Taylor Swift Breaks Down Her Three Writing Styles in Moving Award Speech – Rolling Stone

“This award celebrates my family and my co-writers and my team. My fiercest friends and fans and my toughest detractors and everyone who has come into or left my life.

Taylor Swift took the stage Tuesday night at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville to receive the Nashville Songwriters Association International’s Songwriter of the Decade award at the NSAI’s annual ceremony. In her enlightening speech, the superstar naturally focused on the songwriting part of her creative process, revealing the three imaginary genres she thinks of when writing lyrics: Quill Lyrics, Fountain Pen Lyrics and Glitter Gel Pen Lyrics.

In her 13-minute speech, Swift also told the crowd the story behind the 10-minute version of “All Too Well” (before performing the full version) and her dream to “jump into the different musical worlds of my various sonic influences.” Read Swift’s full speech below.

Then Hi.

I want to thank Bart for introducing me in such a generous way and I want to thank the NSAI for bringing us all together for this event. For me, tonight is brimming with real camaraderie between a group of people who love doing things. who loves the job. Who live for that rare, pure moment when a magic cloud floats right past you in the form of a song idea, and all you have to do is grab it. Then shape it like clay. Prune it like a garden. And then make a wish to every lucky star or pray to the power you believe in so it can find its way in the world and make someone feel seen, feel understood, feel associated with their grief , sorrow or joy for a moment.

I learned from being in the entertainment industry for a long period of time that this business operates with a very new, new, new, next, next, next mentality. For every artist or songwriter, we all hope to have a great year. A great album cycle. A great race on the radio. And these days, a song that’s going viral on TikTok. A glorious moment in the sun. Because on your next project, you’ll probably have to invent a new thing to be. Think of all the new things to say and new ways to say them. You will have to entertain people. And the fact is that what entertains us is either seeing new artists emerging or confirmed artists showing us a new side of themselves. If we’re very, very lucky, life will tell us, “Your song is great.” The next thing life will say is, “What else can you do?”

I’m saying all this because I’m here to receive this magnificent award for a decade of work, and I can’t explain how nice it is. Because from my perspective, it’s an award that celebrates the culmination of moments. Challenges. Gauntlets posed. Albums I’m proud of. Triumphs. Strokes of luck or misfortune. Loud, embarrassing mistakes and the subsequent recovery from those mistakes, and the lessons learned from it all. This award celebrates my family, my co-authors and my team. My fiercest friends and fans and my toughest detractors and everyone who has come into or left my life. Because as far as my writing and my life are concerned, it’s one and the same. As the great Nora Ephron once said, “Everything is copy.”

20 years ago, I wrote my first song. I dreamed of one day being able to bounce back on the different musical universes of my various sound influences, and change the production of my albums. I was hoping that one day the mixing of genres wouldn’t be so bad. There’s so much discussion about genre and it always boils down to a conversation about melody and production. But that might leave out my favorite part of songwriting: the lyricism.

And I’ve never spoken about it publicly before, because, well, that’s silly. But I’ve also, in my mind, secretly established genre categories for the lyrics I write. Three of them, to be exact. They are affectionately titled Quill Lyrics, Fountain Pen Lyrics and Glitter Gel Pen Lyrics.

I know this sounds confusing, but I’ll try to explain. I created these categories based on the writing implement I imagine I had in my hand when I scribbled it, figuratively speaking. I don’t really have a pen. More. I broke it once when I was angry.

I classify some of my songs as “Quill” if the words and phrases are outdated, if I was inspired to write it after reading Charlotte Brontë or after watching a movie where everyone is wearing shirts and poet corsets. If my words sound like a letter written by Emily Dickinson’s great-grandmother while sewing a lace curtain, I’m the one writing in the Quill genre. I’ll give you an example from one of my songs that I would call Quill.

“How to know
I’ll meet you where the spirit meets the bones
In a forgotten land of faith
From the snow your touch sparked an incandescent glow
Dull but so grand”

Let’s move on to Lyricism category #2: fountain pen style. I would say most of my lyrics fall into this category. The fountain pen style signifies history or modern references, with a poetic twist. Take a common phrase and reverse its meaning. Trying to paint a vivid picture of a situation, down to the peeling paint on the door frame and the incense dust on the vinyl shelf. Place yourself and the listener right there in the room where it all happened. Love, loss, everything. The songs I categorize in this style sound like scribbled confessions sealed in an envelope, but too brutally honest to ever send.

For instance:
‘Cause here we are again in the middle of the night
We dance around the kitchen in the fridge light
Down the stairs I was there
I remember it too well
And here we are again when no one was supposed to know
You kept me like a secret but I kept you like an oath
Sacred prayer, and one would swear to remember it too well”

The third category is called Glitter Gel Pen and lives up to its name in every way. Frivolous, carefree, bouncy, syncopated perfectly to the rhythm. Glitter Gel Pen lyrics don’t care if you don’t take them seriously because they don’t take themselves seriously. The lyrics of Glitter Gel Pen are the drunk girl at the party who tells you you look like an angel in the bathroom. It’s what we need from time to time in these difficult times in which we live.

Example:

“My ex brought his new girlfriend; she’s like ‘oh my god’ but i’m just gonna shake and to the guy over there with the damn nice hair, won’t you come on baby, we can shake, shake, shake.

Why did I create these categories, you ask? Because I love doing this thing, we’re lucky to call it a job. Writing songs is my life’s work and my endless hobby and pleasure. I am moved beyond words that you, my peers, have decided to honor me in this way for the work that I would still be doing if I had never been recognized for it.

Lately, I took a trip down memory lane. I re-recorded my first six albums. When I go through the process of meticulously recreating every element of my past and revisiting songs I wrote when I was 13, 14, and 15, that path leads me directly to music. How my mom would pick me up from school and drive me to my co-writing sessions with dozens of writers (and some of you are in this same room tonight) who 15 years ago decided to give me their time, their wisdom, their conviction before anyone thought that writing with me was a productive use of an afternoon. I will never forget you, each one of you.

Part of my re-recording process included adding songs that never made the original albums, but songs that I hated leaving behind. I went back and recorded a bunch of it for my version of my albums. Fearless, my version, came out last year and while I was choosing songs for her I came across the one I had written with the Warren Brothers when I was 14. I decided to record it as a duet with the brilliant Keith Urban. When I called the Warrens to tell them I was cutting our song 17 years after writing it, I’ll never forget the first thing they said. “Well, I think that’s the longest wait we’ve ever had.”

In 2011, just over 10 years ago, my loyal collaborator and confidante Liz Rose came to my house and I showed her a song I was working on. I was going through a rough patch (as is the natural state of being 21) and I had scribbled down verse after verse after verse, a song that was too long to put on an album. It lasted about 10 minutes. We started editing, cutting, slicing large sections until it was reasonable 5 minutes and 30 seconds. It was called “Too good”. Last year when I re-recorded my 2012 album Red, I’ve included this 10-minute version with its original verses and extra bridges. I never could have imagined when we wrote it that this song would resurface 10 years later or that I would be about to play it for you tonight.

But a song can defy logic or time. A good song transports you to your truest feelings and translates those feelings for you. A good song stays with you even when people or feelings don’t. Songwriting is a calling and being able to call it your career makes you very lucky. You have to be grateful for that every day, and all the people who thought your words were worth listening to. This city is the school that taught me that.

To be honored by you means more than any kind of my words could ever say.
Thanks.

Additional reporting by Joseph Hudak

Scott R. Banks