m about to turn 25 is interesting — to have gone through so many phases in front of the entire world. Because, you know, I’ve been making music and putting it out since I was 15. Looking back, you’re very well aware of your mistakes, you’re well aware of your own phases and your ups and your downs.
I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on that, and even so — even though you know where you could’ve made a better decision or you could’ve said a better thing, or something like that, I just think I wouldn’t change anything because I think being a songwriter, every experience you have… and your experience shapes your work. So even the times where I’ve felt terrible emotions like regret or humiliation or embarrassment or failure, I took those emotions and kind of turned them into the next batch of songs. So it kind of leaves you in this place where you wouldn’t really give yourself any advice to help yourself out, because even your struggles kind of got you to where you wanted to be.
How did you picture your 25-year-old self when you were younger?
I don’t know what I thought because I always tried to be realistic about things, so even though I was trying to be a musician, I didn’t have expectations that I would end up being a musician.
I would not have pictured anything close to this. I would have never thought, ‘Oh, I’m going to live in New York, and I’m gonna have friends that I love so much, and I’m gonna get to do this, I’m gonna be on stadium tours’… it just, it was nowhere near this. I think my dream looked a lot like this, but my expectations were kind of… I thought that, you know, I’d still be looking for what I want to do with my life, which is completely normal for 25. A lot of my friends are in that place right now. I’m just really grateful that fans connected with what I was writing because that’s the only reason I’m here.
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