Burning Red: My Short (Fictional) Interview With Taylor Swift
6 JUNE 2014 — AFTER THE SHOW: Even though Ms. Swift has retreated backstage, the crowd remains wild. They’re going home now. Fan after fan being ushered out until all that are left of the night are the memories, the photographs taken, and the soda cups and random scraps on the floor and under the seats. When I enter the backstage area — I thought I forgot my PRESS ID at home and will have to let go of such an opportunity — I still hear the people’s voices and footsteps reverberating on the concrete walls.
A security guard — foreign? I don’t know, but he looks too lean, too muscular, and too unfamiliar to be a local — leads me down a wide hallway and into the room where Taylor Swift is resting. A few people are inside, some of the fans lucky enough to have been let in and now are taking pictures with America’s sweetheart. There are other people too, but at the moment I am filled with too much excitement knowing that I am in the same room with Taylor Swift that their identities bear no significance to me. Shortly the fans are gone, and a woman in a business attire introduces me.
“This is Mr. Dominic Dayta.” She pronounces Dayta as Data, but I don’t correct her. Even I am not aware of how to pronounce it properly. She looks Filipino but her voice has a twang of foreign to it. (Like almost every Filipino in Manila who can speak fluent English.) “He’s a freelance journalist and will be asking you short questions about the show.”
Then she turns to me. “You have about thirty minutes.”
So I take the opportunity. I sit on a black velvet couch perpendicular to where she sits. She has an inviting air with her. She doesn’t seem tired at all and in fact looked eager to answer my questions. She sat with her back never touching the couch, leaning towards me a little way, perhaps to say that she’s all ears.
“So,” I say. (Shit, I think. This is one moment of happiness and I am too shy to handle it.) “I see you’ve changed clothes.”
She looks down at her blouse — white with black collars, paired with tight black shorts that end about four inches up her knees. She looks like her many photographs for RED. “Yes. I have. Mostly it’s because it’s gotten too hot up there and also, I like changing. Clothes. I mean I love clothes.”
“You did a lovely show up there. I didn’t get to the first one — Speak Now — because then I wasn’t a fan yet. Back then I thought, Taylor Swift? Yuck.”
“Oh you did not.”
“But even so I think this one’s better. I can’t wait for the next one.”
“Yeah, me too, actually. Which song did you like best?”
(My note for the reader: now I think in this portion I became the interviewee. Forgive me because I get a bit shy sometimes, but I love how Ms. Swift saved me by continuing to talk even when I couldn’t, yet.)
“Um — Last Kiss.”
“But — I didn’t play that tonight,” she looks confused.
“I know. But I hope you did. The song changed me the first time I listened to it. As a writer, it changed how I described people. The lyrics were too painful, too real, as if they literally carried with them a baggage that you then would throw at our backs for us to share your pain.”
“I mean, how do you that?”
“Well it’s nothing special. Of course the songs I write, I let my life play out in them. The idea is to feel what you want the listener to feel, you know? You take it and you strip it off its layers and understand it from the inside, know what and why it is. All artists even a writer like you should understand feelings from the inside and out. And that’s what I do. I learn what causes sadness and pain and love and the important details I put into the song. But the most important part is to feel what you want felt. If you don’t shed tears when writing a song, then neither will other people when listening to it.”
“I have been listening a lot to your album, RED, and as much as I loved it, I can’t help feeling a bit of — digression — distance — from your previous works. Did you mean for RED to feel like this?”
“Different. Yes, I’d say. There’s a level of spontaniety to it. It’s vey experimental for me, that album. All the time while writing and recording the songs me and my producers would keep asking What if we did this? What if we did that? What if we made it weirder? Darker? Lovelier? Childish? The process of making everything thrilled me, actually. I felt like I was growing up. And I was. I felt like I was on an elevator headed all the way up, because I was learning new things.”
“Do you want to keep doing this to your next album?”
“Definitely. Even if it’s too early to say much about the next album. Artists should continue growing up in what they do, and they should keep learning new things from what they’re doing, because otherwise they’d grow stagnant and their work will grow old too quickly. I would keep on pushing boundaries for my music. Because that’s the fun part about it, learning and discovering new things.”
“I know exactly what you mean. But how far will you be willing to push your boundaries, as you’ve said? Do you fear a certain limit?”
“There’s no limit to what you can do and find. Whatever limit is there, we cause it ourselves. So I think I’ll keep experimenting with my music, lyric after lyric, song after song, album after album. Fear won’t do me any good because, well because it’s not good. Not for any artist.”
“Your current album, RED, what is it about entirely? How would you describe it yourself?”
“I had an interview with Harper’s Bazaar, about two years ago I think. I remember saying that my album was about my tumultuous adventures and misadventures in life and relationships over the two years between my previous album (Speak Now) and Red.”
“So basically it’s like your diary on record and with music?”
She laughs. “Exactly!”
“Looking back at your previous albums, do you regret anything? Like an unwritten or overwritten line? A missed rhyme?”
