Taylor Swift: The Billboard Cover Story

Readers' Poll Results: Your Fave Album Of 2010

4. TAYLOR SWIFT "Speak Now" Taylor Swift Up Close


Still, "Mine" is off the pace of some other lead singles from major pop albums in the last year.

Swift has generally endeared herself to programmers at country radio, which remains the most important means of exposure for the genre. She's likely to receive a lot of latitude in her artistic expression, in great part because she's been a successful ambassador for country.

"I'm one of the believers that if a song crosses over from country into another format, it's a great way to turn attention to this format," country WGH Virginia Beach, Va., OM John Shomby says. "I don't think that can hurt."

"There's always going to be an element of push-back to anybody that becomes really famous, whether it's Kenny Chesney, George Strait, Reba McEntire or Rascal Flatts," Borchetta says. "Part of our culture is we build heroes and then tear them down. Well, you're going to have to have a little bit more in your gun belt to tear down Taylor Swift."

For all of her pop success, Swift has continued to show commitment to the country genre. When she bought her first condominium in 2009, she not only chose to stay in Nashville, she picked a home that's less than one mile from Music Row. She invariably recognizes her country roots in awards acceptance speeches and participates routinely in the CMA Music Festival in meaningful ways. In 2009, she signed autographs for 13 hours.

"The music may sound [pop], but she has not run away from [country]," Shomby says. "It just happens that she's crossed over and become an icon in that area, too."

Swift is in no hurry to redesign her career path in other ways, either. She made her first forays into acting during the last two years, appearing on an episode of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," earning positive reviews for her monologue and skits as a guest host on "Saturday Night Live" and making her movie debut in "Valentine's Day." Those experiences were appealing, but not enough to knock her off her current course.

"At the moment, I've just made space for putting out an album and then touring the world," she says. "Maybe in a couple years acting would be a great thing to do, but there aren't going to be any concert dates moved around for acting in the [near] future."

What that tour looks like is yet unknown, though Swift has mapped out many of the production elements for her 2011 schedule.

"I already have drawings in my journal of what the stage should look like." she says. "I know a few of the set list orders, [and] I want there to be an entire wedding scene on the stage."

Taylor Swift Grows Up in 'Mine' Video

That fits nicely with the matrimonial setting of the album's title track and the video for "Mine," which includes a wedding scene. Her 2008 "Love Story" video also had a fairy-tale wedding setting.

"It's very weird," she says of the nuptial undercurrent in her work. "I'm not really that girl who dreams about her wedding day. It just seems like the idealistic, happy-ever-after [moment]. It's funny that my wedding references have all been like 'Marry me, Juliet,' and on my 'Speak Now' album I'm ripping one to shreds."

Where Swift's onstage weddings will take place is still to be decided. After headlining a pair of stadium dates in Boston and Baton Rouge, La., in 2010, she intends to do more venues of that magnitude this time around. Kenny Chesney booked as many as 13 stadiums in 2009, though she dodges specific numbers. "We're still hammering out the final details," she says. "Any comparison to Kenny is good, though."

Ultimately, "Speak Now" could prove to be a pivotal album in Swift's creative progress. Music history is littered with teen stars who were unable to maintain their commercial pace once they hit their 20s. But in most instances, those acts didn't write their own material. Swift penned every song on "Speak Now" -- often at odd hours on the road. In the end, that led her to write the entire project without enlisting any co-writers. Reflecting her growth thus became an essential component of the album experience.

"At one point, the record was not called 'Speak Now.' It was called 'Enchanted,' " Borchetta says. "We were at lunch, and she had played me a bunch of the new songs. I looked at her and I'm like, 'Taylor, this record isn't about fairy tales and high school anymore. That's not where you're at. I don't think the record should be called "Enchanted." ' "

Swift excused herself from the table at that point. By the time she came back, she had the "Speak Now" title, which comes closer to representing the evolution that the album represents in her career and in her still-young understanding of the world.

"I'm just fascinated by people -- how they live their lives, what they live their lives for," she says. "It's just a never-ending thought process for me about how we end up where we are -- and where we're going."