Ask Taylor Swift for one word to describe her life these days and the answer is easy: “Happy,” she says. “It feels like this ongoing dream.” In the past 12 months, Swift has seen her CD Fearless become the year’s bestselling album, sold out tour dates across the U.S., wowed audiences with her hosting stint on Saturday Night Live and racked up a slew of trophies (including the Country Music Association’s coveted Entertainer of the Year award) and eight Grammy nominations. “So many moments have happened this year where I say to myself, ‘Really?’ Somebody will call and say, ‘This show sold out,’ or, ‘You’ve been nominated for this,’ and I’m like, ‘REALLY?’ It blows my mind.” Swift, who turned 20 Dec. 13, sat down with PEOPLE assistant managing editor Cynthia Sanz to talk about the year that was.
Was there one moment this year where you said, “Wow, I’ve really made it”?
I think that standing onstage and waving goodbye on Saturday Night Live after being the host and the musical guest is something I’m never going to forget in my whole life. That memory and that whole week is one of the huge highlights of this year. SNL was a big one for me.
You got raves for your SNL monologue where you managed to both blow a kiss to a certain werewolf you’ve been linked with [Twilight‘s Taylor Lautner] and take a sly shot at an ex boyfriend [Joe Jonas].
I had a lot of fun with that because there’s been a lot of speculation about my personal life this year. And I thought it would just be kinda funny to poke fun at all the rumors. I was unaware that as a host you don’t usually write your monologue, that the writers write those. So I just kind of came in and wrote this little song and played it for SNL producer Lorne Michaels. I was so excited that I got to use my own monologue.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned this year?
You can stay the same person even if everything around you changes.
Is there a rule you live by?
Never wear lip gloss onstage. Your hair will stick to it when you headbang.
You have this image as a really nice girl …
… are you as nice as people think you are?
I hope so. I’ve been able to be who I am. And I’m just really grateful for that. That I don’t have to try to be well-behaved when I don’t want to be well-behaved. I’m kind of just well-behaved by nature.
Do you think people are just waiting for you to screw up?
I would like to think everybody out there isn’t just waiting for me to trip and fall and stumble out of a club drunk. And I feel like people know what I like to do when I’m home. I like to bake and cook things and go visit the construction workers building my condo. People know I’m not a party girl. I’m not hiding some dying urge to be out clubbing right now. It’s not being concealed.
When you see people like Britney Spears who had amazing success early on and then saw their lives spin out of control, do you worry about it happening to you?
I’m the kind of person who thinks and overthinks and analyzes and overanalyzes every move that I make and every word that I say and everything that I do. It’s not to make sure everything is politically correct. I’ve been that way since I was a kid. I think out my next step before I make it. I’m gonna make mistakes in my life. I realize that. But hopefully because of the overthinking nature that I’ve gotten from my mom, I won’t make as many mistakes, and if I do, I would hope that I would learn from them.
Do you ever think maybe it’s all happened too fast? Are you worried about sustaining it?
I try to focus on doing what I can today to make sure that I’m around tomorrow. There’s something so motivating to me about the pressure looming over whether I’d be able to repeat what I’ve done. I guess that’s just how I’ve always processed people telling me something is going to be very hard to do.
Is it hard seeing your life played out on the Internet and in the tabloids?
I don’t search out headlines for myself, and I certainly don’t have myself on Google alerts. But I do love to go grocery shopping when I’m home. Grocery shopping is one of my strange favorite things, and if I’m in the grocery store and I see myself on the cover of a magazine, that’s always sort of a strange moment for me. I’ll pick ’em up and scan through ’em definitely. ‘Cause I mean, it’s just kind of funny.
What’s the craziest rumor you’ve seen about yourself?
I heard a rumor about myself one time that I can write a song in three seconds. And I was quoted as saying that. And I most certainly cannot write a song in three seconds. I think the shortest amount of time I’ve written a song is 10 minutes. But three seconds is just crazy. It’s impossible.
Are guys afraid to ask you out because they worry about ending up in one of your songs?
If guys get scared and don’t ask me out, how would I know? I actually look at my brutally honest songwriting as kind of a screening process. If a guy is planning on doing something bad enough for me to write a song about, I’d like to think he’d be less likely to ask me out. I don’t think a good guy would worry about it, because he’d have good intentions.
If you had just one day where you knew there would be no photographs taken of you, what would you do?
I would walk through Central Park anonymously with someone I’ve always wanted to explore New York City with.
When you look in the mirror in the morning, what do you see?
Not much until I put my contacts in.
Your first movie, Valentine’s Day, is out Feb. 12. Do you want to do more acting?
It’s a small role, but it’s something I’m really excited about. I’d love to explore the possibility of maybe going down that path.
Where do you keep all your awards?
The bulk of them haven’t come in the mail yet. They engrave them, and then they send them to you. So I haven’t been able to hold them yet. But right now I’m in the middle of doing renovation of this condo that I have. I’m moving out of my parents’ house this year. Which is a big step for me. So I’ve been kind of planning different places to possibly put awards. A big mantel or cutouts in the walls or something like that. Since this year, I’ve had to plan for more space than I thought.
You just gave a $250,000 donation to schools you had previously attended or worked with. Why schools?
The schools that I went to and the amazing people I got to learn from really turned me into who I am, and I wanted to give back.
If you’ve done all this by the time you turned 20, what do you want to do by the time you turn 30?
I think I’d like to have made a couple more albums that I’m really proud of. I’d like to have a house. I’m not the kind of girl who makes a goal for herself of getting married or starting a family. I’ve never really put a timeline on those sorts of things. So I don’t have any personal goals by the time I’m 30.
What’s left on your list of things to accomplish?
When I was 14 or 15, I used to make lists in my diary of all the things I wanted to accomplish or crazy dreams that I had in my head. And there have been a lot of things that happened this year that I didn’t even put on the list because I didn’t think they were possible. But if I had a list now of things I haven’t done and would like to do, I think winning a Grammy would be at the top of that list. That would be something I would never forget.