Two years ago, Taylor Swift's third album, Speak Now, was about to be released and the then 20-year-old country music star had every reason to be confident. Her eponymous first album, which debuted in 2006 when she was only 16, had gone multi-platinum and established her as a musical force whose songs about love and heartbreak resonated with peers and adults alike.
Her follow-up, Fearless, released two years later, sold millions of copies and earned four Grammy awards. By the time Speak Now was ready to greet the world, Forbes magazine had listed her as the 12th most powerful celebrity, with annual earnings calculated at $45 million.
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But on the eve her fans first heard Speak Now, Swift told us she was filled with fear. "These songs are basically my journal entries from the last two years," she explained, "and that of course makes me much more vested in how people hear them." In the end, she could rest easy. The album sold more than 1 million copies in its first week and went on to win two Grammys and a spot on Rolling Stone's "Women Who Rock: 50 Greatest Albums of All Time" by female recording artists.
So as she prepared for the release of her fourth album, Red, was she anxious again or confident? The first single off the album, "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," has already hit No. 1 on Billboard's charts, and fans are scrambling to guess which former boyfriend the sassy send-off is about (actor Jake Gyllenhaal? singer Joe Jonas?). And just like the last time, there doesn't seem to be too much to worry about.
"I'm really proud of the record," Swift says slowly, "but I'm always nervous about everything. There's a great deal of terror that fills my mind before I do anything, really. We're talking before an album comes out, before a photo shoot, anytime I read my name in print. There's a huge amount of pressure and responsibility because millions of people are going to potentially spend their hard-earned money on the album, and there's a great responsibility for the critics who will write about it, and responsibility for the girl who is going through a breakup and needs a song about what she's feeling, and responsibility for the girl who doesn't feel good about herself and needs a song for that, too, and I worry about saying or doing the wrong thing." Swift pauses for a breath and laughs. "Do you see the rabbit holes I go down?"
Taylor Swift's Songs and Lovers
The stakes may be different for Swift than for most of us, but who can't relate to the desire to connect and feel appreciated? It's this quality that has created such a strong pact between Swift and her fans, who look at pictures of the star cavorting at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, Mass., with Conor Kennedy or draped in jewels on the red carpet and still see one of them.