Taylor Swift Emerges as Country’s Golden Girl

Music Row Turns Out to Celebrate Sales of Her Debut Album

You would have thought John McCain or Hillary Clinton had come to town the way reporters and camera crews swarmed to the BMI building in Nashville Wednesday (Feb. 21) to record the utterances of 17-year-old Taylor Swift. And, like most political candidates, the rising young singer arrived fashionably late — more than a half hour behind the posted schedule. But no one seemed to care. It was obvious that Music Row — journalists included — is in love with its newest star.

The gathering was to celebrate the gold certification of Swift’s self-titled debut album which rocketed into the sales stratosphere largely on the strength of its first single, “Tim McGraw.” That Swift also co-wrote this wistful account of young summer love has added immeasurably to her allure. (The gold designation means at least 500,000 albums have been shipped to record stores.)

Wearing a low-cut gold gown and cowboy boots, the willowy Swift swept into the pre-party press conference with an apology at the ready. “I’m so sorry I’m late,” she beamed, taking her seat in front of a forest of microphones. “It was the traffic. I was screaming.” She then settled in for a quick round of easy questions about her current tour with George Strait and Ronnie Milsap and the burdens of teen celebrity.

Speaking in complete, well-crafted sentences, Swift was utterly at ease with the media frenzy. Within the past year, she’s been on two major tours, the first with youth-oriented Rascal Flatts.

“The Rascal Flatts tour was a perfect match for me,” she reflected. “With George Strait, I feel I’m lucky to be in front of a more traditional country audience.” The crowds’ reverence for Strait, she observed, was “like religion.”

Describing herself as “neurotic” and “super-organized,” Swift said she keeps a running “countdown” in her head about the upcoming award shows for which she’s been nominated.

“It’s 82 days until the ACMs [Academy of Country Music Awards],” she volunteered. “I sat at the CMT Awards last year and watched other people get recognized,” she added, implying that she’s hoping for better things this time around.

With obvious pride, Swift noted that the “meet-and-greet” sessions she holds for fans following each of her shows sometimes last for four hours. “If you want to sell 500,000 albums,” she said an advisor once told her, “go out and meet 500,000 people.”

Swift surmised that radio and MySpace exposure were responsible for most of her album sales. She said she closely supervised her MySpace page, even going so far as to personally write her biography in first person for it. Most artists, she noted, have bios on MySpace that are written in the more objective sounding — but less intimate — third person. She said she now has 150,000 MySpace “friends.”

Her relatively tender age has earned her some ribbing from friends on the road, Swift told reporters. “They say, ’Taylor’s going to go crazy when she’s 18 — she’s going to register to vote.'”

Asked if her mature good looks and revealing outfits ever worried her father, Swift replied, “I’ve always tried not to wear things that were too revealing.” In choosing her costumes, she said she takes into account the example she might be setting for a 6-year-old fan in the front row and what that fan’s mother might think of her. “The best thing about my parents,” she said, “is that they trust me.”

Swift has yet to meet the subject of her hit — Tim McGraw — in person but did talk to him by phone when she was a guest on a country radio show. “How come you don’t take opening acts out on your Soul2Soul tour?” she said she asked the superstar. “Do you have someone in mind?” he asked. She told him she did.

When her turn with radio and print reporters was done with, Swift hurried off to meet the television crews. In the meantime, well wishers had packed BMI’s main reception hall where a Chinese buffet awaited them on one side of the room and a fancy dessert bar on the other.

A few minutes later, the crowed parted as Swift and her entourage moved toward the makeshift stage from which the presentations were to be made. BMI’s Jody Williams called the celebration to order. He said he had met Swift a few years earlier when he was running his own music publishing company. On Wednesday afternoons, he recalled, she would come to his office to work with veteran songwriter Liz Rose. “They wouldn’t start until Taylor came in and gave me a hug,” he said. Then she would chatter on about school and nibble on Hershey Kisses “until she got her energy level up.”

Impressed by the songs the two women were coming up with, Williams said he took Rose aside and asked, “Who’s carrying the load when you and Taylor write?” To his great surprise, Williams admitted, Rose told him “She’s probably the finest singer-songwriter I’ve ever worked with. … She’s writing her life.”

Scott Borchetta, head of Big Machine Records, followed Williams to the stage. He said he met Swift when she was 14 and came to play him some of her songs. “Still to this day,” he continued, “it never hit me that Taylor was a teenager. To me, she was a hit songwriter. … She never goes anywhere without her guitar.”

Borchetta announced that the “Tim McGraw” single has so far sold 450,000 copies and that her new release, “Teardrops on My Guitar,” was the most-added single at country radio stations this week.

Swift used her time at the microphone to praise those who have supported her. She pointed out that her album is the first that her friend, Nathan Chapman, has ever produced and that it is also Big Machine’s first gold CD. Ever the self-marketer, she thanked the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music “for everything they’ve done for me — and, hopefully, will do.”

Borchetta had the final word when he intoned meaningfully, “Taylor is wearing a gold dress, but I am wearing a platinum tie” — a reference to the million-selling level to which Swift’s album now aspires.

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.