Taylor Swift has got a ton of musical mileage out of the romantic relationships that have come and gone in her life, but those guys haven't been the truly essential players in her journey to the top of the pop star pyramid.
It's Scott and Andrea Swift, Taylor's parents, who have championed their daughter since day one, believing in her so much that they left their palatial house in Reading, Penn., for Nashville, where a determined 14-year-old Taylor felt she had to be to make her dream a reality.
Talking to CMT, she said her parents weren't just indulging her for the sake of being supportive. "My parents actually believed it," she said.
Before her Reputation Tour touched down in Philadelphia, she took a few friends to visit her childhood home, a Christmas tree farm in Wyomissing, where the new owners were apparently happy to let the famous former resident in to take a look at her old room.
"I went to the house I grew up in. I got emotional when I went into my bedroom, and there's another little girl's things in there," Swift told the sold-out crowd one night at Lincoln Financial Field. "It's not my family farm anymore. We sold it when we went to Nashville. I've been thinking about how cool it is to be back where I started writing songs."
She told CMT that, back in the day, her parents never pushed her, but "I would not leave them alone."
Taylor was barely out of grade school when Andrea Swift (née Gardner Finlay) first took her to Nashville to drop off the CDs she had made of her singing karaoke with record labels, having seen in documentaries about Shania Twain and LeAnn Rimes that Music City, U.S.A., was where she needed to be.
"My mom waited in the car with my little brother while I knocked on doors up and down Music Row," Swift recalled to Entertainment Weekly in 2008. "I would say, 'Hi, I'm Taylor. I'm 11; I want a record deal. Call me."'
Well, the world wasn't ready for it just yet.
"She came back from that trip to Nashville and realized she needed to be different, and part of that would be to learn the guitar," Andrea told EW. "Now, at 12, she saw a 12-string guitar and thought it was the coolest thing. And of course we immediately said, 'Oh no, absolutely not, your fingers are too small—not till you're much older will you be able to play the 12-string guitar.'
"Well, that was all it took. Don't ever say never or can't do to Taylor. She started playing it four hours a day—six on the weekends. She would get calluses on her fingers and they would crack and bleed, and we would tape them up and she'd just keep on playing. That's all she played, till a couple of years later, which was the first time she ever picked up a six-string guitar. And when she did, it was like, 'wow, this is really easy!'"
Swift performed in venues all over Pennsylvania, wherever she could get a gig, and wrote her little heart out. She went back to Nashville at 13 and got a development deal at RCA Records, which she declined to re-up after a year, wanting to record only songs that she had a hand in writing. At 14 she became the youngest person in the roster at Sony/ATV Publishing.
So, the whole family—Scott, Andrea, Taylor and her brother, Austin Swift—eventually relocated to Hendersonville, about 20 miles outside Nashville, in 2003. But they didn't explicitly put it that way at the time.
"I knew I was the reason they were moving," Taylor later told Self. "But they tried to put no pressure on me. They were like, 'Well, we need a change of scenery anyway,' and 'I love how friendly the people in Tennessee are.'"
"I never wanted to make that move about her 'making it,"' Andrea explained to EW. "Because what a horrible thing if it hadn't happened, for her to carry that kind of guilt or pressure around. And we moved far enough outside Nashville to where she didn't have to be going to school with producers' kids and label presidents' kids and be reminded constantly that she was struggling to make it. We've always told her that this is not about putting food on our table or making our dreams come true.
"There would always be an escape hatch into normal life if she decided this wasn't something she had to pursue. And of course that's like saying to her, 'If you want to stop breathing, that's cool.'"
Swift ended up fatefully signing with Big Machine Records, run by Scott Borchetta, who had just left Universal Music Group to start his own label.
"They only had 10 employees at the record label to start out with, so when they were releasing my first single, my mom and I came in to help stuff the CD singles into envelopes to send to radio," Taylor recalled to EW. "We sat out on the floor and did it because there wasn't furniture at the label yet."
Meanwhile, Scott and Andrea—formerly a marketing manager at an advertising agency—had already set up Taylor's website and MySpace page (with Taylor writing her bio, updates and responses to fans herself, of course).
"The mom and dad both have great marketing minds," Rick Barker, Swift's manager at the time, told EW. "I don't want to say fake it until you make it, but when you looked at her stuff, it was very professional even before she got her deal."
Andrea said that her daughter relished the recognition, the selfie requests and the otherwise positive attention from fans of her music, "but she never in her life ever said, 'I want to be famous' or 'I want to be rich' or 'I want to be a star.' Those words absolutely never came out of her mouth. If they had, I would have said, 'Honey, maybe you're doing it kind of for the wrong reasons.'
"For her, the happiest I ever see her is just after she's written a killer song. As a parent, I felt really good about that. If that's where she draws happiness from, she'll have that the rest of her life. She's not always gonna have the awards, or the attention, or the celebrity, but she will always have the ability to write a song."
