Taylor Swift's Road to Fame

Nashville acceptance, hometown alienation. Swift started to feel cut off from some of her friends, since she was writing songs while they were either playing soccer or partying. ''A lot of people ask me, how did you have the courage to walk up to record labels when you were 12 or 13 and jump right into the music industry? It's because I knew I could never feel the kind of rejection that I felt in middle school. Because in the music industry, if they're gonna say no to you, at least they're gonna be polite about it.'' (Being unusually tall for her age, or any age — she's now 5'11'', without her cowboy boot heels — may have made her more of a junior high outcast.)

Now that she had publishing and recording deals in hand, she convinced her parents, when she was in the eighth grade, that it was time to move where the action is. ''I was from a small town, and nobody really expects you to leave, especially before you graduate. That doesn't happen. I actually went back a couple months ago and played a sold-out show in my hometown, and it was amazing; ever since all this stuff started happening, the people in Pennsylvania have been the most supportive people I've ever known. But I wouldn't change a thing about growing up and not exactly fitting in. If I had been popular, I probably wouldn't have wanted to leave.''

The Swifts never pushed their daughter toward a music career, and the family uprooted itself from the Christmas-tree farm where they lived only after it was clear that her stockbroker dad could do his job just as effectively down South. ''I never wanted to make that move about her 'making it,''' says her mom, Andrea. ''Because what a horrible thing if it hadn't happened, for her to carry that kind of guilt or pressure around. And we moved far enough outside Nashville [to nearby Hendersonville] to where she didn't have to be going to school with producers' kids and label presidents' kids and be reminded constantly that she was struggling to make it. We've always told her that this is not about putting food on our table or making our dreams come true. There would always be an escape hatch into normal life if she decided this wasn't something she had to pursue. And of course that's like saying to her, 'If you want to stop breathing, that's cool.'''

After getting out of her RCA deal, Swift found a believer in Scott Borchetta, who was then a big cheese at the Universal label group. ''I thought, 'Oh, awesome, I'm gonna get to deal with Universal!' I get this call a couple of weeks later, after I do this showcase and Scott's on board and everything's rocking. He goes, 'I have good news and bad news. The good news is I want to sign you, and the bad news is I'm not gonna be with Universal Records anymore.' Because he was leaving to start up this whole new record label.'' She took a chance and went with what would become a new powerhouse indie label, Big Machine, figuring that at least she'd get more individual attention there. ''They only had 10 employees at the record label to start out with, so when they were releasing my first single, my mom and I came in to help stuff the CD singles into envelopes to send to radio. We sat out on the floor and did it because there wasn't furniture at the label yet.''

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