Taylor Swift brings out her fourth album Red today, so it seems fitting to look at how she’s brought country music from out of the corn fields and into the charts.
Coming off the back of Carrie Underwood’s success in reality show American Idol, Taylor’s first album was a critical and commercial smash, with it instantly lighting up the country charts in America and eventually breaking into the top five of the main Billboard charts in America.
Bringing her award wins at the Nashville Songwirter’s Association and several other country awards shows, it marked her a major player in the country scene already at the age of 16. Her nomination for Best New Artist at the Grammys that year foretold her mainstream success.
It was Swift’s second album that started that ball really moving though making Swift a global superstar and netting her 29 platinum discs (just for the album) and a slew of awards including four Grammys and that infamous MTV VMA win that got Kanye West so upset.
Her singles Love Story and You Belong With Me typified what Taylor Swift brought to the party, a new take on both pop and country. Mixing the heartfelt, diary like lyrics of a traditional country song, with the fast tempo and catchy choruses that are synonymous with pop, Swift managed to combine the finest elements of both elements.
Swift’s age was another key factor. An 18 year old singing about boys and the troubles they bring? Sounds like an instant gateway for a whole bunch of teenagers looking for a bit of comfort.
Her next album Speak now just built on that success, and while it didn’t quite capture the public imagination like Fearless did, it won her another duo of Grammys, a slate of country awards and cemented her as the single biggest country artist worldwide.
Throughout all of this though, she’s remained exactly that, a country artist. Never afraid to pick a banjo and slow down the tempo, bringing bluegrass to a whole new audience with its trademark storytelling lyrical structure a big part of Swift’s arsenal.
Her adoption of pop music has given her a worldwide appeal and reach that country music just simply hasn’t had in recent memory. Sure, there’s occasionally the breakout country hit that takes America by storm, but how often is that seen overseas? Very little.
County music for too long has relied on its native audience and not gone out looking for new listeners. How are people able to explore the worlds of bluegrass and the scores of great music that’ being produced without some sort of gateway.
Taylor Swift fulfils that role perfectly.
Without her, we wouldn’t have seen the rise of country pop and the emergence of acts such as Lady Antebellum. She’s also given a genre that was in danger of becoming completely insular and exclusionary a whole new audience willing and eager to find more of a genre they might never have heard about before.
She might have her detractors from the country music elite and connoisseurs, but like it or not, Taylor Swift might just be the most important thing to happen to country in the last decade.
FemaleFirst Cameron Smith