From Country to Pop: 5 Taylor Swift Songs That Define Her Genre Shift

Few musicians have more successfully navigated a full-genre crossover like Taylor Swift. Now a pop superstar, she started her career when she was in her teens with songs such as “Tim McGraw” and “Teardrops on My Guitar.” Over the years, Swift has pushed back on being categorized by genre. Even since becoming a fully-fledged pop artist, she has continued to experiment with genres ranging from rock to rap, folk, electronica, and alternative.

Swift took several years and multiple albums to make her transition from country to pop. Her first two albums, Taylor Swift and Fearless, were solidly country, while her next two, Speak Now and Red, showed her moving to pop-country and country rock. With the release of her 2014 album, 1989, it seemed that Swift had fully transitioned away from country music while retaining and growing her success in music. These five songs marked her shift from teen country sweetheart to pop diva.

1. “Love Story,” 2008
Swift’s 2008 album, Fearless, marked the beginning of her move away from country music. While many tracks were solidly country, standouts such as “Love Story” were more ambiguous. The song used acoustic instruments often found in country music, including mandolin, banjo, and fiddles, with most critics categorizing it as country pop.

“Love Story” was Swift’s biggest hit up until that time. The song, which drew inspiration from classic stories such as Romeo & Juliet and The Scarlet Letter, reached the Top 10 on the country, pop, adult Top 40, and adult contemporary charts. It showed Swift’s music had a universal appeal, crossing genres and audience demographics. While still heavily influenced by country music, “Love Story” marked the beginning of her journey into pop.

2. “You Belong With Me”
“You Belong With Me” was another standout on Swift’s 2008 album. It showed her experimenting with new instruments and musical elements, combining acoustic fiddle, banjo, and mandolin with electric guitar and bass. “You Belong With Me” had widespread success across the charts and was praised as a crossover hit. In fact, most of the song’s airplay came from non-country charts.

“You Belong With Me” showed the unmistakable signs of Swift’s past country influence. But it was openly a pop song influenced by country, not country influenced by pop. The song peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and earned Swift three Grammy nominations.

3. “Red”

Swift’s 2012 album Red was a highly experimental one. She worked with new producers to create a track listing that combined elements of country, pop, rock, and even dubstep. The singer’s goal was to go in a decidedly new direction, moving away from country and prioritizing individual songs as whole pieces rather than conforming to a genre.

The album was a success overall, producing seven singles. One of these was “Red,” a song that decidedly showed itself to be a crossover track. It used both acoustic and electric instrumentalization as well as electronically adjusted vocals. The song was placed on both the mainstream pop and country charts and received accolades at the 2014 BMI Country Awards. But it stood out on an album that was an eclectic mix of genres that defied easy categorization.

4. “Safe and Sound”
In 2012, Swift teamed up with indie folk duo The Civil Wars to record the soundtrack for the film The Hunger Games. True to the Civil Wars’ genre—and in keeping with the setting of the movie—their song “Safe and Sound” was a yearning, minimalist folk song. It was officially categorized as indie folk. The goal was to create a song that represented what futuristic Appalachian folk music might sound like.

Rather than seeming like a regression into her country days, “Safe and Sound” marked a new chapter for Swift. It showed her comfort with bending genres and experimenting with new sounds. Moreover, it showed that she was completely comfortable writing for a film soundtrack in a setting that was entirely different from her early music.

5. “Shake It Off”
Swift’s 2014 album, 1989, is widely seen as her step into being a fully-fledged pop singer. The lead single was “Shake It Off,” released ahead of the album. The upbeat dance-pop song was decidedly different from her past twangy country ballads or country-pop coming-of-age tracks and left both fans and critics reeling.

“Shake It Off” used brass instruments and synthesizers to drive the track, a positive, sassy clapback to the criticism Swift had received from the media. In some ways, it also applied to people who attempted to categorize her music or belittle her move into mainstream pop.


Photo by John Shearer/TAS23/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management

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