Taylor Swift Puts The Kid in Country

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By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 28, 2008

LOS ANGELES -- So teenagerly, this country super-starlet Taylor Swift.

Totally 18 going on 18. Totally acting -- and songwriting, and singing -- her age.

"What's Taylor like?" says veteran country singer Vince Gill. "She's like the back seat of my car when I take my kids to a movie. Everything is 'awesome,' 'she was like,' 'they were soooo.' It's really refreshing."

No sense rushing Swift into old age, right? Probably wouldn't be as much fun, for her or for us. Definitely wouldn't be good for business, which has been, well, awesome over the past year.

Swift's smartly crafted songs about high school crushes, puppy love and teen heartache have made her a sensation. Her self-titled debut album -- released in 2006, when she was just 16 -- has sold more than 2.5 million copies and was one of the 10 bestsellers in popular music last year. And she hasn't even finished high school. (She's still being home-schooled.)

Swift is a huge hit on MySpace -- 41 million song streams and counting -- and on the radio and television, too. "Our Song," a lively relationship anthem that Swift originally wrote for a ninth-grade talent show, spent six weeks at No. 1 on the country chart while the accompanying video had a record-setting run on CMT, where it was parked at No. 1 for seven weeks. "Teardrops on My Guitar," a confessional about a guy who is blind to Swift's feelings for him, is a crossover smash, with the video -- set in a high school, of course -- even landing on MTV, a network with a historical aversion to country music. (Yesterday, Swift appeared live on MTV's popular afternoon show "TRL.")

"She's attracting not just the traditional country audience, but a non-country audience as well," says Jay Frank, a CMT senior vice president. "She's become a much bigger artist than the country format."

No surprise, then, that Swift won the Horizon Award at the Country Music Association Awards in November. She reveled in the moment, delivering an exuberant acceptance speech in which she memorably declared: "This is definitely the highlight of my senior year!"


"I'm just a teenager, you know?" Swift says in an interview. It's early February, and she's sitting on an equipment case, deep in the bowels of the Staples Center here. She's just finished a brief rehearsal for the Grammys, where she's booked as a presenter and is nominated for best new artist -- the music industry's top award for newcomers. Ultimately, the award will be won by the troubled British R&B singer Amy Winehouse, who is perhaps the polar opposite of the squeaky-clean, all-American girl Swift, a straight-A student who always calls her mom if she's going to get home later than promised.

But, you know, whatever re Winehouse's win. Swift already has a great Grammy moment in her video scrapbook, from the December news conference to announce the nominees.

Flashback: Swift is onstage, early in the morning, helping with the announcements. Her name is called. She appears to be overwhelmed, ready to start "ohmyGod!"-ing at any moment. She's fighting back tears, freaking out, hugging the other, much older artists, most of whom look like they're still asleep. So very Taylor Swift of her.

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© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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