At 22, Taylor Swift has the kind of career most artists chase for decades: six Grammys, countless chart-topping singles and more than 22 million albums sold. Here, the Nashville dweller—whose new album Red drops Oct. 22—lets loose with TIME.
TIME: I just heard your new song, “I Knew You Were Trouble.” Congrats on being the first major artist to fuse country and dubstep.
Taylor Swift: Thanks.
How did that come about?
I actually came up with the melody on piano, and brought it to [producers] Max Martin and Shellback and said, I want to finish this, and I want to make it sound as chaotic as that emotion felt. I’ll sing the base line. I just want it to sound like this: poom poom poom poom poom. And they’re like, maybe we can infuse a little bit of dubstep. It’s one of the most adventurous songs on the record, soundwise. I love it. I’m so proud that it’s sitting at number one on iTunes.
Your fourth chart-topper in four weeks.
Yeah, it’s crazy!
Were you into dubstep before?
I have listened to some of it, ’cause I’m friends with [U.K. artist] Ed Sheeran and he would always kind of play me stuff that he listened to, what they play in the clubs in the U.K. That’s all I’ve really ever heard of dubstep. I can’t really say I’ve studied it or anything. I didn’t even know that that’s really what we were doing with the track—I just knew I wanted it to sound a certain way. And that’s what people have been calling it.
There are a lot of pop songs on Red. But you’re known as a country artist. What drove the expansion?
For my last album, I wrote every song by myself and used the same producer I’ve always worked with. Writing by myself became a comfort zone. So with this one, I really wanted to push myself. I called the people that I’ve always wanted to work with—my production, songwriting, artist heroes—and said hey, do you want to get in the studio and work together and make something different. Track to track, there’s nothing similar about anything on this record, and that’s what makes it so exciting.
Do you worry how fans will respond?
Almost every time I put something out, there’s the word “too” put in front of what it is—too pop or too country or too rock. I had a song last year called “Mean”—we were lucky enough to win two Grammys with it—and I remember reading a few articles that said it was too bluegrass. So I kinda stopped worrying about it. I’d rather be too something than not enough something.
People love to guess which boys you’re singing about. [Swift has been linked to Conor Kennedy, John Mayer and Jake Gyllenhaal, among others.] Does part of you enjoy that?
Well, I don’t really read any of it.
The only way I hear gossip is if it’s big enough and loud enough for my friends to bring it up to me. Or if it’s, like, a big untrue ordeal from my publicist—and she hates making that phone call! But I try not to know anything that’s thought about me. It makes my life a lot more livable and a lot happier.
Do you deliberately try to keep song subjects mysterious?
I let people fill in the blanks on their own. If they want to think about their ex, that’s fine. If they want to think about maybe who one of my exes is, then that’s fine. And it might not be right, because I’m the only one who knows what these songs are really about. It’s the one shred of privacy I have in the matter.
So Variety is reporting you just signed on to play Joni Mitchell in a movie—
That’s actually not confirmed. I wish I could say it’s confirmed! But the thing about movies that I’ve learned is—I’ve been reading scripts for five years, and you just don’t know what ones are going to get greenlit and which ones aren’t, so I can’t talk about it unless it’s the real thing.
But you’d like to do more acting? I mean, beyond the smaller roles you’ve had in The Lorax and Valentine’s Day.
I would love to sign on to do a movie if it was the right role and if it was the right script, because I would be taking time away from music to tell a big grand story, and spend all of my time and pouring all of my emotions into being someone else. So for me to do that, it would have to be a story worth telling.
You obviously spend a lot of time touring and promoting and songwriting. What’s your favorite way to unwind?
To lay in bed with my cat and watch TV, preferably crime shows, and order food that shows up to my house. And then I eat it.
Um, that sounds a lot like my favorite way to unwind, too. Which crime shows?
Law and Order and all those franchises. And I’ll watch Dateline, all the time.
When you’re home in Nashville?
Yeah, or when I’m in a hotel room. I bring my cat places with me, too, if we’re in the States. Her name is Meredith, after Meredith Grey from Grey’s Anatomy.
(PHOTOS: Rockin’ with Taylor Swift)
What about music? Who’s on your iPod right now?
I am listening to Coldplay, One Republic, Tegan and Sara, and Jimmy Eat World.
Who’d be your dream collaboration, especially now that you’re taking more musical risks?
Let me think. Imogen Heap! She’s amazing.
We’re almost at Election Day. Have you been following the race?
I follow it, and I try to keep myself as educated and informed as possible. But I don’t talk about politics because it might influence other people. And I don’t think that I know enough yet in life to be telling people who to vote for.
Are you going to vote, though?
I’m going to be out of the country, so I’ll have to get a special form, I think.
You’ve got lots of nicknames—Swifty, T-Swizzle, etc. Are there any you secretly hate?
When I was on the Brad Paisley tour, they called me Tater Tot.
And the name on my dressing room was changed to Tater Swift every single day! It was like being teased by your big brother.