As I’m writing this, I’m waiting for a well-known musician to call. At the appointed hour (hopefully), my phone will ring, the Caller ID will show “Blocked” and from the minute I pick up, I will keep one eye on the upper-righthand corner of my laptop so I don’t chat for any longer than the carefully negotiated 20 minutes. Glamourous, isn’t it?
As I wait, I think wistfully about my favorite Medill professor regaling us with tales of tire shopping with Robert Plant for a 10,000-word Playboy profile. Those were the days when a journalist profiling a celebrity was granted days of access, not hours or minutes. A few major magazines still get decent access, but on those occasions I often feel the reporter’s obligatory deference gets in the way of a truly illuminating portrait.
All this to say, I was very pleasantly surprised by the profile of Taylor Swift in this month’s Marie Claire, written by Kimberly Cutter. Even with access, Taylor Swift press has tended to fall into two categories: an enthusiastic but shallow appreciation of her supernova star power, or a Mean Girls-style attack on her overexposure. Cutter marches right down the middle in a really savvy way. For one thing, she nails what I think is the most fascinating thing about Swift:
From the heart sign she makes with her fingers when she performs … to the Ivy-covered fairy-tale towers in her concerts to her now-famous sparkling Swarovski-crystal-encrusted guitar, Swift understands iconography and branding on a flat-out genius level. Obviously, she has a creative team working with her, but it’s clear that the vision, the driving force, is all Swift’s.
Chris and I each interviewed Taylor very early in her career, and this struck us both: Even at 17, this was not a puppet whose strings were being pulled by the Music Row machine. She was calling the shots, and her intuitive understanding of her audience is what’s made her a superstar as much as her impressive talent. I also like that Cutter not only offers that insight but gives some sense of the contradiction within — Swift at once seems to be a brilliant marketer who has created a lucrative cult of personality and a genuinely warm and grateful ingenue. Like the author, I believe she truly is — and deserves credit for — both.
Unfortunately, the full interview is not available online at Marie Claire‘s site. (Oh, print. Why must you be your own worst enemy?) But an intrepid Swift fan has scanned the whole thing. Check it out before MC sends the inevitable cease-and-desist …