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With the launch of her third album, Speak Now, Taylor Swift seems to be courting a new love: the press. Swift is no stranger to the spotlight, having started her (mostly) country and largely crossover career at the tender age of 15 (she’s now 20). But in this post-Kanye-gate opus, Swift breathes fresh life into her formulaic approach: girl dates boy, girls and boy break-up, girl writes a song. Perhaps her romantic liaisons with the hate to love bad boy John Mayer are just a bit more interesting than anything she could have been doing with the Jonas Bros.? Maybe the lost potential of a Taylor/Taylor long-term romance (and all the puns and wordplay that could allow) is just more heartbreaking than the typical teen queen romance gone wrong? Maybe a song that forgives Kanye West for stealing her moment in the sun was so surprisingly genuine that we can’t help but listen?

Or maybe Taylor Swift is compelling to kids and tweens (the top musician on their respective lists) and pleasing to the press because she has managed to do a few things that we don’t expect from our teen icons anymore…

First, in a “share” culture, Swift neither shows nor tells. She manages to remain coy about her love life in interviews, and she doesn’t Tweet about her every interlude. She seems to keep her love life under wraps while it’s in progress (at least we’ll admit that this whole John Mayer business was news to us!). And this ability to stay discreet while living a life about which the public is increasingly interested makes her “news.”

But Swift doesn’t just live privately – she plays with privacy. She might be the nicest scorned woman you’ll ever meet, but she certainly sends a message to boys she dates: be nice or be sung. For tween girls, this model for managing heartbreak feels not only more practical than confronting that boy who just wasn’t that into you, but it also seems a bit healthier. Swift writes the cathartic letter to her ex, sends it, but keeps it anonymous (albeit transparent). She finds her voice, and as she writes in many of her songs, “has the final word.” For girls who are just finding their voice, this ability to express one’s interior life without ruining their exterior life is a skill worthy of admiration.

Finally, Swift explores and experiments – in music and in life. She doesn’t let herself be labeled as the lady of one genre (which may be why the CMA snubbed her this year, much to their own detriment?), and, in perhaps the sweetest revenge, she lets her exes inspire her. Her bluesy rif on “Dear John” might be poking fun at the rootsy guitarist, but her sound is all the better for having borrowed it. And the self-consciousness beneath her quiet confidence shows through – and that’s not a bad thing! While she earns the title, “veteran” in terms of performing, she plays the part of relationship novice in her life and songs. While her cohort of young celebrities shows more skin and reveals more details about their lives than we ever wanted to know, Taylor Swift seems to be taking the time to grow into her own skin. And it’s hard not to watch.  

But what’s the future of Taylor Swift? Can she hold on to fame while holding out on sharing the scoop on the details of her private life? We’re not sure, but we know we’ll be hanging on her every word until then.