What It’s Like Hugging Taylor Swift – And Other Magical Moments From Her VH1 Storytellers Performance

by (@katespencer)

Taylor Swift hugged me, and somehow I have lived to tell about it. And yes, being embraced by the woman with the most digital record sales of all-time IS like driving a new Maserati down a dead end street: exhilarating and emotional, a split second of life on the edge. The most magical moment of my life went down Monday afternoon, right before the singer took the stage in front of a room full of college students for her VH1 Storytellers performance. That too was awe-inspiring and uplifting, complete with lots of “I love yous!” from Taylor to the crowd as she strummed a sparkly guitar.

If it sounds like I’m gushing, I am. The woman completely won me over.

[Photo: Kate Spencer/VH1]
It’s not that I wasn’t a Taylor Swift fan before I rolled onto the Harvey Mudd campus Monday morning. I’ve been singing/crying/fist-pumping along to her music ever since a friend dumped her first two albums onto a memory stick for me. This was in 2009, back when she was famous but not MEGA-FAMOUS-OMG, and I discovered “The Best Day” video and cried at at my desk watching it over and over again. My mom had died a year or so before and I was still deeply depressed, and it snapped the emotional rubber band that had been tightening in my chest since she passed. When I was able to have clear thoughts and blow my nose, I was was left feeling impressed that some teenager with a guitar had nailed down how simple it is to love one’s family, how it’s all rooted in those small moments that pass so quickly as a kid.

But as much as I’ve enjoyed Taylor’s music and message over the years, I’ve also given her my fair share of eye rolls, what with the endless love songs and the silly heart hands. The repeat appearance of Taylor’s surprised face at awards shows began to grate on me after a while. I’ve liked every song I’ve heard so far from Red but I’ve also been like, “Really TayTay? I can only take so many songs about breaking up, falling in love, and loving to break up. You need to leave the dudes behind and go on a spiritual quest in the desert or something.”

But this is not about all that.

[Photo: Kate Spencer/VH1]
Fast forward to Monday afternoon. I’m standing on a stage covered in antique phones and bird cages. Crystal chandeliers hang overheard and cast soft shadows on the stage, mercifully shining no light on my pit stains. We are waiting for Taylor to arrive for interviews. During her sound check a couple hours earlier she sounded fresh and angelic, a far cry from the girl who warbled nervously onstage with Stevie Nicks at the Grammys a couple of years ago. Suddenly, in she walks with her publicist, makeup artist, and A Lady Who Tugs On Her Dress Hem in tow. She’s on time, she greets everyone, she’s patient, friendly and wonderfully low maintenance. (Trust me when I say this is not always this case with mega-famous celebrities.) She never once whips out an iPhone to check her email — in fact, there’s no phone in sight. Her dress is a shimmery ivory and her silver t-strap shoes look like they were borrowed from Sybill on Downton Abbey. There is not a hair out of place on her head, and her lips are — of course — bright red (just dropped a song lyric there). Because I know you want to ask: Yes, she is as skinny as you think she is. She perches on a stool, a bottle of water at her feet, and she begins her interview with the executive producer of Storytellers.

As she talks, it quickly hits me: This woman is SMART. She is THOUGHTFUL. Gah, she is super GENUINE, and LIKABLE, and SELF-DEPRECATING, but also CONFIDENT and SELF-ASSURED and even…FUNNY. And wow, she is incredibly DEDICATED to her craft and PASSIONATE about music and HARD-WORKING. Oh god, she’s fiercely LOYAL to her fans too, and so APPRECIATIVE! And she has WISE, INTELLIGENT and INSIGHTFUL things to say about family and life and love and relationships!


(Answer: YES.)

[Photo: Frank Micelotta for VH1 Storytellers]
Look, I know celebs are well-rehearsed and know how to turn it on in interviews. She’s clearly done a million of them and was a total professional. But there was something so innately and immediately likable about Taylor, something I had caught glimpses of before in her music and interviews but never totally appreciated, that it was like being smacked in the face. In fact, it was so strong and overpowering that I knew then that it would be ‘write a bunch of adjectives in CAPS in a blog post’-worthy.

Her Storytellers interview ends with Taylor thanking the EP for a great chat and suddenly, it’s my turn:

“Hi Taylor, I’m Kate from VH1 News.” I wipe my sweaty palms on my Gap corduroys, a stupid thing to wear in 90 degree desert heat.

