Taylor Swift’s mother took notice of her daughter’s fascination with music and creativity as a toddler. But she had no idea that her baby girl would one day become country music’s hottest star with record-breaking songwriting and crossover success.
Growing Up Taylor
Born Taylor Alison Swift on Sept. 13, 1989, to parents Scott and Andrea, Taylor and her younger brother Austin grew up on their family’s small Christmas tree farm in Wyomissing, Penn. Taylor’s mom Andrea tells E! True Hollywood Story that her daughter sang almost constantly from an early age and says, “When she started to change the words to nursery rhymes I thought it was cute, but I didn’t realize that that was probably the beginning of her songwriting.”
By second grade the budding performer jumped at an opportunity to sing a solo in a school play. The only catch was–the part was written for a boy. Determined to get the part, Taylor dressed as a boy and made her stage debut.
Falling in Love With Music
After getting involved in children’s musical theater, Taylor’s parents noticed their daughter leaning more toward music than acting. The young Pennsylvania native loved country music and admired female superstars like Shania Twain, Faith Hill and LeAnn Rimes. Seeing how much Taylor loved to perform, the Swifts allowed her to enter local karaoke contests on the weekends. Eventually, winning a local competition gave the 11-year-old a chance to open for the Charlie Daniels Band.
At their daughter’s request, parents Scott and Andrea recorded a simple demo tape with Taylor singing some of her favorite country tunes. Before long the preteen became admittedly obsessed with breaking into the country music industry. In her E! True Hollywood Story special, Taylor explains, “A TV show said that Faith Hill went to Nashville and that’s how she made it. As soon as I heard that I was absolutely obnoxious asking my parents to take a trip to Nashville.”
Taking a Shot at Music Row
The Swifts did end up going to Nashville for a few days. Little 11-year-old Taylor Swift walked into one major music label after another, with Mom waiting in the car outside, and presented receptionists with her demo in hopes of landing a record deal. Not too surprisingly, nothing came from that particular tactic. It was a disappointing reality that ended up fueling Taylor’s determination to find a way to standout in an industry full of talented hopefuls. Going home and learning to play guitar until her fingers bled opened up a whole new world for the young singer. Suddenly Taylor’s songwriting shot off like a rocket.
After winning so many local competitions and singing the national anthem at an NBA game, it didn’t take long for Taylor’s classmates to alienate her. Taylor’s mom says, “I knew that if she sang the national anthem at a 76ers game and it was in the paper, the next day at school would be brutal.” Kids at school could no longer relate to Taylor’s life and passion, so she endured a seemingly endless stream of torment from fellow middle school students every day. Despite the horrible treatment Taylor ending up using those painful experiences to write more songs.
Landing a Record Deal
On a family trip to Nashville, Taylor landed a meeting with one of country’s biggest labels, RCA and was signed to a development deal, prompting the Swifts to relocate to Tennessee. Taylor’s high school years in Nashville greatly improved due to the fact that her classmates were accustomed to the country music industry. But when Swift’s contract came up for review in 2004 RCA decided not to sign her but continue another year or more of development. Taylor had a big decision on her hands. She tells E!, “It was either walk away from the biggest label in Nashville or wait until I’m 18 to ever have anyone hear my music.” She told her parents, “I want to walk.” And so the Swift family began their search for someone who truly believed in Taylor’s music.
Legendary Blue Bird Café in Nashville was a launching pad for famous artists such as Faith Hill. Little did Taylor know, Scott Borchetta, a producer who would become one of the most important instruments of her career, was in the audience the night she played at the Café. Astounded by Taylor’s songwriting ability Borchetta told her, “You don’t need to be cutting other people’s music. You need to be able to write your own songs and sing them yourself.”
At the time Borchetta was leaving Universal Records to start his own label and wanted Taylor to be his first artist on board. With other offers on the table from more established companies, the Swifts knew it was a risk. But Taylor says she had a “gut feeling” that this was the right partnership.
It didn’t take long for Scott Borchetta to put together Big Machine records and get working on Taylor’s career. Borchetta wholeheartedly believe in Swift’s songs and did everything he could think of to get the word out about this new artist. Borchetta says he even showed up with Taylor at awards shows she wasn’t nominated at just to walk the red carpet and gain some media attention. Scott’s determination paid off as a snowball effect catapulted Taylor to the top of the charts.
Personal Song Writing
Young fans could relate to Swift’s honest, personal songs that were written about her life and the people in it. Unlike most of country music, many Taylor’s biggest hits include the names of real people in her life…including past boyfriends. Troy Tomlinson, CEO of Sony ATV Nashville put it perfectly when he said, “If you’re a young man who wants to date Taylor Swift you better be careful not to do her wrong, otherwise a song will be written about you that the whole world will hear.”
Taylor Swift effectively made country music cool for a whole new generation of fans. US Weekly senior editor Lisa Finkel says, “A lot of young people weren’t paying much attention to country music until Taylor Swift came along.” In many ways Swift’s crossover success has surpassed that of her idols Shania Twain and Faith Hill. Jumping back into acting, Taylor recently charmed critics and fans with her lead role in the star-studded hit movie “Valentine’s Day.”
Taylor also unwittingly set off an unexpected fashion trend. The very same sundresses and cowboy boots she was teased in school for wearing having now impacted the wardrobes of countless fans. Swift tells Marie Claire Magazine, “I wasn’t trying to start anything, but seeing girls come to my shows wearing sundresses and cowboy boots and curling their hair is one of my favorite experiences ever because I remember when I was weird for dressing the way that I dressed and having curly hair. It’s really fun to see that I’m not that weird anymore.”
Fans will remember Swift’s first major award – the Country Music Academy’s Horizon Award for best new artist where the high school student ended her tear-filled speech with, “This is definitely the highlight of my senior year.” But soon Taylor’s success climbed even higher as she won countless awards for best female vocalist, best album, best single, and then the most prestigious of all – Entertainer of the Year.
And while most people will remember Taylor’s shocking moment of being interrupted by Kanye West during her acceptance speech at the 2009 VMAs, it also gave the world a chance to see Swift the way her fans already knew her – kind, gracious, strong, and a class act through and through.
Taking ‘Role Model’ Seriously
Taylor has also won the respect of parents with her smart, responsible actions. Taylor told CosmoGirl, “When a mom says to me, ‘You’re an incredible role model for my daughter,’ that’s the best compliment you could give me because it’s about my character, which to me is the biggest honor.”
And in a world where so many young celebrities are out partying and constantly getting into trouble, a role model like Taylor Swift is more unusual. In an interview with Dateline’s Hoda Kotb Taylor reveals that she has never smoked a cigarette or had any alcohol and doesn’t see a point to partying and getting drunk.
Much of those values can be attributed to Taylor’s upbringing by parents who worked hard to keep their young daughter as grounded as possible in the midst of such an explosive career. Producer Scott Borchetta testifies to that, “Even as her music races up the charts Taylor remains remarkably level-headed.” Taylor also graduated high school with a 4.0 GPA.
With all of Taylor Swift’s mind-blowing success it’s hard to imagine one of country music’s hottest acts going away anytime soon. It’s safe to say fans will continue to anxiously await more of Swift’s brilliant songwriting and performances for quite some time to come.
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