By Jennifer Von Ohlen
COKATO, MN For many, the opportunity to meet their celebrity role model never goes past daydreaming what it would be like.
Alexis Parks, 17, of Cokato fully believed she would always be a member of that crowd, until she received a message from Taylor Nation, the management company for American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift.
Parks has been a Swift fan since she was 6 years old. She started a Tumblr dedicated to the artist about five years ago.
“It sounded like fun,” Parks said, sharing that she hadn’t known many people beforehand who enjoyed Swift’s music as much as she did. All that changed as Swift fans world-wide started following her account, and opening discussions about the artists’ music, shows, costumes, and other topics.
“It was like having a big group of friends to talk about Taylor with,” she stated, adding that Swift herself started following Parks about three years ago.
It was about that time when another topic of interest started flooding Park’s social media: the secret sessions.
Starting them out with her “1989” album, the secret sessions are invitation-only events where Swift personally selects fans to visit her in her home and listen to her newest album before its release date. What made it especially exciting for Parks was to see some of her Tumblr friends receive invitations.
“It was so cool to watch that happen,” Parks stated. “To watch your friends literally get invited to Taylor’s house. It’s something you always want to happen, but you never really expect to happen.”
This past October, however, it happened.
Having just finished her homework for an online personal finance class, Parks picked up her phone to see she received a confidential message from Taylor Nation.
“You know what that means, because everyone who gets that message knows what that means,” shared Parks.
Excited beyond words, she ran to her mother, Jean Jacobson, and showed her the message. At first, Jacobson was doubtful, but the next day, a Sunday, Taylor Nation called their home.
“They didn’t tell us it was a secret session,” Parks recalled. “They said it was a fan event in Nashville on Wednesday. I literally had four days to get to Nashville.”
Looking at the cost of last-minute plane tickets, Parks and her mother considered driving out to Nashville instead an over-13-hour road trip one way.
While it would have been a lot of road time, Parks said she and her mother were set on doing it, “because Mom knew that I probably would never forgive her if we didn’t go,” she laughed, though half-serious. “It’s been my dream for 11 years of my life.”
As it turned out, however, plane tickets went down in price, and before she knew it, Parks was flying out to Nashville with her mother to meet her long-time role model.
In the Swifts’ home
Since Swift’s Nashville apartment is on the small side, the secret session took place at her parents’ home (where Parks said Swift typically stays, anyway).
After hearing the rules and getting special wristbands for the event, Parks and the other guests were admitted into the backyard, where a buffet of “everything you can imagine” was laid out for the visitors.
Following an hour or two of food and socializing, the fans were gathered inside a room lined with chairs and pillows. Everyone took a seat, and suddenly Swift walked into the room.
“She was like, ‘Hi guys!’” Parks recalled. “You can imagine what it was like, seeing as it’s a room full of Taylor fans seeing Taylor Swift in the same room.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” she continued. “You never, ever expect it to happen in your entire life, no matter how much you want it to happen. And then, it’s actually happening, and it doesn’t feel real.”
But it was real, and together, Swift and her fans listened to her “Reputation” album 16 days before it hit stores. The fans also got to look at some other not-yet-released products, such as a magazine and some merchandise, as well as hear the background stories behind the songs.
“It was a lot of fun. It was really cool. It’s a lot to think about,” said Parks.
First name basis
While they were listening to the album, Parks said Swift would do some special things during the singles that had already been released. For the song, “Look What You Made Me Do,” Swift and her fans had a dance party with the lights off.
“That was really exciting for me,” shared Parks, “cause right at the end of the song, [Swift] was making her way around the room, (I was sort of in the back right corner), and then all of a sudden she walked by me and I was like, ‘Hey, Taylor!’ just sorta quietly, and she did a double-take, and she turned around, and she went and grabbed me for a hug and was like, ‘Hi Alexis!’”
This was one of the moments that really stuck out to Parks, not only that Swift knew who she was, but made the effort to know the name of every person at the secret session (which Parks counted to be roughly 58).
“I heard her calling a lot of people by their names,” Parks recalled. “Some of it was questioning, [i.e. ‘You’re Emma, right?’] but she made an effort and she looked at these people’s blogs and she picked them and wanted them there. She wanted them to know that she cared about them and values them and their opinions and the fact that they are a fan of hers. She’s thankful for that. It’s very obvious; it’s amazing. I love it.”
Once they finished listening to “Reputation,” fans were able to meet Swift one-by-one. When it came time for Parks’ and her mother’s turn, Swift again hugged Parks and addressed her by name and told her, “I’m so glad you could come. You’re so gorgeous. I love you so much.”
Swift also embraced Jacobson, and thanked her for making it possible for Parks to attend the session.
“‘I know you guys had to come a long way, but [Parks’s] my everything’,” Swift had said. She then informed Parks that she had been watching her Tumblr videos for three years and had been stalking her blog. Parks said she didn’t know Swift was actively following her, though she had liked a few posts here and there.
Parks had a few things she wanted Swift to know, as well, such as how she related to Swift’s new song, “Delicate,” which deals with anxiety.
“I have anxiety, personally,” shared Parks, stating that it affects her socially and can make her not want to go outside or engage in certain things at school.
Learning about Swift’s own experiences with anxiety that inspired the song, Parks told Swift, “‘I [am] sorry [you] had to go through it, but I am so proud of you for coming through it and overcoming it, and facing your fear and coming up stronger than you were,’ and [I told her] that she helped me do that,” Parks said. Swift gave Parks another hug and also said she was sorry Parks had to endure anxiety, as well.
“She [then] was like, ‘If I looked like you, I’d want to go outside every day!” recalled Parks. “Which was nice, and I was like, ‘have you seen yourself?!”
During their conversation, Swift asked Parks if she’d like to hold a Grammy while they had a photo taken together. While Parks said it would have been neat to do so, she was worried she would break it since she is “a clumsy person.” Instead, Parks wanted to take a sassy, confident photo, which Swift thought was a good idea.
“She said we could take it on the piano bench,” said Parks. “That was cool, because only a couple people took it at the piano.”
Despite her wanting a sassy photo, however, Parks said she couldn’t stop smiling.
“So, I look really awkward, and she looks really sassy and confident,” Parks stated, “but it’s okay, because I love it anyways.”
Before they departed, Parks had one more thing she wanted to tell Swift.
“I told her I was really excited for this album, and I can’t wait for it to break all the awards and I know it’s going to be the best one yet,” she said, to which Swift grabbed Parks’ hands and started jumping up and down in excitement.
“It was really cute,” recalled Parks. “She gave me a hug and she was like, ‘Thank you so much. That means a lot, especially coming from you.”
Swift also followed Parks back to her mother and wrapped them both in a big hug, telling them both, again, how happy she was they could make it.
Parks recalls there being at least 25 hugs throughout this experience.
It was shortly thereafter that Parks and Jacobson found themselves boarding a plane home.
“We were in Nashville for less than 24 hours,” said Parks, “but it was the best 24 hours.”