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Still the girl next door: Taylor Swift

Photo: Reuters/Carlo Allegri

“I lead a pretty normal life,” says Taylor Swift, peeking out from behind the sweeping fringe of her recently bobbed hair. 

It is, of course, something of an overstatement.

When the lights go out at the Indoor Stadium in Singapore later this month, the 24-year-old’s Red Tour will draw to a close. Swift will have taken in 61 cities, made an estimated $140 million and performed in front of about two million people.

Even if her definition of “normal” is somewhat skewed, as you might expect from a Tennessee-raised girl, she’s pretty down to Earth.

“I’ve always tried to stay close to the way I lived or wanted to live before all this happened to me. I don’t believe that having success means needing to change your lifestyle in a big way.  That would seem too strange for me.”

Her music remains grounded, too, with her heart-on-sleeve confessionals winning her fans the world over. Her last album, Red, has sold nearly four million copies, and she’s still touring it  two years after its release.

“My songwriting will always have a confessional aspect because I naturally draw on my life and my stories and that’s how I’ve been able to connect with my fans,” she says.

But more than anything, she knows how to write a pop tune. Her melodies are simple, hummable songs that stay lodged in the mind for days.

They have won her a huge following in Asia. She visited Singapore and the Philippines two years ago on the Speak Now World Tour, and will take in both again, as well as Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, this month.

Taylor will visit seven Asian cities in just 12 days on the final leg of the tour. Last time, however, she was afforded the chance to explore: Her video blog showed her taking in the sites, relaxing on beaches and wandering through Singapore’s Chinatown.

But she admits touring can be exhausting. “Most of the time I’m so tired afterwards that I just go back to my hotel room and order room service. Once in a while if I’m with Selena [Gomez] or other friends that I haven’t seen in a while I’ll go out to dinner and we’ll have fun. But usually there’s a lot of stress…”

She may be huge in Southeast Asia, but Taylor still finds it easier to walk around the streets over here than back home. Indeed, she had no qualms about taking public transport in the sprawling cities of the East. Her grandmother worked in Singapore and her mother, Andrea, spent the first ten years of her life in the city-state, so she has strong ties with the region.

I love being able to stay close to my family and I’m lucky that I’ve been able to remain close to many of the same friends I’ve known for years.

Unfortunately, such freedom does not usually apply, and Taylor says it can be tricky to take part in everyday activities.

“Shopping, just getting out of the house, is a social occasion for me,” she says, offering an accidental glimpse, perhaps, of the shackles that accompany a life so draped in press attention.

“I know that if I leave the house I have to be ready to deal with meeting fans, taking photos with them and signing autographs. I have to make sure that I’m not in a bad mood or feeling insecure because it’s important to me to have that connection with my fans.

“If I’m having a bad day then I probably won’t go outside because I know that I need to be ready to be available and enjoy those moments that I get with my fans. I would never want to appear anything less than happy to meet the people who support me. I’ll never take that for granted.”

Despite an obvious affection for her fans, it seems as though Taylor has struggled more than most with adapting to a life where every trip to the shops has the potential to erupt into a media frenzy. She insists this life she has chosen necessitates regular reminders of where she came from.

“One of my oldest and best friends is Abigail,” she says. “We’ve known each other since we were 15 and in high school, and we can remember the times when we would ask our parents for gas money – that’s perspective!
“I love being able to stay close to my family and I’m lucky that I’ve been able to remain close to many of the same friends I’ve known for years.”

It’s a mantra she repeats often during our meeting – “I don’t want to get carried away, I’ll take nothing for granted.” On the contrary, she approaches Asia with a veil of modesty that’s perhaps rarely seen with other exports from the US.

“What I love about visiting Asia, and something that really grabbed me last time, was the respect people have for one another. There is genuine courtesy – back home we have our own version and it’s perhaps a little false.
“Everyone I met on my last adventure to Asia was so sweet. It feels like I’m going back to a place I’m totally comfortable being in and I’m really looking forward to that.”

As one of the world’s top stars, Swift’s love life provides endless copy for media of a certain persuasion. The press attention must grate, but she admits that when she gets together with friends from home, or with celebrity pals such as Selena Gomez or Emma Stone, the conversation invariably ends up centred on the opposite sex.

“We like to talk about everything – except our work,” she says, immediately alerting her publicists’ attention to the potential for this interview straying off-piste. But the onlookers needn’t worry. “In my case I spend so much time working that I need to take some time away from that. When we get together it’s always about reconnecting with each other, talking about relationships and love and boys – all the basic things!”

As she tells it, there doesn’t seem to be much time in Taylor Swift’s life right now for such “basic things”. Next up is a new album, talk of catwalks, sponsorship deals, perfume…

“For as long as I’m enjoying this I’ll keep on. If it becomes too much then I feel I have the ability to sit back and break from it. But right now it’s too much fun for me to even contemplate sitting back.”

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