POSTED ON JULY 31, 2013:
Where Pop and Country Collide
Not an up-and-comer anymore
Sometimes the lines blur between what is country and pop. Not that it should really matter -- after all, music is music. But it can become a tricky issue when it comes to country music. It used to be country music was all about twangy guitars, Nashville and Texas, and singing about trains, alcohol, and heartbreak.
There was always something authentic about the "real" country artists: You know, the classic ones like Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn, George Jones and Tammy Wynette, Hank, Patsy, Dolly, Waylon, and Willie Nelson. And Johnny Cash. Somewhere in the timeline, though, the genre lines became blurred.
Sure, it's easy to blame it on Nashville and an influx of pop musicians that adjusted their style with just enough twang and a cowboy hat or snap shirt to sell themselves as country, but even some of the classics began to blur before then: Waylon Jennings on the 1996 Lollapalooza tour, Johnny Cash working with Rick Rubin in his twilight years.
Over the past couple of decades, however, the lines have blurred even more, with artists like Shania Twain and Faith Hill at the forefront of a major genre crossover in the mid-'90s. By 2013, it's hard to tell the difference between pop and country in many instances. So how are we to define an artist and what they identify with?
Perhaps none are so hard to categorize as Taylor Swift, the young lady that released her self-titled debut in 2006 (at the age of 17) and proceeded to explode on both the country and pop charts. Of course, part of the quandary lies in the fact that Swift so seamlessly blends elements of pop, rock and country, garnering legions of fans in both the pop and country markets. How to define her style might just depend more on how Swift views herself.
When asked, she identifies herself as a country artist. But on what grounds? When speaking with Craig Mclean in 2010, she said her own definition of country music "is really pretty simple. It's when someone sings about their life and what they know, from an authentic place... One guy will write about how he grew up on a farm and fell in love and raised kids on that same farm. Some people sing about how and when they get sad, they go to the bar and drink whiskey. I write songs about how I can't seem to figure out relationships and how I'm fascinated by love."
Granted, there is an authenticity to Swift's songs that can't be denied. She's one of what has become a rare breed -- she writes her own songs instead of picking them from a stable of Nashville writers, and she's never been shy about letting it be known that she writes about love and heartbreak from her own experiences. Perhaps that's why fans from both the pop and country markets have indentified so strongly with her music.
And make no mistake -- they HAVE identified with her music. Although the music industry has definitely shifted in the past two decades, Swift has been one of the few artists to consistently reach multiplatinum status. With career record sales in excess of 26 million albums and more than 75 million song downloads worldwide, she has landed singles at the top of both the country and pop charts and has scored 13 number one singles across multiple radio formats. And considering she is only 23 years old and four albums into her career, you can be sure she's still got a long career ahead of her.
Courtesy/ Taylor Swift's MGMT
Currently on tour for her latest album, Red, Swift continues to blur the lines between genres as the album topped both country and pop charts, selling 1.2 million copies in the U.S. alone in its first week of release. The album also made Swift the first artist since The Beatles (and the only female artist) to log six or more weeks at number one with three consecutive studio albums.
When explaining why she entitled her latest album Red, Swift said "I called it that because of the tumultuous, crazy adventures in love and loss that it chronicles. In my mind, when you experience love that's fast-paced and out of control and mixes infatuation, jealousy, frustration, miscommunication, and all of those lovely emotions... In retrospect, it all looks red."
Admittedly, however, Swift has taken a more liberal approach to this latest album, only writing nine of the songs herself and enlisting co-writers such as Max Martin, Liz Rose, Dan Wilson and friend Ed Sheeran to assist on seven of the tracks. She also worked with a number of producers on the album with Nathan Chapman taking the lead, but also working with Butch Walker, Dann Huff, Jacknife Lee, and Shellback on additional tracks, which led her to experiment more with rock and dance-pop beyond her normal singer-songwriter fare.
Overall, some take it as a cue that Swift is moving in an even more pop-oriented direction, while others attribute it simply to her growth as an artist.
As for now, however, she remains one of the biggest stars in country music, having won seven Country Music Association Awards and six Academy of Country Music Awards. And that's just on the country side of things. She has also amasses 11 American Music Awards, 12 Billboard Music Awards and seven Grammys, including both Album of the Year and Best Country Album in 2010 for her sophomore release, Fearless.
Regardless of how you try to categorize her, Swift's star continues to rise as she hasn't yet seen the peak of her popularity -- and it is to be assumed, her creativity, as she's still so young.
Taylor Swift arrives in Tulsa this coming Wednesday night, August 7, for yet another sold out show at BOK Center. Although you can rest assured the crowd will be packed with country fans, she'll also be catering to her pop fans as well and continuing to defy categorization.
The tell-tale sign on this tour may just be her choice of opening acts, enlisting friend Ed Sheeran to introduce the evening with his own unique singer-songwriter style that blends pop, R&B and even a bit of rap.
While Swift may not clear the air on where country ends and pop begins, she's definitely a sign of where the music industry and most fans are headed: into an area when categories may just no longer matter and genres are allowed to intermingle.
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