“Hi!” says Taylor with a wide smile, making eye contact because she is a person with impeccable social skills.

“This is going to sound weird,” I say [um, BECAUSE IT IS]. “But I got choked up listening to you talk about your family just now in that interview.”

“Oh, that’s so sweet!” She replies, and I think she actually means it. “I don’t think that’s weird. I love emotional people. Better to be emotional then like, a robot.”

[I want to tell her how much “The Best Day” video meant to me when processing my complicated and raw feelings about my mom’s death but I don’t want to sound like a total freak so I just make some weird comment about robots as the camera guys change their settings.]

“So…” I mumble. “Off the record: How many James Taylor records do you actually have?”

Wow, what a stupid question to ask “off the record.” I was clearly just trying to be journalist-cool here, and I sound like a dum-dum. But since I first heard her mention her James Taylor album collection in the song “Begin Again, ” I’ve been dying to know the answer (I’m a big fan of his too). I think I can tell you – on the record – that Taylor says she has around fifteen JT albums, and her favorite song is “Fire and Rain.” We talk about the actual story behind it (it’s about a dead lady) and she comments about the wonderful job (James) Taylor does weaving the story of his loss through out the song. I tell her I sing it to my daughter as a lullaby and feel like a morbid person. And then the interview starts.

And once again, she’s thoughtful and genuine. She doesn’t give a crap about what people think of her dating life, but she admits to being insecure and owns up to having a ton of fears. She sounds like so many other women I know – fiery and strong but with normal, human flaws that make each one of us completely awesome. She goofs on herself a lot, but she clearly knows who she is and is not apologetic for it. She says we think we know the guys who her songs are about, but we are also way off a lot of the time. Sorry John Mayer, it’s not all about you.

At the end of our interview, I thank her for her time and go in for a hand shake, but she extends a reed-like arm toward me for a hug. “That was a really great interview,” she says after we embrace. “You asked such thoughtful questions! Trust me, I know. I do this all the time.” I immediately begin to hyperventilate inside while crafting the world’s braggiest tweet about how Taylor Swift called me “thoughtful” and hugged me. “One Shining Moment” begins playing on a loop in my head.

Her hug was nice, in case you were wondering.

[Photo: Frank Micelotta for VH1 Storytellers]
Two hours later I am standing in the aisle of the auditorium surrounded by screaming college students. Taylor was performing at Harvey Mudd, part of the Claremont Colleges, after students won a contest to bring her there based solely on online votes. Earlier in the day, I met up with the two awesome students who orchestrated the Facebook group that helped pull off the win. They are huge fans who speak passionately about the connection they feel to the emotional power of her songs. They are also guys. The concert is also packed with college-aged men who seem to genuinely be getting down to her tunes. Who knew?

[Photo: Frank Micelotta for VH1 Storytellers]
She’s comfortable and confident on stage, switching out guitars with almost every song. “Red” warrants —you guessed it— a red guitar. She plays banjo on “Mean” and the crowd goes nuts dancing and singing along, all anthem-like. For just about every tune, Taylor thanks the students for making it popular, helping it to climb the charts or win awards. Were it anyone else I’d find the effusive gratitude excessive, but I’m so sold on her genuine appreciation for her fans that I’m charmed, yet again.

Also genuine: her answers to student questions and her easy, silly banter between songs. When a kid asks if she doubts herself, Taylor responds “Only about 400,000 times every 10-minute interval,” and you get the feeling it’s true. A group of guys dance shirtless to one of her songs (argh, I’m blanking on which one) and she responds by shouting them out flirtatiously. She dances confidently while singing “Love Story,” posing for the crowd in the front row. Taylor.Is.On.

[Photo: Frank Micelotta for VH1 Storytellers]
The crowd goes craziest for “Our Song,” but the night belongs to the final song, “Never Ever,” after Taylor tells us all it’s her “daydream” that the audience sings the “Wheee-EEEEEEE!” part of the chorus and asks us to make it a reality. And we do, loudly.

[Photo: Frank Micelotta for VH1 Storytellers]
After the show I stand on the steps of the auditorium as the Storytellers team interviews students on their way out of the show. A girl stands in a circle with her friends, her hand shaking in front of her face. She says, “I don’t think you guys understand how much tonight means to me.”

Her friends may not, but I suspect Taylor Swift does.

[via Everything Taylor Swift]

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