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Byline: Daphne Merkin PHOTOGRAPHED BY MICHAEL THOMPSON
Taylor Swift has conquered Nashville, high school, a public breakup, and her hair. And she'll probably write songs about it all.
For all of her invoking of the princess myth in her songs and her own princess-y lookscascades of curly blonde hair, slanty cerulean blue eyes, pert nose, and rosebud lipsTaylor Swift is anything but a diva. You can almost sense it from her lyrics, in which she is more rueful than expectant, unsure of her own desirability, but it becomes crystal clear the moment you meet her. I arrive at Philippe, the Chinese restaurant on Manhattan's Upper East Side that Swift requested for our dinner meeting, and within minutes we hug and are deep in conversation, as though we've known each other for years.
There are subtle reminders that this tall (just under six feet), slightly built 19-year-old is a fully formed celebrity, with a number one album, Fearless. For one thing, she is at ease during our interview, acting as if it were just another means of chatting, no matter that the questions are all directed at her. For another, there is her ability to separate herself from her public persona. When I mention the idea of her as an "anti-Britney," Swift quickly dismisses it: "That's just people analyzing," she says, sounding accustomed to having her every move interpreted. But Swift's behavior is so unpretentiouspicking up a dropped napkin before an attentive waiter can get it; requesting a doggie bag for her orange beefthat it's easy to forget that she's famous enough to have her reservation made under another name and to have a retinue of three (her mother, her publicist, and a security guard) at a nearby table.
"The only place where it's cool to be the same as everyone else is junior high."
But the truth is that two hours into the meal, no one in the restaurant seems to have recognized Swift, even after she has taken off the little wire glasses that give her the air of a diligent college student. I decide this must be either because she is far from her adoptive roots in Nashvilleor because she doesn't behave like someone people are supposed to recognize. She seems like a mother's dream of a well-brought-up daughter, wearing big hoop earrings and a girlie black dress that shows off her body while leaving something to the imagination: a preternaturally poised, curious, and likable teenager, one without gobs of in-your-face attitude even when she is singing some of her more defiant kiss-off numbers, like "Picture to Burn" or "Should've Said No." (In fact, Swift is so polite that she says "thank you" more than 25 times during our interview.)
Swift's professional ascension is fascinating to contemplate, especially in what it suggests about her will to succeed and the singular focus it requires. Despite the grit that seems to inform her character and the calculation that must have gone into the shrewd packaging of her clean-cut image, Swift has a genuine softness in person, along with a seemingly uncontrived air of innocence. …