Country Pop

In the late 1990s Country Pop became popular due to the combination of country and pop sounds. There was a shift in country music that was occurring between New Country music and Country Pop. Country Pop was said to be “far younger, sexier, and more glamorous than ever before” (Neal). The genre was changing in all aspects of the music, from the instrumentation, to the lyrics, to the overall look of the artists. All Music’s article attributes rockabilly music with the connection between country music to mainstream sounds. The connection with mainstream sounds allowed country artists to crossover into the pop genre. This lead to the mass consumption of country music, instead of production solely for authentic listeners, a hybridization of country music.

 

The Nashville Sound was an integral part in the development of the popularity of Nashville.  Nashville then became home to country music and country music production, leading to the rise of Country Pop. Around the same time, The Bakersfield sound was introduced in order to compete with The Nashville Sound. In the mid to late 1980s there was a movement to bring country music back to its simplistic sounds and roots. However, with the more sophisticated production techniques used in Nashville, the sub genre of Country Pop was born.

 

Country Pop was a sub genre that was dominated by women who were “searching for personal fulfillment and independence” (Neal). Shania Twain was the face of the Country Pop movement throughout the 90s. Women were dominating the country music charts, however their success was not solely due to their music. The rising popularity of the female country music artists also came from the commercialization they brought to the industry. Male artists during this period could not achieve the right balance between country and pop while the female artists were doing it with ease. The Dixie Chicks brought about the change in the instrumentation to more of a “pop” sound. This meant that the music took on a more complex sound rather than the simplicity country music was used to.

 

More recently, Country Pop’s transition has been attributed to artists like Faith Hill and Taylor Swift. Faith Hill’s success lead her to book anything from award show performances, to being a TV spokeswoman, to becoming the face of Sunday Night Football. That is until recently when Carrie Underwood took over. Hill could be said to be the most popular crossover country artist due to her fame within the music industry but also due to the Hollywood spot light that is thrust upon her and her family. The combination of her “girl-next-door image, movie-star good looks, and sex appeal” have landed her many endorsements that have made her known around the world (Garrity). On the other hand, Taylor Swift “lost her country roots and traveled over to the pop side of music” (Eells). In the Rolling Stone’s article, Swift talks about how she tried to do both country and pop but ultimately decided to become fully focused on pop music. Swift got her start in country music but had to distance herself from Nashville and the country music scene when she chose pop. She wanted to be able to fully immerse herself into pop music and not have to focus on straddling the line between country and pop. Even though in the end Swift’s new album will forever crossover into country music.

Key Figures:

 

  • Shania Twain (b. 1965t) was the female artist that pioneered not only the transition into country pop but also is one of the most successful female country artists ever. She was the first female artist to sell out shows around the globe. Twain’s album Come On Over lead her to an international pop breakthrough, which ultimately lead to the success of her music.

 

 

  • Faith Hill (b. 1967) was discovered singing back-up in Nashville for singer Gary Burr. She has had six hit albums that have brought national attention to the growing sub genre of country pop. Her most successful album was her fourth album, Breathe. She is currently married to Tim McGraw, who has been called the most notable male artist in the country pop genre.

 

  • Tim McGraw (b. 1967) is one of the male leaders of Country Pop, and has been called the most notable male artist in the country pop genre.  He is one of the few male artists who has been able to successfully balance Country and Pop sounds without crossing over into Hick-Hop or Bro-Country.  He has won countless awards dating back to 1994, and has starred in multiple Hollywood hits including The Blind Side and Friday Night Lights.

 

  • Taylor Swift (b. 1989) is a four-time multi platinum-album maker, seven-time Grammy winner, and a main focal point of all gossip and media sources. Swift got her start in the country music scene through the popularity of her break up songs and songs about love. Recently she has branched off into the pop music genre.

 

Recommended Listening

 

Annotated Bibliography

Bufwack, Mary A., and Robert K. Oermann. Finding Her Voice: Women in Country Music, 1800-2000. Nashville: Country Music Foundation, 2003. Print.

“Meeting the Millennium” is a chapter that covers female artists’ accomplishments in the 1990s to the 2000s. During this time, women became the center of country music. However, the focus was not solely on their music; it was also on the commercialization that they brought to the industry. The instrumentals in the songs were changing and becoming more electronic, courteous of the Dixie Chicks, along with the fact that women artists, like Shania Twain, were selling out shows around the globe. LeAnn Rimes, Faith Hill, and Lee Ann Womack all straddled the line of country and pop music with ease, while men in the country music industry failed. By the year 2000, major labels had more female artists than men artists on their rosters. Even though females were dominating the charts, men were still dominating the record studios. To try and resolve this issue, women in country music started coming as a package deal. They made a point to hire all women stage bands and only share tour buses and stages with women. The article then goes into detail on every successful popular artist during this time period, starting with the woman that paved the path of female success in today’s country music, Shania Twain. After Twain, the article highlights the career of Faith Hill.

 

Country-Pop.” AllMusic. 1 Jan. 2015. Web. 18 Feb. 2015. <http://www.allmusic.com/subgenre/country-pop-ma0000004416>.

All Music’s article describes the origin of country-pop and the sounds and subgenres that influenced it. The article credits rockabilly with creating the first relationship between country music and mainstream sounds, which ultimately led to country-pop. “RCA Records producer Chet Atkins was the most important figure in the initial cross-breeding of country and pop, creating a sound that was dubbed ‘countrypolitan’ for its blend of rural sensibility and urban sophistication,” claims All Music. It is stated that the structure of country songs made them easier to blend with pop music. This article discusses the different instrumentation techniques used by producers to merge the two genres, such as the addition of the keyboard with the acoustic guitar. All Music also makes connections between country and pop all the way back to the Bakersfield sound and Nashville sound, using their solid beats and electronic sounds as examples.