Swift has credited her mother for instilling in her the importance of maintaining her independence, financial and otherwise, saying, "She raised me to be logical and practical. I was brought up with such a strong woman in my life and I think that had a lot to do with me not wanting to do anything halfway."
Andrea's mother, Marjorie Finlay, was a professional opera singer and a magnetic presence in every room—a quality Taylor shared with her grandma, Scott Swift once said. "The two of them had some sort of magic where they could walk into a room and remember everyone's name," he said. "Taylor has the same grace and physique of Andrea's mother."
Taylor described her dad, meanwhile, as "just a big teddy bear who tells me everything I do is perfect." That being said, she added, "business-wise, he's brilliant."
Once Taylor's career started to take off, Scott, who had relocated his business to Nashville, stayed in town with Austin while Andrea accompanied their daughter on tour, helping her finish high school on the road.
"She was always singing music when she was 3, 5, 6, 7 years old," Scott, an investment banker with Merill Lynch who ran The Swift Group under the company's umbrella, told the University of Delaware's UDaily in 2009. "It's Taylor doing what she likes to do." (When she was quite little, Taylor recalled, she would tell people she was going to be a financial advisor, even though she didn't know what that meant.)
"We had a kid that was really passionate about it," he said. Getting that first deal at 13 "was the confirmation that maybe she wasn't crazy, because her writing is why she got it."
Swift was 16 when her self-titled debut album came out in October 2006. Less than a year later, she opened for Brad Paisley at the Allentown Fair, a big-ticket gig in her home state.
While "Tim McGraw," her first-ever single, eventually drew the most attention, her second single, "Teardrops on My Guitar," was her first top-15 single (peaking at 13) and the next, "Our Song," became her biggest hit on country radio to date, her first No. 1 on the Hot Country Songs chart.
Scott Swift hasn't had to do much lately when it comes to Taylor's ridiculously successful career, but he helped out where he could early on (not including the unconfirmed reports that he advised Harry Styles to not rush things when the One Direction singer and Taylor started dating). He told UDaily that he helped arrange Taylor's prime-time gig singing the national anthem during Game 3 of the 2008 World Series, a home game for the Philadelphia Phillies (who went on to beat the Tampa Bay Rays in five games), having gone to college with the Phillies' facilities manager.
"The reason she sang the anthem is because two University of Delaware alumni kept in touch over the years," Scott told the paper. But as time went on, Taylor's reputation preceded her. "I've heard from a lot of great alumni, and I'm convinced they live in every city, because whenever Taylor's rolling into wherever she is, we'll hear from them," her dad said. "It's really powerful."
Scott and Andrea are hardly the unsung heroes of Taylor's life, though—quite the opposite, in fact.
You'd have been forgiven for assuming that "The Best Day," off of 2008's Fearless, centers on the father-daughter bond (going by the line "I have an excellent father / His strength is making me stronger"), but it's really a sweeping ode to Andrea, the one who waited in the car while tween Taylor knocked on doors.
"'The Best Day' is a song that I wrote without telling my mom," Swift shared in 2011. "I wrote it in the summertime, and I recorded it secretly, too. I had this idea that I wanted to play it for her for Christmas. So, when I got the track I synced up all of these home videos from when I was a little kid to go along with the song like a music video, and played it for her on Christmas Eve and she was crying her eyes out."
She eventually had to stop playing it live because Andrea was always dissolving into tears backstage.
Taylor continued, "Remembering all the times that we had when she was my only friend when I was 13 and I couldn't understand why my friends were being so mean to me. She would just take me on these adventures and we would drive around and go to towns we'd never seen before.
"Those adventures and those days of just running away from my problems—you're not supposed to run away from your problems, but when you're 13 and your friends won't talk to you and they move when you sit down at the lunch table, and your mom lets you run from those problems, I think it's a good thing... My mom was my escape in a lot of ways."
Andrea recalled the days when Taylor's friends seemed to be turning on her, telling Elle Girl she'd have to "pick [Taylor] up off the floor," she was hurting so badly.
When she was 21 she bought her parents a $1.4 million house in Nashville, around the same time she bought her first house in Los Angeles.
By 2011, the Taylor road show ran like a well-oiled machine, in no small part because of Andrea's watchful eye.
"Well, you know, she's just been doing this for so long that, to me, this is just like soccer practice," Swift's mom shrugged to the New Yorker in a 2011 profile.
After which Scott quipped, "I'm not taking her money, if that's what you're saying."
The writer noted that at least either her mom or dad was at every show that she attended, but Taylor said that they were "staying home more" than they used to.
Through the years, Andrea has become a familiar face to everyone who follows Taylor's career, from the Swifties to the paparazzi, but neither mother nor daughter has made a habit of sharing too much personal information about their family—and they, unlike some celebrities' parents, Andrea and Scott haven't been clamoring to share the spotlight.
So it was only under the greatest of emotional strains that Swift shared in 2015 that Andrea was battling cancer.
