February 4, 2010
In the days since, there has been a lot of chatter, including some at Country Universe, regarding both her wins and her performance on the show. Reading through the comments for the first time yesterday, I was struck by how passionate both sides are when debating Swift’s worthiness to be a Grammy winner, standard bearer for country music, or even a recording artist at all.
I’d like to suggest that there is no moral dilemma being created by the success of Taylor Swift. Country music has been around for a long time before she came along, and it will remain long after she’s gone, whether that’s a year from now or fifty years from now.
I say this as someone who is remarkably indifferent to Swift, even though I tend to agree with the major criticisms of her. Can she sing? Dear God, no. At least not on a live microphone. I’m sure that pairing her with Stevie Nicks was the travesty that it’s being described as.
But it’s not like country music hasn’t been embarrassed before. Anyone who witnessed John Michael Montgomery’s atrocious butchering of “I Swear” on the Grammys or saw the Cyrus Virus at its mullet and exposed armpit peak can attest to that. Country music will survive.
Did she win in the country categories with music that is essentially pop? Sure she did. But so have everyone from Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton to Shania Twain and Juice Newton. Grammy voters have never been purists and crossover music is as much a tradition in the genre’s history as what is generally referred to as traditional country music. Country music will survive.
Did she win a vocalist award over far better singers? Of course she did. But so did K.T. Oslin and Mary Chapin Carpenter, the latter of whom won four consecutive trophies for four consecutive ditties. Swift’s victory came with a song that’s fairly substantive, at least. Country music will survive.
Will Taylor Swift fade in popularity once her tween/teen audience matures? Possibly, but there’s no way to predict that. The history of popular music is filled with superstars who made their name by appealing to teenage audiences. Some, like the Backstreet Boys and Tiffany, quickly faded into obscurity, but others, like The Beatles and Madonna, are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Should she be the genre’s standard bearer right now? Enough record buyers and award show voters seem to think so. They’ve been wrong before, but they’ve also acknowledged great talent early on, so who knows?
Personally, the subject matter of Swift’s songs coupled with vocals best experienced through closed captioning keeps me from getting on board with the star du jour. But I don’t think it’s a good or a bad thing that she’s experiencing commercial success and getting industry awards as well. It’s just a reflection of the marketplace. Just because I don’t personally like something doesn’t mean that others can’t find meaning in it, and with music being entirely subjective anyway, I just don’t see what the moral issue is here.
If you like other artists more, great. Listen to them. Taylor Swift being on the radio doesn’t stop Pam Tillis from being on my car stereo. Award shows voting Taylor Swift the best vocalist doesn’t stop a dissenter from feeling that anyone else is better. There’s no moral issue here; just a difference of opinion.
Now if Meryl Streep loses to Sandra Bullock for Best Actress at the Oscars, then we can talk about moral injustices…