Lyrics : Musicians on Musicians: Paul McCartney & Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift arrived early to Paul McCartney’s London office in October, “mask on, brimming with excitement.” “I mostly work from home these days,” she writes about that day, “and today feels like a rare school field trip that you actually want to go on.”

Swift showed up without a team, doing her own hair and makeup. In addition to being two of the most famous pop songwriters in the world, Swift and McCartney have spent the past year on similar journeys. McCartney, isolated at home in the U.K., recorded McCartney III. Like his first solo album, in 1970, he played nearly all of the instruments himself, resulting in some of his most wildly ambitious songs in a long time. Swift also took some new chances, writing over email with the National’s Aaron Dessner and recording the raw folklore, which abandons arena pop entirely in favor of rich character songs. It’s the bestselling album of 2020.

Swift listened to McCartney III as she prepared for today’s conversation; McCartney delved into folkore. Before the photo shoot, Swift caught up with his daughters Mary (who would be photographing them) and Stella (who designed Swift’s clothes; the two are close friends). “I’ve met Paul a few times, mostly onstage at parties, but we’ll get to that later,” Swift writes. “Soon he walks in with his wife, Nancy. They’re a sunny and playful pair, and I immediately feel like this will be a good day. During the shoot, Paul dances and takes almost none of it too seriously and sings along to Motown songs playing from the speakers. A few times Mary scolds, ‘Daaad, try to stand still!’ And it feels like a window into a pretty awesome family dynamic. We walk into his office for a chat, and after I make a nervous request, Paul is kind enough to handwrite my favorite lyric of his and sign it. He makes a joke about me selling it, and I laugh because it’s something I know I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. That’s around the time when we start talking about music.”

Taylor Swift: I think it’s important to note that if this year had gone the way that we thought it was going to go, you and I would have played Glastonbury this year, and instead, you and I both made albums in isolation.

Paul McCartney: Yeah!

Swift: And I remember thinking it would have been so much fun because the times that I’ve run into you, I correlate with being some of the most fun nights of my life. I was at a party with you, when everybody just started playing music. And it was Dave Grohl playing, and you…

McCartney: You were playing one of his songs, weren’t you?

Swift: Yes, I was playing his song called “Best of You,” but I was playing it on piano, and he didn’t recognize it until about halfway through. I just remember thinking, “Are you the catalyst for the most fun times ever?” Is it your willingness to get up and play music that makes everyone feel like this is a thing that can happen tonight?

McCartney: I mean, I think it’s a bit of everything, isn’t it? I’ll tell you who was very … Reese Witherspoon was like, “Are you going to sing?” I said “Oh, I don’t know.” She said, “You’ve got to, yeah!” She’s bossing me around. So I said, “Whoa,” so it’s a bit of that.

Swift: I love that person, because the party does not turn musical without that person.

McCartney: Yeah, that’s true.

Swift: If nobody says, “Can you guys play music?” we’re not going to invite ourselves up onstage at whatever living-room party it is.

McCartney: I seem to remember Woody Harrelson got on the piano, and he starts playing “Let It Be,” and I’m thinking, “I can do that better.” So I said, “Come on, move over, Woody.” So we’re both playing it. It was really nice.… I love people like Dan Aykroyd, who’s just full of energy and he loves his music so much, but he’s not necessarily a musician, but he just wanders around the room, just saying, “You got to get up, got to get up, do some stuff.”