Is Taylor Swift Country or Pop?

The Eternal Debate Revisited

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There's perhaps no more divisive topic among country fans than Taylor Swift.

Is she a country singer or a pop singer? Something in between? The second coming or the first sign of the apocalypse?

There's no one like her currently in the sphere of country music. Not since the days of Garth Brooks and "No Fences"--speaking of divisive artists.

Taylor Swift continues to have a huge impact on mainstream music culture. A short list of artists in that league includes Lady Gaga, Rihanna, and, yes, even nemesis Kanye West. Which is to say Nashville doesn't have anyone like her. Even counting stars like Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood.

Some might conclude that Nashville needs her more than she needs Nashville. Music journalist Caramanica did just that in his article on the 2012 CMA Awards, "Country Nudges It Elders Away," in which modern country is torn between provincialism and mainstream aspirations -- resulting in "an agonized relationship with pop, as seen in its pinched-nosed embrace of Taylor Swift, its biggest star, whether or not she’s a genre faithful."

Caranamica reevaluated his take on Swift and Nashville in his write-up of next year's awards. In his article "Country Holds Swift Close," he characterizes the country establishment as desperate not to lose Taylor Swift as the Church of Scientology is not to lose Tom Cruise.

"Remember when the sugar-sweet Ms. Swift was the biggest threat at country music’s doorstep?" Caranamica asks. "That was just a few years ago when the notion that a teenage blond female star could remake the genre was perceived as both a delusion and an affront. Now it’s a fait accompli, and the only way for country music to respond to her — and for her to engage with country music, a dance partner she now only sometimes favors — is to fete her endlessly, to let her be serious in addition to frilly, to weave her even more tightly into the fabric of Nashville."

So, here's one answer to the question of whether or not Taylor Swift is country:

Yes, because Nashville needs her to be.

OK, but is she country?

Once you start splitting hairs, you start to wonder whether anything on the radio is country. Luke Bryan's "That's My Kinda Night" has more to do with Lil Wayne than traditional country music. Which isn't to say that anyone would label it as hip-hop. Blake Shelton's "Over You" is Richard Marx on moonshine.

This isn't anything new. Waylon Jennings started playing bass guitar for Buddy Holly and The Crickets, and his brand of outlaw country music often has more to do with rock 'n' roll than The Carter Family. Willie Nelson singing style is heavily influenced by jazz -- as is the Western swing of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. Hank Williams's "Lovesick Blues" comes from the minstrel tradition -- yodels and all.

Country music has never been pure. It's always been a melting pot.

Musical forms change and Swift is part of that. Swift's music seems strange because it's new. Will it seem so in twenty years? Or will people be complaining that a new artist isn't country because they sound nothing like Taylor Swift?