Ever since Taylor Swift sang about Tim McGraw ― track one on her first album ― she has paid attention to her fans. Her mum Andrea told me (BANG goes the name-drop, really early on in the piece, such a big bang I think I broke a floorboard) that Taylor would play as a support act for other artists and then, at the end of the concert, see a gaggle of youngsters by the fence at the back of the stage.
“This was in the days when we weren’t even given backstage lanyards,” said Andrea. Her daughter would exclaim, “Hey mum! They’re mine! Let me go and see them.” And she would.
The story was told during a backstage tour at Hyde Park (BANG: sorry floorboard). Taylor came into the little hospitality tent to chat to a few record industry people and, yep, radio presenters. American stars love the radio, I reckon. Good for them. My daughter, 11, who is into her fashion, said straight out to the singer: “Wow! Your heels are so high!”
They really were. Memory plays tricks, but I have a definite memory of Taylor being eight feet tall, stooping to avoid the marquee ceiling.
She replied, “Yes, well, to carry off heels like this, what you have to do is ― like this ― ” and the superstar showed an enchanted Martha how she walks with a swing, her shoulders thrown back.
A week later I saw my daughter practising the move in the kitchen. As a father, I can hardly complain about her choice of role model.
We are used to rock stars who are unobtainable, invisible. They are modern Gods after all ― and isn’t God, traditionally, a little hard to reach? Didn’t Moses have to ascend a mountain for a single conversation? So to find that the woman who is probably the biggest star in the world in 2015 has time to talk to two little girls from west London: I’m soooo impressed. It is not as if it helps her sales, which are so huge she could probably buy the state of Minnesota and forcibly evict every dentist who likes hunting.
The Swift approach is interesting. Elvis Presley was famous for the announcement, “Elvis has LEFT the building,” a phrase so famous it spawned novels and movies:
But this 21st-century star could easily have the opposite announcement, “Ms Swift is STILL IN the building,” because after an exhausting two hours on stage she is back there in the Hyde Park marquee, this time shaking the hands of young fans who have been chosen by her assistants to come for some backstage facetime because their outfits, or their dancing, have been identified as special.
A contrast with Paul Weller. I say this tenderly. The guy is an artist and I am so in love with those early songs they take my breath away. I adore his truculence too. But when I went to see the opening of the Jam exhibition at Somerset House, a marvellous collection of posters and photos, Weller was in and out within minutes and raced away so quickly that a middle-aged lady who chased him shouting “Paul! Paul!” was unable to catch him. She stood there, breathless, harrumphing and embarrassed.
I wasn’t impressed with the speedy exit, the “this-is-a-bit-below-me” approach. I wanted Paul to press the flesh. I wanted him to say ― like Taylor Swift did, astonishingly ― “I know who YOU are!” even if it’s only as a result of having been briefed seven minutes earlier.
“Hey, Jeremy. Good to see you here! Thanks for coming!”
“Hey Paul! Isn’t it amazing how ‘In The City’ all came true?”
I actually wanted a minute, even a few seconds, just to tell him how much I loved those songs … That’s Entertainment. Going Underground. Strange Town. Smithers-Jones.
But the conversation remained a fantasy.
Before you think I’m slating Paul Weller in comparison with Taylor Swift, please sheathe your weapon. As he rushed out of a side door without a smile or a wave, a work colleague I had brought with me laughed and said: “Now there goes a proper star.” For her the brightness of stardom is defined the old-fashioned way, by lack of access, by the Elvis Factor.
Presley defined invisibility; he could barely be touched. Then he died and we lost him completely. Some people want distance from the people they adore.
So who’s got it right: Swift or Weller?