Taylor Swift broke down the process of writing and recording the uplifting “Only the Young” for her 2020 Miss Americana documentary in a new interview with Vanity Fair.
The singer talked to the magazine about the origin of the track and what urgent message she was trying to send with it.
“This particular song, and the process of creating it, was a perfect example of how visceral writing a song can be,” the singer said. She added about the songwriting process, “You try to transport yourself back to a time you felt intense emotion and write from that place. … Every once in a blue moon, you end up in the studio at the exact moment you’re feeling that raw emotion.”
“Young” was written in 2018, not long after Swift endorsed democratic candidate Phil Bredesen in the Tennessee Senate race. He lost to Republican congresswoman Marsha Blackburn despite the artist getting credit for inspiring a upswell in young voter registration in the hotly contested race.
“Almost the entire process of creating that song, I was fighting back tears because I was so sad about the results of the midterm elections in my state and the losses faced by superb Democratic candidates in states like Georgia and Texas,” Swift said, seemingly referring to democrat Stacey Abrams’ narrow defeat in the Georgia gubernatorial race that year and democrat Beto O’Rourke’s loss of a Texas Senate race.
“I didn’t want the defeat and hopelessness I felt for our country’s future to get the best of me. I didn’t want to weep. I wanted to have hope,” she said. “Writing ‘Only the Young’ helped me push through that moment in my life and gave me the hope to keep fighting for what I believe is right.”
In the documentary, Swift openly discusses her political beliefs for the first time on film, but director Lana Wilson said that getting footage of Swift in the recording studio was actually the most difficult thing to capture on film. “It was the hardest thing to get access to — which is saying something, I think, because there’s obviously so many emotional and raw moments in the film,” Wilson said. “Filming her writing songs in the studio took the longest — to get the trust to film that — because the studio and writing songs is Taylor’s happy place.”
Wilson said that capturing a moment like Swift first conceiving of “Young” for the movie is the Holy Grail of filmmaking. “I remember leaving the room at the end of that night and feeling like, ‘This is why I do what I do,'” she said.
Nine months after releasing “Only the Young,” Swift granted a gratis license to use it in a voter-turnout video for California congressman Eric Swalwell, with the singer explaining why her transformation from teen country queen to 20-something pop icon presaged her boldest step into the political fray.
“As a country musician, I was always told it’s better to stay out of [politics],” Swift said. “The Trump presidency forced me to lean in and educate myself. I found myself talking about government and the presidency and policy with my boyfriend [actor Joe Alwyn], who supported me in speaking out. I started talking to my family and friends about politics and learning as much as I could about where I stand. I’m proud to have moved past fear and self-doubt, and to endorse and support leadership that moves us beyond this divisive, heartbreaking moment in time.”
Swift thrilled fans Feb. 12 with the release of the re-recoding of “Love Story (Taylor’s Version)” and while she was cautiously optimistic about her chances of landing a best original song Academy Award nomination, she was left off the Oscar shortlist when it was released earlier this month.
Listen to “Only the Young” below.