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Fans come together for an enthusiastic welcome during the singer’s visit to New York in 2008.
But in Swift’s case, her bubbly, fan- and family-friendly image has almost as much to do with her success. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine someone achieving all that she has at such a young age, but it’s even harder to imagine someone doing it with more grace. Swift is acutely aware of her status as a role model for girls, and she takes great pains to keep her pristine image intact, knowing that her every move is documented by paparazzi and scrutinized on the Internet. At parties, she doesn’t drink anything out of a bottle if it could be misperceived as an alcoholic beverage. And when floods devastated Tennessee, her adopted home state, earlier this year, she gave $500,000 to relief efforts, and she celebrated her 20th birthday by donating $250,000 to schools with which she’s been involved.

It is wise-beyond-her-years behavior, to be sure. But despite the fact that she recently moved out of her parents’ home and into her own $1.9 million, 4,000-square-foot Nashville penthouse condo, complete with a goldfish-stocked pond in the living room, Swift has no desire to grow up too quickly.

“I still like to live in a whimsical world that seems more romantic and fantasy-related because real life seems hard,” Swift says. “I am not quite sure how I feel about growing up. I don’t feel like I need to wake up tomorrow and make some giant statement that I am an adult now and start changing the way that I act and think and talk and dress. Growing up is something that needs to be navigated casually in my case, because if I think about it too hard, it just confuses me.”

The same goes for her new record. Although, as Borchetta pointed out, Swift is past the age of “fairy tales and teenagers,” she’s not making any conscious decision to make her music more mature; she’s simply doing what she’s always done: writing what she knows at that moment in time.

“I feel like some people come out and try to make the grown-up record, the grown-up statement — it’s kind of transparent,” she says. “I’m just making a new record about the last two years of my life.”

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Keeping her composure during Kanye West’s interruption at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.
And those two years have given her more than enough material. Since the release of Fearless, she’s branched out professionally, broadening her career into television (she did a stint on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and had a hosting gig on Saturday Night Live) and movies (she was part of the ensemble cast of Valentine’s Day and had a brief role in Hannah Montana: The Movie). And, of course, there was the acceptance speech crash heard around the world — when Kanye West took the stage at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards to protest Swift’s win for best female video — and the media firestorm that followed. Though others rushed to her defense following the incident — dozens of celebrities including Pink, Kelly Clarkson and Katy Perry tweeted their support for Swift, and even President Obama voiced his displeasure in an offhand remark — Swift herself never complained or lashed out in anger. She refused to use the incident as an opportunity to promote her own career. “I just never really wanted to talk about it, because the media talked about it so much,” she says.

Instead, she took to the stage at this year’s VMAs and, once again, let her music speak for her. She delivered an emotional version of “Innocent,” a song off her new album that extends a hand of forgiveness to West. The lyrics include “Who you are is not what you did” and “Every one of us has messed up too.”

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Swift today, her sense of humor intact.
Swift’s approach has always been to think now and speak later. Now, as she rounds third base into adulthood, she knows the time has come for her to start speaking her mind — but finding her voice hasn’t been easy. Fortunately, she has learned that the process is a lifelong one that won’t stop once she reaches a certain age or salary or milestone. And that, she says, makes growing up a little easier to swallow.

“I realized that no person is just one thing, and no realization that you have in life is permanent — everything is always constantly changing,” she says. “You are always having to adjust to new changes in your life. Realizing that takes the pressure off of me. For some reason, knowing that life is scattered but has some strange intricate pattern is somehow comforting to me.”

Beverly Keel is a freelance journalist and a professor at Middle Tennessee State University. Her work has appeared in People, Rolling Stone and In Style, among other publications.