A Taylor-Made Star

December 19, 2014
Jack Dickey for TIME
MARTIN SCHOELLER FOR TIME

Taylor Swift is no stranger to success. But even by her standards, 2014 has been a great year. Her new album, 1989, sold almost 1.3 million copies the week it was released. It was music's biggest sales week of the year. Billboard named her its Woman of the Year for the second time in the award's eight-year history. Her last tour made $150 million—the most ever in country music. And she has 46 million followers on Twitter, among the most of anyone in the world. How does someone who just turned 25 handle all this success?

The Two Taylors

Swift likes to tell a story about how she came to be named Taylor. Well, she likes to tell two. The first is that she was named for the singer James Taylor, whom her parents adored. And the other: "My mom named me Taylor because she thought that I would probably end up in business—my parents are both finance people—and she didn't want any kind of executive, boss, or manager to see if I was a girl or a boy if they got my résumé."

Swift was born in Reading, Pennsylvania. As a child, she wrote and performed whenever she could. She won a nationwide poetry contest in fourth grade. But her true love was country songwriting, so she went to Nashville, Tennessee, at age 11 to get noticed. She struck out. But she met with more success when she tried again at 13.

In eighth grade, Swift persuaded her parents and her younger brother, Austin, to move near Nashville. She would write song lyrics for a few hours each week after school. While performing, she got noticed by a music executive. Her first album came out the next year and was an immediate hit.

A Little Help from Her Fans

LARRY BUSACCA—GETTY IMAGES

After years of fame, Swift has adjusted to life in the spotlight. But it can still be hard on the small-town girl. "If I'm not interested in [reading about] how I'm walking, whether I look tired, how my makeup is right, what's that mark on my knee, did I hurt myself?—I just don't go out," Swift says. But her fans make it all worthwhile. She says they give her "extreme, unconditional, wonderful loyalty that I never thought I'd receive in my life, not from a best friend, not from a boyfriend, not from a husband, not from a dog."

Swift recalls a rainy concert in 2011. "In the middle of the show, a torrential downpour starts. In my head, the first thing I'm thinking is, Everyone's going to leave.... It's going to look just like my nightmares look," she recalls. "But instead of leaving, they just danced."