Taylor Swift nearly kept the cancer-themed ballad "Ronan" in her drawer forever, thinking it was "too sad to ever sing again" after she first wrote it, she tells Yahoo! Music.
"Ronan" isn't included on her new album, Red, but it's still part of the national conversation after she debuted it in September on the Stand Up to Cancer telecast. While we were asking her about Red, we also had to inquire about what led her to unexpectedly debut this non-album cut on national television less than two months before her album was coming out.
"Writing 'Ronan' was something that I did very quietly," Swift told us. "And I only played it for a few people when I wrote it almost a year and a half ago, because it was really hard for me to get through. It was hard for me to record. It was hard emotionally to present that song. When it came time to play Stand Up to Cancer, Gwyneth (Paltrow, the show's executive producer) reached out to me and said 'I really want you to be a part of this'— and immediately the song 'Ronan' just popped up in my mind. Because this was a song that I wrote that I thought was too sad to even sing again." But it suddenly seemed do-able to Swift since "it was about this topic that everyone was coming together for."
On Red, Swift worked with a lot of collaborators, and "Ronan" is officially billed as a collaborative effort, too. But in this case, it was really a solo composition, but Swift gave co-writing credit to Maya Thompson—whom she'd met only briefly, once, backstage at a show—because she borrowed many of the lines and ideas from Thompson's blog. As you may know, Thompson's online diarizing about the short life and death of her 4-year-old son, Ronan, who died of neuroblastoma in 2011, captivated much of the nation, including Swift. The singer was inspired to pen the song after reading of the boy's death, but she never told his parents she'd written the song. And when she did, they still didn't hear it until the rest of America did, the night of Sept. 7.
"I think if I hadn't played it on Stand Up to Cancer, or Stand Up to Cancer hadn't happened, I would have ended up sending the song to Maya at some point," Swift tells us. "But I called her ahead of time and talked her through it and asked her if it was okay if I did this. You know, it was a really emotional experience knowing she was on the other end of the TV and that her husband and her two sons were going to be watching it. Hoping that you captured someone else's grief is a lot of pressure. But it was pressure I was happy to take on. Because she wrote it in such a beautiful and honest way that I just knew if I stuck close to what she felt and her stories that she told, it would be something that she might appreciate as remembering her son, and as tribute."
It was released the following day on iTunes (with Swift having no compunctions about it competing with her very different "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," which had just been released two weeks earlier), and the charity single had 220,000 downloads just in week one, good enough to debut at No. 2 on Billboard's digital songs chart. The single can be purchased here.
To read Maya Thompson's account of the fateful phone call she got from Swift before the telethon, and her reaction to the performance, read her blog account of the moments that suddenly made her late son a celebrity among pop and country music fans.
And take a look here for more of our interview with Swift about Red... or go here to get our exclusive take on the new album's deluxe-edition bonus tracks...