Swift approaches her career with the seriousness of a C.E.O. Every two years, she puts out an album, for which she writes about forty songs. She composes by singing melodies onto her iPhone as voice memos, and writing down lyrics in the Notes section. “When I’m eighty,” she told me, “I imagine that I’ll wish that when I was twenty-one I’d gotten up early and gone out and walked to Hillsboro Village”—a shopping area near her condo—“and gone out and hiked and taken pictures of everything. And written in my diary more.”
Swift clacked around the arena’s empty concrete halls in gladiator sandals, a flowered skirt, a tank top, and a long, droopy orange sweater. (She gets cold easily.) Her hair was in a loose ponytail, with curly tendrils falling down around her face, and she had on her bright-red lipstick.
“Hey, check, one, two. Hello? Hello, hey. Stadium. Hello?” Swift’s phone was not getting a signal. It was late afternoon, and she was now in Detroit, preparing to play the first stadium of her tour: Ford Field, which seats fifty thousand people, and, five years ago, hosted the Superbowl. Like all her tour dates, it had sold out in less than five minutes. “The only time when I’m alone is when I come into the venue earlier than everybody else,” she said. She sat on the floor of her dressing room, a bare stadium space accessorized with scented candles, puffy purple couches, and lamps with the tags still on them. She was barefoot, wearing jeans and a red plaid shirt, with her hair in a ponytail. Except for a certain high-sheen exquisiteness—thinness, the lipstick—she looked like a regular college student.
“Yeah, check, one, two,” Swift said. She was talking to her management office about an album of pictures from the tour, which would be sold at merchandise stands. Beside her on the floor was a stack of dummy pages, which she’d covered with Post-it notes. She flipped through the pages and read off critiques: “I’d really like to take out the 3-D element”; “Does it bother you that I have a hair scrunchy on my wrist for some of the pictures?”; “O.K. ‘Love Story’? The one where I’m coming down the stairs? I look like a big, giant cat.”
When I arrived, she had been bent over a glass coffee table, writing thank-you notes to local radio-station managers. The cards, which she had helped write and design, were from the American Greetings line. Some of the styles are glitter-encrusted, with Swift’s handwriting on them, and messages that echo her song lyrics: “You know how sometimes—right in the middle of a moment—you already know it’s one you won’t ever forget?” Swift had contacted American Greetings with the idea for the cards. “Part of the reason I wanted to do it was because I go through so many cards on a weekly basis,” she said. “I like writing ’em. And I like stamps.” As she wrote her thank-yous, Swift referred to notes about each radio-station worker that she had made on her iPhone. She signed a card:
Thank you so much for coming to my show the other night, it meant a lot to see so many of my friends from the station. And thanks for coming to say hi to me backstage!
Swift’s penchant for thank-you notes and thoughtful gestures may be a talisman against the fickleness of public opinion—or fate. She is an incessant worrier. “I’ve been watching ‘Behind the Music’ since I was five, and I became fascinated by career trajectories,” she told me. “Like”—she adopted a TV-announcer voice—“ ‘This artist peaked on their second album. This artist peaked on their third album. This artist peaked with every album. These are singles artists. These are album artists.’ ” She went on, “And I sometimes stress myself out wondering what my trajectory is—like, if I sleep in and wake up at 2 p.m., because I’m so tired from the night before, sometimes I’ll beat myself up, because what if I was supposed to wake up earlier that day and write a song?”