Without a doubt, the US has a booming country market. The genre is dominated by names like Brad Paisley, Lady Antebellum and Miranda Lambert. Whether you are a male solo superstar (à la Keith Urban), a trio recently formed on the X Factor (Restless Road anyone?) or a female powerhouse like Carrie Underwood, you can stake your claim in the market by mixing those provocative acoustic tones with your own unique spin on what ‘country’ actually is.
The country genre tends to divide people. You either love it or hate it; the sound of the driving electric guitar makes your ears bleed, or it takes you to a higher place. In any case, country musicians seem to live in a relatively untouched microcosm that includes a good pair of boots, an expensive guitar, a southern drawl and a love of biscuits and gravy.
But what happens when pop starts to invade the genre? Is there room for short shorts in the world of banjos and brutally honest lyrics that tell stories of heart break? Apparently yes there is, and we love it.
Just putting it out there, but Carrie Underwood plays a big role in this crossover. Yes, she is a country superstar. But she was also one of the first women to step out of American Idol and make a name for herself as one of the most successful country artists in the US. With 14 million albums sold worldwide, 5 Grammies and heck, even the role of Maria Von Trapp in the TV musical adaptation of The Sound of Music, this woman is a rock star in her own right. And chances are that even if you don’t ‘like’ country, you know who Carrie is and you probably like her, because she’s a nice southern belle (and who doesn’t like Maria Von Trapp, really?).
Blake Shelton. Probably not the first name that would come to mind when you think ‘pop,’ but certainly a mover and a shaker in bridging the two genres. A judge on the Voice, he’s at the forefront of discovering new American talent. Aussie transfer Keith Urban has taken on the same role, initially acting as a judge on the first season of the Australian edition of the Voice, before moving on to American Idol where he is judging his third season this year. It seems that these days, the best country superstars know about pop, and in turn pop is beginning to appreciate country.
Then there’s Taylor Swift. Oh the arguments we could have about what genre this lady sits in. Is she pop? Is she country? Is she a blend? Her latest hit Shake It Off would certainly point to the pop genre; there’s not a hint of the acoustic or melancholy tones of her ironically named breakout hit Tim McGraw in the pop anthem. And over the course of her 4 albums (okay, I’m pre-empting 1989, but if Shake It Off is anything to go by, it’s going to be pop paradise), we have seen her transform from soulful southern girl next door to a pop powerhouse who was just named Billboard Entertainer of the Year. Whatever the case, T-Swift largely owns the tween market and has placed her cowboy booted feet firmly in the camp of the Top 40, making the country to pop crossover more accessible (and tolerable) than ever.
Are you team pop? Are you team country? And does it even matter anymore? There will always be pure country tunes; melodies that get stuck in your head and reach in and grab your heart. But is it really all that bad when one of these country superstars bridges the gap between country and pop? Because really, it just means there more music to appreciate than ever before.