Taylor Swift Leaves Country Radio Behind for Mass-Appeal Pop

"She’s empowering the audience, and that’s a great message regardless of format."

By Annie Reuter

Last Monday (Aug. 18), Taylor Swift released a brand-new song that pretty much foreshadowed her critics’ reaction. But she didn’t write “Shake It Off,” her first straight-up pop single, for the critics. She wrote it for the fans, and those fans now happen to be at pop radio.

It’s a big deal. Not since Garth Brooks created his soul-patched alter-ego Chris Gaines back in 1999 has a major country artist stepped away from the genre as deliberately as Swift has done with “Shake It Off.” So, what does it mean now that Swift will be releasing her first “documented, official pop album”?

When Jeff Kapugi, VP of Programming for CBS Country, and Program Director for WUSN in Chicago (a CBS Radio station), first heard “Shake It Off” he thought it was a smash — just not for country radio. While some country stations have been playing the song, he said the country airplay will die down.

“The majority of [country] stations that played it [did so] just once, and that was during the live stream,” Kapugi said, referring to Monday’s online event where Swift announced the single and her upcoming album 1989. “There were ones that played it during that, and after that was over when the song was officially released, but it doesn’t appear that there are a bunch of country stations that have it in active rotation right now.”

For pop radio, however, the rotation is much more frequent.

“This song has pretty much gone into a power rotation on almost every radio station,” said Michael Martin, SVP of Programing and Music Initiatives at CBS Radio. “It’ll range anywhere from 10 spins a day to 17 spins a day.”

Some on the country side admit they felt left out when they weren’t invited to Swift’s recent private listening events in New York, and it is evident why: 1989 is a full-fledged pop album, allowing Swift to sit alongside Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande on the pop charts. Though Martin hates to make comparisons, Swift’s new song did remind him of another pop star.

“When I did hear this song I thought, ‘Oh, she is going right after Katy,’” Martin admitted. “It doesn’t sound like Katy so I don’t want to say that. It sounds like Taylor, but as far as how does it stack up next to these artists, it stacks right there. It is a pure pop-center-sound song. This fits right in.”

Related: Taylor Swift Will Not Sing About Exes, Air Dirty Laundry on 1989

Does Swift have staying power in the pop world? Martin seems to think so, while Kapugi wonders if she’ll go back to country with her next album. With either genre, it ultimately comes down to the song.

In Martin’s opinion, Swift will always have crossover appeal as long as she keeps writing songs that reach as many people as possible. She’s already been able to rule the pop charts thanks to her first No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart with “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” And, “Shake It Off” is poised to be her second No. 1 hit on the chart. According to Billboard, Swift has had 14 Top 10 singles on the Hot 100 chart.

“As long as she keeps writing songs that speak to her target audience, which is female, then yes,” Martin said, referring to Swift’s pop appeal. “To me that’s what it’s all about. It’s all about writing the songs that are appealing to that mass-appeal audience.”

And for Swift, her largely female audience mirrors that of today’s pop radio.

“She’s a young, 24-year-old female,” Martin said. “She’s writing a song that talks to women and says, ‘I don’t care what other people think. I don’t care what they say.’ She’s empowering the audience, and that’s a great message to send to any audience, regardless of format.”

Related: 7 Videos That Led Director Mark Romanek to Taylor Swift

Martin says “Shake It Off” speaks directly to women and girls of all ages by saying just be who you are and forget about what anyone else thinks. This message of self-acceptance is all over pop radio this summer, with Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass,” which preaches that you don’t have to be a size 2 and Colbie Caillat‘s newest single “Try,” which urges women to stop being something they aren’t.

“We watch these shifts of what happens in our culture. All throughout history we see music reflect that,” Martin said. “I believe right now, culturally we’re trying to tell each other to accept each other for who we are, and be yourself and don’t worry about other people. Taylor then releases a song that hits the nail right on the head. She releases a song, shows a video where she clearly can’t dance like the other people are, and she’s having fun with it. It’s like…’I’m surrounded by these phenomenal poppers, lockers, breakers. I’m surrounded by these phenomenal ballet crews, by all these amazing dancers, and I can’t do what they do, and who cares?’”

Taylor Swift’s new album 1989 is out Oct. 27.

 


 

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