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Pop vs. country: Fans don't seem to care how they label Taylor Swift

| Wednesday, July 3, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
Taylor Swift, center, performs at the Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Sunday, May 19, 2013 in Las Vegas. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

In an era of blurring boundaries among genres of music, perhaps labels should be limited to soup cans — especially if you're talking about artists like Taylor Swift, who straddle the worlds of country and pop music.

Many people call Swift, once considered a country cutie, a pop princess. But that begs the question: Is the native of the Reading area in Berks County still a country singer at all, or has she completely crossed over to mainstream pop with her latest album, “Red?”

Some country fans argue that Swift, who performs at Heinz Field on July 6 with two non-country openers, Ed Sheeran and Austin Mahone, was only marginally country to begin with, and now is even less so, if at all. But some people on both pop and country sides say Swift, who was just 17 when her eponymous debut album came out in 2006, will never lose her country roots, even if she is diversifying her music as she gets older.

Leah Klocko, the DJ who broadcasts on Froggy (WOGI-FM 104.3) mostly weekday evenings, says Swift is a little bit of both pop and country and hasn't lost her country fan base.

“The country fans still absolutely love her,” says Klocko, whose on-air moniker is Leapin' Leah. “Yes, a lot of the music on ‘Red' kind of went toward pop, but we still get tons of requests for her.

“I think she really has loyal fans because they've sort of grown up with her,” Klocko says. “In my opinion, at least she stayed real whether she sings pop or ... country. Whatever you want to categorize her as, she's been real.”

Unlike Shania Twain, who earned fan backlash when she became a crossover artist in the '90s, Swift's country fans don't seem to be angry or disappointed, Klocko says. If it's a new CD from Swift, her fans want to hear it.

“I haven't had listeners call up and say, ‘Oh, she's pop now,' ” Klocko says. The station is now frequently playing Tim McGraw's hit “Highway Don't Care,” a duet with Swift. Froggy didn't play Swift's No. 1 hit “I Knew You Were Trouble,” which is clearly a pop song.

Swift still has a leg in country music, for sure, even though her music continues to broaden, Klocko says.

“I think she always will because country was her first love,” she says. “Her first song was called ‘Tim McGraw.' ”

The key to Swift's claim to country lies in her songwriting, say Klocko and Chip DiMonick, the singer of a Pittsburgh-area, self-titled rock band.

Interestingly, songwriters Shellback and Max Martin wrote the album's big pop hits — “22,” “I Knew You Were Trouble” and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” Swift's self-penned songs, DiMonick says, sound dramatically different than these songs and include Swift's classic acoustic guitar, banjo and mandolin.

“Most people think of who Taylor Swift is and define Taylor Swift by the three songs they heard on the radio this year,” he says.

“When you think about Taylor Swift, you have to ... really look at who she is,” says DiMonick of Moon. “The feeling that I have determining whether (Swift's music) is country or pop or both ... really just requires looking at her body of work and what she's writing and comparing that to what others write for.”

Klocko says that Swift's songwriting retains the hallmark of country songs: stories about real, everyday people and real, everyday feelings and situations.

“It seems like ... when she writes things, it's not like she's writing about what she's going through from the view of the star,” Klocko says. “It's more about what everyone can relate to.”

In previous albums, Swift offered two versions of some songs — one country, and one more poplike. But she didn't do that on “Red,” which partially explains the less-country feel, Klocko says.

DiMonick says that Swift's crossover is undeniable, but that she hasn't lost her roots.

“There's almost two sides of Taylor Swift: She's both a pure pop artist as well as a crossover pop country artist,” he says.

“In terms of how she's marketed — she's marketed as a pop princess,” he says. “She's pretty much who has filled the void for Miley Cyrus” since Cyrus' Hannah Montana days ended.

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at kgormly@tribweb.com or 412-320-7824.

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