You hear music as you enter the Sunset Marquis hotel on a chilly December afternoon.
You briefly think it’s a recording, but quickly realize that isn’t right. The music is too present and singular. You round the corner into an expansive suite and see Taylor Swift, playing a piano, with a roaring fire in the background. It’s like a scene from a holiday card sent by the seven-time Grammy winner rather than an actual room you can enter. You want this moment to go longer — a private show! — but she immediately bounds to her feet, full of bright energy, and says a warm hello.
Some celebrities in person look like what you expect and others appear quite different; Swift looks like herself. Her outfit is purple-ish, with a long modest skirt. She glances around for a place to sit and this is a brief dilemma. She decides to ignore all the furniture and instead sits on the floor by the fireplace, asking you: Is that okay? So you both sit cross-legged by the fire. It’s all very congenial and Christmas-y, which is appropriate since you have some holiday music questions on your list. There is just one awkward moment that cracks the mood — you forwardly ask a Miley Cyrus question (can’t blame a reporter for trying, right?). Swift scrunches her nose, like she just caught a whiff of a unsavory question, and politely asks to skip that one (“we have so little time,” she says).
We’re here to talk about Swift’s new song “Sweeter Than Fiction,” which is accompanying the release of the heartwarming British comedy One Chance (trailer here). The film is based on the true story of an amateur opera singer who won Britain’s Got Talent. She also just received a Golden Globe nomination for the track. But we manage to get in some other questions too.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So you wouldn’t really expect an original song of yours on a modest British indie comedy, how did this come about?
Taylor Swift: I fell in love with the film after I got to see it. I was lucky to be one of the first people to see it. I think [producer Harvey Weinstein] knew what he was doing. He contacted us and said, “I think I have a film Taylor should see.” I don’t think he needed to say a word; he knew I’d go and write an end-credits song. So for me there were so many different amazing themes about the movie to draw from. My experience with songwriting is usually so confessional, it’s so drawn from my own life and my own stories. There’s something so unique about that and I get a special buzz from that. But it’s also kind of cool to focus on somebody else’s storylines.
You get to step outside yourself for the song.
Give yourself a little bit of a break from the introspection.
How was it collaborating with Jack Antonoff? Any chance of that happening again?
There’s a huge chance of that happening again. This is the first time that Jack Antonoff and I had collaborated. We had been friends for awhile, because I’m really good friends with [Antonoff's girlfriend Lena Dunham] and the three of us are always hanging out. And one time we were together, we were going over tracks and stuff, and there was a lightning bolt that went off between both of us that we should work together. So he was the first person I contacted. Jack is so good at mixing ’80s nostalgia into his music and I wanted that to be reflected in this song because I wanted something so different from the opera that is at the forefront of the movie. And also a great deal of the plot line of the movie takes place in the ’80s and ’90s.
And there was the Golden Globe nomination. Do you still get a surge of emotion when nominations happen?
I got a text from Lena as soon as it happened and she’s like, “Holy Golden Globe nomination!” And I texted back: “Don’t lie, that’s not funny.” And I called her up and I was screaming. And she was screaming. And then Jack woke up and he was screaming. It happened on my birthday so it was the most unbelievable occurrence.
Is there another artist that you’ve always wanted to work with?
I’m kinda obsessed with Sia. Always have been.
What have you not accomplished career-wise that you really want to do?
Oh so much! How much time do you have?
Well, what’s a couple of the biggest things you want to accomplish?
One thing I’ve tried to never do is make wish lists. I try to have a very steppingstone mentality about this whole thing, where as soon as you make one step you visualize the next step, not five steps ahead. There’s a line in the movie that’s almost word-for-word that metaphor. That’s the way I’ve always looked at my career. I would love to win another Grammy. I would love to get to go the Oscars someday. That’s why I’m so happy to get to be a part of movies.
Speaking of next steps, you recently said your next album is ahead of schedule. Roughly when should that be expected?
They would be so mad at me if I told you what I have in my head as far as the plan goes, and I hate to say a plan and then change it. A great deal of what will happen this year has to do with what will happen this next month. But for me writing the next record, it usually takes me awhile to find the new sound. It usually takes me a year to shed the last album’s sound and start anew. And this one just started on new territory.
You keep segueing perfectly to the next question on my list–
Which is: You’ve said you have a new sound for this album. How would you describe that?
Hmm. Describing it is difficult. At the core of what I do, it’s always going to revolve around a confessional storyline and filling my fans in on what my life has actually been. It’s become this lifeline between me and my friends and they know that no matter what they read in some magazine, they’re going to hear the actual accounting of it when the album comes out. I’ve always written songs for the same reason — to sort through my emotions. As I grow up, the lessons I learn in love and relationships and how we treat each other are hopefully maturing — hopefully.
We also have some questions for our Christmas survey. The first song you want to listen to when you start playing Christmas music each year?
So many! Colbie Caillat has a great Christmas album I’m obsessed with. I love the She & Him Christmas stuff. Bing Crosby, of course. “All I Want for Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey. Beach Boys have great Christmas music. Train has this song called “Shake Up Christmas.” I have so many favorite Christmas songs right now.
What’s the hidden-gem Christmas song you wish more people knew about?
Huh … Can I get out my phone?
Absolutely. That’s not cheating.
Okay. I’m on it! … There’s one called “It’s Christmas Time” by Jules Larson, that I find to be just delightful. Oh, and Fountains of Wayne has a song called “Valley Winter Song.” I’m obsessed with it and I’ve turned it in my mind into a Christmas song.
And what is the one Christmas song that you cannot stand?
I don’t have one really. I only download the ones I like.