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She's writing her future

Precocious country star Taylor Swift found success quickly. With her new album, there's no sign of a slowdown.

October 26, 2008|Randy Lewis | Lewis is a Times staff writer.

Taylor Swift doesn't bat a blue eye at rewriting history.

Take the 18-year-old's latest single, "Love Story." It's all about romance and destiny -- two subjects that often occupy her teenage brain. She even invokes the names of the world's most celebrated star-crossed lovers in this sunny hit that's steadily climbing the country singles chart.

It's Romeo and Juliet with a significant difference: Nobody dies.

"I was going through a situation like that where I could relate," the energetic singer-songwriter said recently on a whirlwind visit to Los Angeles. "I used to be in high school where you see [a boyfriend] every day. Then I was in a situation where it wasn't so easy for me, and I wrote this song because I could relate to the whole Romeo and Juliet thing. I was really inspired by that story.

"Except for the ending," she quickly added. "I feel like they had such promise and they were so crazy for each other. And if that had just gone a little bit differently, it could have been the best love story ever told. And it is one of the best love stories ever told, but it's a tragedy. I thought, why can't you . . . make it a happy ending and put a key change in the song and turn it into a marriage proposal?"

Whether it's Shakespeare, dating or a disintegrating music business, Swift is only too willing to reshape the rules according to her own ideas about how things ought to be. She's demonstrated that repeatedly since she was a brazen 12-year-old who went door to door down Nashville's famed Music Row of record company offices saying, "Hi, I'm Taylor! I write songs and I think you should sign me."

When most of her peers were busy with after-school sports or drama club, she would head off every day to her job at Sony/ATV Music Publishing where, at 14, she was hired to write more songs, as a professional in the country music capital.

Now, after selling more than 3 million copies of her 2006 debut album, "Taylor Swift," the tall and perky blond with the thick curly tresses is gearing up for another onslaught of activity with the impending arrival of her sophomore album, "Fearless," due out Nov. 11. Although it's poised to be one of the big-gun releases of the holiday season, that doesn't intimidate Swift or her record company one iota.

"I think any time you've had this kind of success it starts to get weighty," said Scott Borchetta, president of Big Machine Records, who signed Swift even before his label was fully up and running. "But she's delivered a brilliant record.

"We're all keenly aware of what's going on in the economy," Borchetta said. "So the conversation really centers on the reality that the new album will do whatever the market will bear.

"But looking at the economy of scale, and at what a hugely successful record can do right now, it's already hugely successful. The first single is screaming. We've had a half-million paid downloads for 'Love Story,' and 'Fearless' is just opening up. What that means by the time Nov. 11 rolls around, we have to kind of wait and see."

For Swift, who also co-produced the new album, it's all about getting her material out to listeners.

"You have to hear the song we just recorded yesterday!" she tells a visitor. The song she's talking about, "Forever and Always," was born near the end of the recording process, and Swift pleaded with Borchetta to let her add it to the album a day before she had to turn in the final version.

"It's about watching somebody fade away in a relationship," she said. "They said they were going to be with you forever, that they loved you, and then something changed in the relationship and you don't know what it is, but you're watching them slowly drift. That emotion of rejection, for me, usually starts out sad and then gets mad. This song starts with this pretty melody that's easy to sing along with, then in the end . . . I'm bas- ically screaming it because I'm so mad. I'm really proud of that."

Although that might seem like a strange comment coming from a country singer, Swift said that she felt as though she achieved something authentic and raw.

"When I go into the studio, it's really more about portraying the song in a way that gets the feeling across, rather than every phrase being exactly perfect. . . . I think it's the writer in me that's a little more obsessed with the meaning of the song than the vocal technique. All that stuff is like math to me. Over-thinking vocals and stuff -- I never want to get to that point."

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Rare traits

Swift was a high school sophomore when her self-titled debut was released, and before long, she had exchanged public school for home schooling so she could keep up with the mushrooming demands on her time. She scored new artist honors from the Country Music Assn. and the Academy of Country Music and watched wide-eyed last December when her name was called among the nominees for the best new artist Grammy Award, a prize she ultimately lost to a much darker talent, Amy Winehouse.

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