• Image about Taylor Swift

It’s been a busy — and, at times, trying — two years for Taylor Swift, and the country superstar has remained mum. On her new album, Speak Now, she shares what’s been on her mind.

Last spring, Taylor Swift had lunch with her label president, Big Machine Records’ Scott Borchetta, to discuss her new album. Her previous effort, Fearless, yielded hits such as “Love Story,” “Fifteen” and “You Belong with Me,” and had transformed the blonde, blue-eyed teen into a pop-culture mainstay. It became the most awarded album in the history of country music, garnering the Grammy for Album of the Year (along with three others), as well as best-album prizes from both major country-music organizations.

All of which is to say that her next record was — to put it mildly — pretty important. Not only would her efforts be compared with the impressive sales and critical reviews of her previous project, but she would also be judged on whether she had successfully transitioned to a new phase of musical maturity. A teenager when she had recorded Fearless, Swift, who turns 21 this month, knew it was time to leave high school behind—but without alienating her younger fans. And if she didn’t understand that already, Borchetta was all too happy to remind her.

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Swift’s newest release.
“I was like, ‘Taylor, your songs are past that moment. This isn’t fairy tales and teenagers anymore,’ ” he recalls of their lunch. It was at that meeting that she settled on the title for her new, more grown-up record: Speak Now. “I said, ‘Oh, my God, that’s it!’ ” Borchetta remembers. “That defines this record.”

A full season later, a ponytailed, casually dressed Swift sits in another Nashville restaurant, prepared to talk with American Way about Speak Now and the overwhelming success she has achieved over the past three years. For those needing a refresher course: Since the release of her self-titled debut in 2006, Swift has sold 14 million albums worldwide. She was the best-selling living artist of all genres in 2008 and remains the top-selling digital artist in history, with more than 28 million digital tracks downloaded. At 19, she became the youngest artist ever to win the prestigious Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year award, as well as the first country artist to win an MTV Video Music Award. Earlier this year, Forbes ranked her as 12th on their Celebrity 100 list of the most powerful celebrities, charting her annual earnings at $45 million. Not bad for a girl who’s just about to reach the legal drinking age.

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Time and again, the young star has shown
grace under the spotlight — onstage and off.
But now that she’s established herself as a superstar, the big question is: Can she maintain it? Swift is well aware of the mounting expectations for her third album, which dropped in October and was pegged months in advance by Rolling Stone to be one of the biggest releases of 2010. But Swift isn’t one to collapse under pressure. Instead, she says, it energizes her.

You need to be thinking about it constantly,” she says of her work. “You can’t turn your mind off, not for a minute. You’ve got to be scouring your mind for the best ideas and the best way to say what happened to you today, because it’s got to be important to you. You have to care. You have to be constantly trying to say things in a better way than you’ve ever said them before. That challenge really thrills me."

Swift’s philosophy for her new album was to stick with the formula that has worked flawlessly since her first: setting her real-life experiences to music. She’s been writing this way — channeling her innermost feelings and frustrations into the written word — ever since she was a kid growing up on a Christmas tree farm in Wyomissing, Pa. And, as evidenced by the album’s first single, “Mine,” Swift is also sticking to a topic she has frequently explored in the past: love. But she’s the first to admit that getting older hasn’t necessarily made her wiser when it comes to romantic trials and tribulations. “I’m kind of realizing that I know nothing when I talk about love,” she says. “All I know is that I am never going to figure it out, and that’s why I am so fascinated by it.

The meaning of the album’s title, Speak Now, depends on whom you ask. Swift says it was derived from the moment in a wedding when the preacher asks onlookers to “speak now or forever hold your peace.” Inspired by a friend whose ex-boyfriend married another girl, Swift penned a song that describes how she would interrupt her own ex’s nuptials.