Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Sweet on Swift

Country-pop singer's myriad fans are hopelessly devoted to her

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She writes and sings her own songs, sells millions of albums -- which have earned seven Grammys -- and is rumoured to be the top choice to star in an upcoming Joni Mitchell biopic.

Rolling Stone magazine called her "a songwriting savant."

She has also guest-starred on a TV sitcom, had minor roles in two movies, is a pitchwoman for Keds and Diet Coke, and was recently named Fragrance Celebrity of the Year, after launching her third perfume.

At 23, Taylor Swift has the kind of career that most artists build over decades. Far from an overnight success, though, she got her first songwriting gig at 14 and was barely 17 when she released her first album.

And now that she's conquered the popular music landscape, the crossover megastar -- the first major artist to fuse country and dubstep (on the hit I Knew You Were Trouble) -- is even harder to pigeonhole.

As Swift told Time magazine during a 2012 interview, every time she puts out something new, "there's the word 'too' put in front of it." She's been accused of being too country, too pop, too rock and even too bluegrass.

Most recently, "America's Sweetheart," so dubbed for her wholesome -- she doesn't drink, do drugs or have public meltdowns -- Southern-belle vibe, has been told she needs to be more of a feminist.

Earlier this week, a female student at Brown University set up a Twitter account (@FeministTSwift) that tweaks the singer's lyrics to give them a more feminist slant, addressing such issues as sexism and female empowerment.

"Swifty" or "T-Swizzle," as she's known to her legions of followers, sings a lot about boys (she's been linked to John Mayer, Jake Gyllenhaal, Harry Styles and Conor Kennedy, among others), and breaking up, which might explain her predominantly young and female fan base.

A Toronto Star reviewer described how a "chorus of soprano voices suddenly rose to accompany Swift" for one of her familiar hits, You Belong With Me, during the singer's recent Red tour stop in that city. Attendance at the concert was estimated at 45,000 people, while the "audience percentage ratio of women-to-men was probably 90 to 10," he wrote.

Will there be a similar scene in Winnipeg tonight when Swift performs for an estimated 31,000-plus fans at the spanking-new Investors Group Field?

Might be. "Every time I think about going to the concert, I literally cry," says Haley Kamp, 12, who admits to also shedding tears of joy every time the Nashville powerhouse wins yet another award.

"Taylor is such an amazing, beautiful person who loves her fans and appreciates everything she gets. She is such an inspiration and she means the world to me," says the Grade 6 student at George Waters Middle School, who also saw Swift perform here in 2009.

Kamp credits her grandmother, who is also her date for the concert, for turning her on to her idol.

You see, just as Swift herself refuses to be pigeonholed, so do Swifties (devoted members of the Taylor Nation) eschew stereotyping.

Take it from the 28-year-old University of Manitoba student who calls himself "the future Mr. Taylor Swift."

"I've been accused multiple times of being a closeted Taylor Swift fan and I say, 'No, I'm very much out of the closet,'" says Phil Cook. "I am out and about and proud, and if we could have a Taylor Swift parade, I'd be there."

While Cook, who was introduced to Swift's music by his "younger and hipper" sister about six years ago, is decidedly smitten with the singer -- he only half-jokingly refers to tonight's concert as their first date -- he insists it's not a superficial flirtation.

"I'm a fan of her music, but I'm also a fan of her as a person. She sings about nice wholesome things, she seems to have good morals. 'Lovely' is how I would describe her in general," says the education major, who's attending the concert with a pack of female pals.

No, he hasn't met any fans of his ilk. Yes, he's serious about Swift being The One. (His seats for tonight's show are "40 or 50 rows back," but he's confident his six-foot-four stature will help him "stand out above all the 12-year-old girls.") No, there's no shrine in his bedroom or anything like that.

"No, no!" Cook reassures, "I don't want to paint the wrong picture here. I'm not like a massive creep or a stalker."

Also, check the jazz fan's iPod and you'll see that Swift is "definitely an outlier" when it comes to his musical tastes, he says.

Alexa Dettman can relate. The 27-year-old Winnipeg geologist was more into Indian folk music before a girlfriend played her some Swift tunes on her car stereo about seven years ago.

"I'm a big folk fester, so this genre of music is very out of the norm for me. But I honestly felt like I could identify with a lot of the songs," says Dettman, a Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan fan whose vinyl collection now includes a couple of Swift albums. Her friend and fellow fan is cutting a trip to the Galapagos Islands short to make it home in time for tonight's concert.

Danielle Mymko, meanwhile, could probably be the Taylor Nation poster girl.

"I'm 21 and I have a wall of Taylor Swift in my room," says the life insurance agent, whose iPhone case is also emblazoned with the singer's face. Her friends got her a cake with an edible framed photo of the same for her 21st birthday.

Mymko, who retweets Swift's Twitter posts on a daily basis, also made the IT department at her office rip the new Red album onto her computer so she can listen to her idol "all day" at work.

"Every CD is so great and they keep getting better and better," says Mymko, who first saw Swift here when she opened for Brad Paisley in 2007. "Any mood you're in, you can relate to the songs."

She wasn't able to get tickets for tonight's show, but Andrea Murdock says she's still grateful for the lasting, positive impression that Swift's 2007 Winnipeg appearance made on her daughter, Hallie.

"She had a connection to her music and it brought her out of her depression and some of her anxieties," Murdock recalls. "She was a very timid, shy girl, but after that concert, she really started to open up. And she turned into this major, major fan.

"As a mother, I love what Taylor Swift has done for my daughter. In my eyes, she's a good role model."

Hallie, now 17, can still recall the moment at that concert that moved her to tears.

"I remember we were all just screaming for a long time and she was looking out into the crowd and it was just the look she gave me," Hallie says. "And then she said how thankful she was for all her fans and I started crying because it felt so special."

carolin.vesely@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 22, 2013 G1

History

Updated on Saturday, June 22, 2013 at 12:20 PM CDT: fixed cutline

2:36 PM: Adjusted cutline

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