"Usually when things happen to me, I process them and then write music about how I feel, and you hear it much later," Swift wrote on Tumblr. "This is something my family and I thought you should know about now." She explained how she had encouraged her mom to go to the doctor, "just to ease some worries of mine. She agreed, and went in to get checked. There were no red flags and she felt perfectly fine, but she did it just to get me and my brother off her case about it. The results came in, and I'm saddened to tell you that my mom has been diagnosed with cancer."
Part of the message was to explain why Andrea wouldn't be at as many shows as usual, so enmeshed she was in the Taylor tour fabric.
"I'd like to keep the details of her condition and treatment plans private, but she wanted you to know," Swift explained. "She wanted you to know because your parents may be too busy juggling everything they've got going on to go to the doctor, and maybe you reminding them to go get checked for cancer could possibly lead to an early diagnosis and an easier battle."
A little over a week later, Andrea introduced her daughter at the Academy of Country Music Awards, where Taylor was one of seven being honored with the Milestone Award.
"I've watched this milestone artist from the time she was a tangled-hair little girl...Full of imagination and creativity until right now when she prepares for her next world tour," Mama Swift said. Tears starting to build, she concluded, "I'm a very proud mom."
The whole family gathered a month later to cheer Austin's graduation from Notre Dame.
On Mother's Day in 2015, Taylor personally responded to a message from a fan who had lost her own mom and was understandably having a rough day. The singer wrote back on Tumblr, "I love you so much and can't imagine what you must be feeling today. You've lived through my worst fear. I'm so sorry you can't spend today with her. It's not fair, and there's no reason why you should feel okay about it. No one should ever expect you to feel normal today."
Andrea sightings did become less frequent, but when she was spotted (having dinner with Taylor and Tom Hiddleston in L.A. in the summer of 2016, for instance), she looked like her usual self. And in 2017 she was by Taylor's side in Colorado when her daughter's dueling lawsuits with a D.J. she had accused of groping her went to trial.
Andrea testified that Taylor had told her right away that the D.J.—who sued Swift for $3 million after he was fired over the incident, after which she countersued, alleging sexual assault—had grabbed her butt while they were taking a photo during a meet-and-greet in 2013.
Explaining why they didn't immediately report him to police, Andrea said, "I did not want her to have to live through the endless memes and GIFs and anything else that tabloid media or trolls would be able to come up with...making her relive this awful moment over and over again."
"I was upset to the point where I wanted to vomit and cry at the same time," she added. "We felt it was imperative to let his employers know what happened."
The jury decided in Swift's favor, awarding her the symbolic $1 in damages she had asked for.
Andrea's treatment was considered a success at first, but Swift revealed in March 2018 in her "30 Things I Learned Before Turning 30" essay for Elle that the cancer had returned. She also shared for the first time that her dad had been treated for cancer as well.
"Both of my parents have had cancer, and my mom is now fighting her battle with it again," she wrote. "It's taught me that there are real problems and then there's everything else. My mom's cancer is a real problem. I used to be so anxious about daily ups and downs. I give all of my worry, stress, and prayers to real problems now."
Years after "Best Day" celebrated the good times, "Soon You'll Get Better," off of her latest album, Lover, is a heartbreaking ode to the most important people in her life.
"It was a family decision to even put on the album, and I think songs like that that are really hard for you to write emotionally, maybe they're hard to write and hard to sing because they're really true," Swift revealed on YouTube Live in August. "We as a family decided to put this on the album. It's something I'm so proud of. I can't sing it. It's hard to emotionally deal with that song."
The now 30-year-old artist—winner of 10 Grammys, seller of millions of albums—isn't one to go into too much detail when it comes to her parents' personal lives, but the subtle details in the song—"Holy orange bottles, each night I pray to you," "You like the nicer nurses, you make the best of a bad deal"—paint a vivid picture.
"Everyone loves their mom, everyone's got an important mom," Swift recently told Variety. "But for me, she's really the guiding force. Almost every decision I make, I talk to her about it first. So obviously it was a really big deal to ever speak about her illness."
Sadly, she also revealed that Andrea was diagnosed with a brain tumor—which doctors found while she was undergoing treatment again for breast cancer, and which comes with a whole different set of challenges. Her mom's precarious health is a big part of why Swift decided to limit her touring in the U.S. this year to four stadium dates before she heads to Europe in the summer for the festival circuit.
"I feel like I haven't done festivals, really, since early in my career—they're fun and bring people together in a really cool way," Swift said. "But I also wanted to be able to work as much as I can handle right now, with everything that's going on at home. And I wanted to figure out a way that I could do both those things."
Ultimately, though, the reason is that she doesn't want to be away from her mom for too long. "I mean, we don't know what is going to happen," Swift told Variety. "We don't know what treatment we're going to choose. It just was the decision to make at the time, for right now, for what's going on."
(Originally published Aug. 13, 2019, at 11:15 a.m. PT)