Taylor Swift and country music have had a more strenuous relationship than she has with many of her ex-boyfriends. While there was no denying that she was a country artist when she and her guitar burst onto the scene in 2006, her authenticity since has been argued by everyone with an opinion. 2012’s Red led to an outcry after it was nominated for country genre awards while containing predominantly pop singles. 26 Academy of Country Music Award nominations later, Taylor Swift has officially announced that her fifth studio album, 1989, will be her first official pop record. Let’s take a look at the slow transition Swift made from country to pop in the span of her eight year career.
2006: Taylor Swift
Released when she was just 16, Taylor Swift topped the Billboard Top Country Albums chart for 24 consecutive weeks, peaked at number 5 on the Billboard 200 chart, and was certified five times platinum by the RIAA. Five singles were released from Taylor’s eponymous debut album, but two really caught attention. “Teardrops on My Guitar” was the official second single from the album but the first single to gain mainstream attention and introduce Taylor Swift to the music scene. The triple platinum single peaked at number 2 on the Billboard Country Songs chart and number at 13 on the Billboard Hot 100, the highest position out all five singles. Another big single from her debut is “Our Song.” The single was Taylor’s first to top the Billboard Country Songs chart, making her the youngest female to single handedly write and perform a chart topper on the Country Songs chart. The album went on to be Swift’s only album that hasn’t peaked at number one on the Billboard 200 chart. This album is 100% country with minimal crossover.
Two years after her debut album, Taylor released her second album, Fearless, easily avoiding the sophomore slump. The album sold over 10 million copies worldwide. It topped the Billboard 200 chart for 11 non-consecutive weeks, making it the longest chart topper by a female country artist, it also charted at number one on the Billboard Country Albums chart for 36 weeks. It became the best selling album of the year, making Taylor the youngest artist to achieve this. The album also spent a full year in the top 10 of the Billboard 200, making it the 18th album in history to do so. It is also the second biggest selling album of the last five years, falling behind Adele’s 21. Fearless is also the most awarded album in the history of country music. It spawned five singles with only two being ridiculously successful. “Love Story” was the first single to be released and is Taylor’s best selling single to date. The seven timed platinum single hints at Taylor’s crossover as it is her first single to top the Mainstream Top 40 chart, being the highest peak since Shania Twain, another country artist infamous for her pop crossovers. The other single that got real momentum was “You Belong with Me.” The single received three Grammy nominations and went on to be certified platinum six times. This album is about 95% country due to the fact that her crossover appeal is a lot stronger and some of her singles, including “You Belong with Me,” use pop lyrical structures and melodies. The album also won Taylor her first two Grammys: Album of the Year and Best Country Album.
2009: “Two Is Better Than One”
Taylor’s first taste of success at pop radio without being attached to the country label is her collaboration with American pop rock band Boys Like Girls. Released as the third single from the sophomore album, “Two Is Better Than One” went on to be the band’s most successful single to date.
2010: Speak Now
Four years after she graced the music scene, Swift gave fans her most revealing and vengeful album. Around this time, Swift became a fixture on magazine covers because of the people she dated, not mention the VMAs incident. Speak Now was her second number one album and sold over a million copies within the first week of release. All 14 songs of the standard edition charted on the Billboard Hot 100. Swift released six singles from Speak Now. The first single was “Mine,” which peaked at number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and went on to be certified triple platinum. The second single, “Back to December,” is rumored to be about her ex, Taylor Lautner. The third single, and my personal favorite, is “Mean.” The track is probably her most country sounding single of the album and holds a subliminal anti-bullying message. Taylor’s vengeful songwriting payed off as the track won two Grammys. This album is about 98% country as the production of the songs goes back to the more folky sound of her earlier music, though there is no denying her crossover appeal.
Taylor’s fourth album, Red, is where things get very interesting. The album was announced on August 13, 2012, the same day lead single “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” was released. The single not only had an annoyingly long title, but was her first collaboration with pop producers Max Martin and Shellback, both known for their work with Britney Spears, Cher Lloyd, Avril Lavigne, and Kesha. The single also marks Swift’s first number one single on the Billboard Hot 100. The single was certified quintuple platinum and is considered one of the best selling songs in the world, selling over 6.2 million copies. Though the song contains country sounding guitar arrangements, it was her first predominately pop single. The next single to take not of is “I Knew You Were Trouble.” Country is pretty much extinct as she took a chance (a very weak chance) with dub step during the chorus. The single, also produced by Max Martin and Shellback, was certified quintuple platinum and sold 6.6 million copies. I think it’s a little difficult to categorize Red into on genre, as Swift expertly experimented with all kinds of genres. I personally found Red to be her most entertaining album. The album sold 1.21 million copies in the first week, making it the second highest debut for a female artist, falling behind Britney Spears’s Oops!…I Did It Again. The album also earned Taylor her second Grammy nomination for Album of the Year, though she lost, and Best Country Album, which country fans highly protested. This album is about 55% pop and 45% country with huge mainstream appeal.
Taylor’s fifth album titled 1989
after the year she was born, will be her first official pop album. Reuniting with Max Martin and Shellback for the lead single “Shake It Off,” Taylor sings of “haters and dirty, dirty cheats of the world” over a funky, horn-filled (a method seriously over used in 2014 pop music) production. The single is Taylor’s second song to debut at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and the 22nd single to peak at number one in the chart’s history. It’s also the first song that Taylor has not promoted at country radio, though it has gotten some airplay, and will not be promoting at any country award shows. This is to help depart her name and sound from country music. She has also noted that she has worked with Ryan Tedder, another big name pop producer. Other than that, little is known about the rest of the album besides the fact that it will be released on October 27.
Time will tell if Taylor decides to go back to country or experiment with a completely different genre in the future. There is no denying that she is an excellent songwriter, and excellent perfumer, and a international superstar. So it doesn’t really matter what she wants to do, the world will follow her anywhere she goes.