In a new interview in the February issue of Vogue -- Taylor Swift's first turn on the legendary fashion mag's cover -- the 22-year-old country-pop star has just one word to describe her teen years.
"So . . . middle school? Awkward," says Swift, who grew up in Pennsylvania, first on a rural Christmas tree farm and later in a wealthier suburban area. "Having a hobby that's different from everyone else's? Awkward. Singing the national anthem on weekends instead of going to sleepovers? More awkward. Gain a lot of weight before you hit the growth spurt? Awkward. Frizzy hair, don't embrace the curls yet? Awkward. Try to straighten it? Awkward!"
And despite her current fame, all those Grammys, lots of big paychecks (oh, and even a Vogue cover, her "awkward" past is still hard to shake. "I think who you are in school really sticks with you," Swift admits. "I don't ever feel like the cool kid at the party, ever. It's like, Smile and be nice to everybody, because you were not invited to be here."
And like so many stars with a squeaky clean image, there are those waiting in the wings for her to stumble. Swift explains how she often gets questioned by reporters about when she's going to start "stumbling out of clubs" or have some sort of "scandal or meltdown."
"As time has gone by, I've gotten that question less and less. I think, for me, the bigger pitfall is losing your self awareness," the singer explains. Even though I am at a place where my dresses are really pretty and the red carpets have a lot of bright lights and I get to play to thousands of people . . . you have to take that with a grain of salt. The stakes are really high if you mess up."
She might sound like she's got it all figured out, but Swift -- whose dated celebs including Joe Jonas, Taylor Lautner, John Mayer, and Jake Gyllenhaal admits: "I think I am smart unless I am really, really in love, and then I am ridiculously stupid."
She's had a few well publicized breakups (Jonas dumped her over the phone a few years ago, while Gyllenhaal broke up with her just before Christmas 2010), and now has a list of red flags when it comes to men -- like when a guy doesn't feel the need to get to know her and relies on what the media's said about her, anyone who's obsessed with privacy, a boyfriend threatened by the fact she needs a security team, or someone who puts her down a lot "to level the playing field." (That one kinda' seems like a given.)
The 5'10" blonde insists she's not dating anyone currently, and in the meantime, she's working on her fourth album, which draws on past romantic troubles. "There's just been this earth-shattering, not recent, but absolute crash-and-burn heartbreak," she says, "and that will turn out to be what the next album is about. The only way that I can feel better about myself -- pull myself out of that awful pain of losing someone -- is writing songs about it to get some sort of clarity."
The February issue of Vogue hits newsstands January 25.