“You’re sounding like a poet yourself now,” she jokes. “But no. I don’t. Last night I decided to look into my album again, the first one.”
“With your name on the title?”
“Yeah, that. And I listened to a few songs and I felt good. I’m actually happy that I made it. But it feels like listening to a different girl now. With different problems. A different vocabulary” — she laughs — “and a different way of expressing emotions.”
“You’ve grown up in your songwriting?”
“Yes! Exacty! I’ve grown up. Though I’m not sure exactly how much, it feels like a different world now. There’s this song in that album (Taylor Swift), it’s Picture to Burn, and some of the phrases I used there, like ‘I hate you’, ‘I hate that you’re ignoring me’ — “
“I hate that stupid old pick-up truck,” we sang together.
“Those lines. Those came out when I was sixteen and now that I’m older both literally and in my music, the way I’d express them would be a whole lot different. But still I’m happy that I made it. It feels like a gift, to be able to record my diary.”
“And your gift is a wonderful one, let me tell you. You’re a fine talent, and I wish you weren’t just called America’s sweetheart because if you’ll recall the warmth with which we greeted your arrival, you’re also our sweetheart.”
“Let’s move away from songs now. Let’s see — had you not been a songwriter songstress — though that would have been a tragedy for the world — what do you think you’d have been?”
“I’m not sure exactly. Maybe a fashion designer? Or I’d run a boutique somewhere. I never thought much about it because back then, before all of this,” she made a sweeping gesture with her hands, “all I wanted to be and knew I’d be was a singer, on a record label. But I love dresses.”
She pauses for a while. I don’t speak because she seems deep in thought or remembering. Turns out she was recalling an early event in her life.
She says, “One time I had this magazine with a picture in it, of Gwyneth Paltrow’s pink Lauren Oscar gown and went to shops at a local mall and asked them if they something — anything — like it. But they all said no. I was fifteen, then, and I was going to prom for the first time. When I saw Gwyneth Paltrow’s photo I went all over the mall and showed it to every store, but no one had anything like it. So that happened. Now that’s a sad story.”
“So you love dresses? How about what you’re wearing now?”
“Dresses are special. I feel something special about them. I think it’s that feminine quality of a dress. Summertime dresses make me feel carefree, cocktail dresses make me feel fancy, and vintage dresses makes me feel like a housewife from the 1950's. The last one, I enjoy. For some weird reason. But overall I’d say I just really — really — love dresses.”
“You know, Taylor, I wish I could talk about relationships with you, but sadly, I’m a boy and we’d end up turning this into a five-hour debate.”
“That would be lovely,” she laughs.
“But you’d win anyway.”
“You bet I will.”
I snort, teasingly. “Girls will be girls.”
The woman in the business attire taps me on the shoulder.
“But it looks like I’ll have to go now. But a last word, if that’s okay?”
“Okay,” she says. And I look at Ms. Business Attire woman, now in defeat.
“Back to your music. How would you describe your music? Each song?”
“That’s tricky,” she considers. “But I’ll say they’re just mini-chronicles of my life with a hook, a chorus, instrumentals, and mystery so people will keep guessing. Inspired mostly by my tricky relationships, but that’s probably obvious.”
“Not very,” I laugh. “But don’t you get tired of tricky relationships?”
“Anyone would,” she says. “But you can’t always get what you want. It’s like Chemistry. Some combinations of people end up being toxic, some end up being explosive. It’s like a lottery game to find the right combination that all the numbers line up exactly, and at least things don’t get very tricky or confusing, without exploding into fire, ash, and destruction. But the toxics and the explosives are okay because they give me the drive, the inspiration, to keep making music.”
She continues, “Actually I can’t imagine now being in an okay relationship and my next album being me singing ‘I’m happy / I’m happy / he’s a nice guy who doesn’t hurt me /’ over and over again until my record label withdraws contract.
“Despite of how bad or how I’d rather not have them anymore, as a writer I end up getting a lot from them. It’s crazy. And in a weird and crazy way — kind of like my trademark now — it’s all justified. So I focus on writing. The funny part is sometimes I wonder, like, how do I get over this guy? And then I remember, on my album that’s track eight, nine, and eleven.”
“Well, it’s been a lovely time talking with you.”
“It’s been great,” she says.
“But I do hope you get into a good relationship before you turn sixty.”
We both laugh. And after that it’s time to say goodbye.
Going out of the backstage area, I notice an eerie quiet now having replaced the crowd’s noise. I am back in the concert area, where I notice staff cleaning up the floors and the seats, the last traces of Taylor Swift’s night in the Philippines for her RED tour, history told by discarded soda cups and other scraps. The night is over. And all of this will become a memory.
Except the best memory will be mine.
Note: the interview never really happened. This is a mock-interview. A sort of imagining of what would have happened had I interviewed America’s sweetheart. I did not go to the concert, and had only past concerts and interviews to base this entry on. Some sources:
This article is not, in any way, meant to libel Ms. Taylor Swift. For any offensive comment made, please send me a message directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I promise to look into it immediately.