MINNEAPOLIS — Taylor Swift was so busy working that she hadn't heard the day's news about her.
With her new single “Speak Now” debuting at No. 8 on Billboard's Hot 100, she had just broken Mariah Carey's record by having six consecutive hits debut in the Top 10.
“Whoa! Thank you for telling me — that's amazing,” Swift said on a recent evening during her 19th interview of the day — and counting.
There's much work to do for “Speak Now,” her third album, out this week. Her first two, “Taylor Swift” and “Fearless,” sold more than 13 million combined, a staggering figure in an era when blockbusters are few and far between. There is talk that her new disc might sell a million units in its first week.
As she'll do this week on The Today Show, David Letterman and other TV outlets, she talked with excitement about “Speak Now.” She wrote all 14 songs, a first for her. Only four were available for preview before our phone interview.
Known for writing songs about people who cross her, Swift, 20, has reportedly penned tunes about ex-beau Taylor Lautner, of Twilight fame, and Kanye West, who famously interrupted her acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. Let her explain.
Question: Tell me about the album.
Answer: This album is about the last two years of my life. It seems like everything that happened to me and affected me emotionally was intense. Like intense joy, intense pain, intense celebration, intense loss, intense curveballs. It was a lot to process. So sometimes in the moment when you're living out these things, you don't say exactly the right things at the right time. At that point I end up walking away and thinking: “Now I know what I should have said.” At that point, I go and I write a song about it.
These songs are part of a concept record, these things that occur to me about a moment too late. They're about all different aspects of my life, all different realizations and lessons I've learned the hard way.
Q: Why do you hesitate to say in conversation what you later feel compelled to say in song?
A: It's human nature to not say everything that's on your mind at the time you think it. Because we fear saying something that people will laugh at, people will think is dumb. We're afraid of being embarrassed. When that happens in my life, the best way I think I can make up for not saying exactly the right thing when I wanted to is to say it in a song. And then I feel like it's saying it before it's too late.
Q: What inspired “Back to December” (supposedly about her breakup with Lautner)?
A: It was inspired by a lesson I learned a little too late. That's a song that's a message to a specific person. The song is what this person deserves to hear. An apology. It's a song that is very personal, and I needed to write it.
Q: In “Mine,” you sing “you've made a rebel out of a careless man's careful daughter.” What did you do as the rebel?
A: I've written about love at 14. Falling in love at 14 or 15, you jump in head-first because you have no reason not to. As you experience love and you experience more relationships, you start to realize that love ends in a very painful goodbye. The more times that you experience that and witness that, the more you have an inclination to become careful and guarded. To rebel against that, to fall in love head-first and to ignore all those ghosts in your rearview mirror that say this is going to end badly like all the rest did, that's rebelling.
Q: There seems to be a little preoccupation with marriage on some of these songs.
A. That's funny, because I'm not that girl that sits around and draws wedding dresses and pictures what my wedding day is going to be like. I don't know what my future holds as far as relationships and love and what level of commitment I'll get to. I kind of walk through life and wander around, obsessing over music and loving being single until I bump into somebody who convinces me to make an exception.
Those are different (wedding) references in different songs. “Mine” doesn't reference a wedding but it ends up there in the video. That was due to this guy who put his arm around me and I flashed forward and saw the entire relationship, and I projected that in the video. In “Speak Now,” I'm barging into the wedding and screaming “Don't do it.” I think that's a completely different approach to weddings.
So maybe I don't know what I think about them. I think we're making breakthroughs here.
Q: What sparked “Innocent,” which you sang this year on the MTV Video Music Awards?
A: Some songs take about 30 minutes to write, and there are songs that take probably six months to write. This song took that long to write. When something really affects me intensely on a personal level emotionally, it takes a while for me to understand what I should say about that, what I think about that, and what I feel about that. And, thankfully, one day I woke up and I just knew all those things and that's the day I wrote “Innocent.”