 

Eells, Josh. “The Reinvention of Taylor Swift.” Rolling Stone. N.p., 08 Sept. 2014. Web. 17 Feb. 2015

The Rolling Stone did a piece into the life of Taylor Swift in September of 2014. When the article talks about Swift’s latest album 1989, the author includes how her music was influenced by 80’s pop music. For example, artists like Phil Collins, Annie Lennox, and Madonna. Swift’s album Red, that came out in 2012 straddles the line of pop and country. Swift comments on how she tried to do both, but at one point you lose one of the genres. In this case she lost her country roots and traveled over to the pop side of music. For her to choose pop was a big deal, even if the fans cannot exactly tell the difference. In order for Swift to completely emerge herself into the pop scene she wants to distance herself from the country music scene. This means she will not be attending as many country music awards or promoting her album on country music radio. Also, she has recently bought herself a 15 million dollar pent house in New York and no longer resides in Nashville. Swift also talks about how earlier in her career she did not want to highlight the fact that she is a feminist because she did not want to alienate male listeners. Now she does not care and is proud to identify herself as a feminist. She wants her music to connect with women instead of creating a sex icon in the male’s eyes. 1989 does not include any tracks that directly targets her exes.

 

Garrity, Brian. “Faith Hill At Her Peak.” Billboard 112.50 (2000): 26. Music Index. Web. 16 Feb. 2015

Breathe is Faith Hill’s fourth and most successful album. The album reached number one on both The Billboard 200 and Top Country Albums. The article titled “Faith Hill At Her Peak” lists many of the accomplishments that Hill had throughout the 1990’s and into the early 2000’s. The article states how Hill was having success was so great she was booking everything from awards show performances to TV spokesperson ads. Faith Hill also became the face of Sunday Night Football. Hill’s girl-next-door image, her movie-star good looks, and her sex appeal have landed her many endorsements. The article includes the fact that Hill ranks among the most popular country crossover artists today. This is because her music has a broad appeal that is favorable to both the country and pop audiences so it is able to reach two different audiences. She has had more than 11 million albums sold, eight number one singles one the country music charts, and eight singles on The Billboard Hot 100. Hill got her start in Nashville singing as a back-up singer for Gary Burr when Warner Brothers took interest in her. She released her first album in 1994 and then her next album the next year. In 1996 Hill married Tim McGraw. Faith’s biggest hit to this day is Breathe.

 

Neal, Jocelyn. “The Commercial Country Explosion.” Country Music: A Cultural and Stylistic History. New York: Oxford UP, 2012. 375-407. Print.

Country-pop started becoming popular in the late 90s with songs that had an equal balance of country and pop sounds. Neal claims that Country-pop also came about for four reasons: it was “far younger, sexier and more glamorous than ever before” the lyrics were less redneck and more philosophical and positive; it was a subgenre dominated by women who were “searching for personal fulfillment and independence” and the opposition to the Country-pop resulted in counter subgenres. With the album The Woman in Me, “[Shania] Twain spearheaded a major stylistic shift in country music toward Country-pop, which found a waiting and welcoming audience among pop fans as well as country,” according to Neal (396). The author also believes that Faith Hill brought a lot of attention and success to the subgenre of Country-pop with her 6 hit albums during the era. Neal claims that one of the major reasons for the rapid success of Country-pop was not only its radio demand, but also the popularity of line dancing. However, Country-pop has since then lost its connection with line dancing.

 

Twain, Shania. From This Moment on. New York: Atria, 2011. Print

The Shania Twain autobiography takes the readers through detailed accounts of her life. In the chapter titled “New Country, New Name,” Shania recounts her experience coming into the music business. She talks about when she first got her big record deal it came with multiple stipulations, one being that her contract required her to make eight albums and the other that she had to change her name to a stage name. She then goes into detail about her transition from Canada to Nashville. She had to lose her accent and had to change some of her mannerisms to fit into the pop country scene. Twain also mentions how she became interested in country music from listening to outlaw country singers like Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Johnny Cash. Along with these names she also mentions Dolly Parton. The chapter ends with Shania talking about how even though she had a huge record deal she was still struggling and taking a handout from her music video dance choreographer was an embarrassment.

 

Whitaker, Sterling. “Country Chameleon: The Ever-Changing Music of Tim McGraw.” The Boot. 19 Jan. 2014. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.

Sterling Whitaker from The Boot did a feature on Tim McGraw and the evolution of his music. The article provides arguments from both critics and supporters of McGraw’s changing style. Critics believe that Tim McGraw’s newer songs are too automated and are not happy with the electronic sounds of his music. For example one of the critics stated, “LEAVE THE AUTOMATED STUFF TO POP AND HIPHOP!!! I can’t be the only one that missed acoustic guitars and unautotuned voice.” It is noted that Tim McGraw, at age 46, has gotten to the point when artists start to wash out; McGraw however is actively keeping his music, sound, and image current to fit with the time. “[Tim McGraw] has always been among the first big-name artists to embrace new changes. That keeps his music sounding fresh and new – even if it risks alienating some of his more traditional-minded listeners,” states Whitaker. This is an important piece showing the pros and cons of the changing style of country artists, and helps to show that country-pop is still one of the mainstream country subgenres. This article also gives insight into arguably one of the most successful male artists in the Country Pop subgenre.

 

Guiding Questions

  1. Why do you think women dominated the country music industry during this time period?
  2. What do you think contributed to the change in the instrumentation?
  3. Why do you think Tim McGraw was one of the few male artists who was able to claim success in this female dominated sub-genre?