From The Editor's Desk: Why Taylor Swift Is Good For Country Music
By: Matt Bjorke
There seems to be a lot of debate going on these days about whether Taylor Swift is or should still be considered a country artist. A lot of this debate has to do with the sound of her record-making new single "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" [listen here]. That debate is clearly not made on any rational level. It comes from the same ages-old debate about what exactly is Country Music?
This is a debate that has raged on long before even my parents were alive, only then it was called "old time music" and the stars were The Carter Family and Jimmy Rodgers. It raged on into every decade with artists like Patsy Cline pitted as 'pop' against the 'traditionalist' or 'honky toners' like Hank Williams, Jr and Ernest Tubb. What Patsy Cline and eventually The Outlaws, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Reba, Garth Brooks, Shania Twain and now Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood have done is keep country music somewhere in the same conversation of whatever makes up the "Pop music" of the times. What these artists mentioned did then and what Taylor Swift (and Underwood) do now is bringing Country Music to the masses or at least bringing the masses to Country Music.
This is good for Country Music.
Taylor Swift serves as a 'gateway drug' to the genre we all love and cherish. Yes, she writes those Pop-filled melodies and the new song is really catchy and unlike anything heard on country radio but weren't many of the songs from the likes of Cline, Parton, Twain and Brooks too? Yes, they were. That's what makes Taylor Swift a ground-breaking, once in a lifetime artist like these legends of music. She doesn't follow the 'mold', she breaks it.
Taylor Swift brings Country Music more world-wide awareness and using Google Trends, she brings 3.7 times the amount of search traffic from Google than does even Carrie Underwood, her biggest 'rival' in country music and is incredibly higher than even Jason Aldean, another current star who is taking risks with his music.
Taylor Swift gets people talking about Country Music and even when she's breaking records on Billboard, SoundScan and other Pop and all-genre charts, she still is considered a Country Music artist. Country Music gave her wings as a teenager. Country Music gave her first big hits. Country Music gave her her first awards. Country Music will continue to be home for Taylor. She may be expanding what we consider the Genre but she remains dedicated to Country Music. If you needed any more proof, she wouldn't have donated millions to the Country Music Hall of Fame earlier this year.
Too many times we get lost in what Country Music 'should' sound like when we really should focus on a majority of what makes Country Music the time-tested, truest and purest American Music art form that it is. The lyrics of the songs. The lyrics that speak to real life, true to life situations and like it or not, call it juvenile if you must, but "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" is clearly a country song in this context. It's ripped right from Swift's diary.
Yes, her new song is a ditty but wasn't Joe Diffie's "Third Rock From The Sun" or a gazillion other songs? Does anyone think that "Tim McGraw" (Swift's first hit) isn't a country song or similarly about a boy? Does anyone think that Carrie Underwood's "Blown Away" isn't a country song because it brings a little atmospheric melodies and instrumentation to the charts? Nope. It's a country song because of the lyric content, a lyric that could and probably would be a hard sell on Pop and Adult Contemporary radio stations if not a Carrie Underwood song. This is the same reason why Taylor Swift's current hit is a country song, even if the melody and sound of it feel more Pop and Adult Contemporary (remember, those genres are more sound/production oriented than Country Music's lyrics-driven style).
Taylor Swift is good for Country Music. She helps bring more fans into the genre, they discover great artists and classics in the same way that Garth Brooks or Shania Twain had fans finding the likes of Loretta Lynn and Hank Williams. My own 15 year old niece just discovered Emmylou Harris and thanks Taylor Swift and the string of up and coming young artists in Country Music. If you don't think that's good for Country Music, quite frankly, you're blinded by some sort of bias.
Taylor Swift helps other artists sell music, brings fans out to shows who thus become engaged with the music, these fans become the next artists and they will then influence other fans down the road. Country Music is a living organism and like any living organism, they evolve and change over time. Yes, Traditional Country Music is different from Taylor Swift, perhaps miles different, but the mere presence of Taylor Swift doesn't make it any less harder for traditionalists to be making great new music.
Taylor Swift's presence makes it easier and gives Country Music more fans to discover the jewels that Country Radio may or may not play as much as they do Taylor Swift. So, no matter what you think of Taylor Swift's music personally, you should be happy to have her in Country Music if you're a fan of Country Music. Taylor Swift helps the genre, gives it exposure to people all around the world and that in turn brings more fans out to shows and makes it easier for the smaller artists to have a chance. Taylor Swift is good for Country Music.