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Country or pop? Taylor Swift fans divided on singer's focus

| Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2009

In just three years, Taylor Swift has gone from being a fledgling teen country singer who grew up on a Pennsylvania tree farm to a household name. Even people who never listen to country music probably have heard of Swift, whose name and face seem to be everywhere, including the cover of several mainstream magazines like Glamour.

In Swift's meteoric rise to fame, which happened almost overnight with her self-titled debut album in 2006, she has enjoyed crossover success in the pop world. Her fan base is much broader than country music, and pop music stations play Swift's songs regularly. In fact, Swift, who plays tonight at Mellon Arena, has scored two No. 1 hits on the Top 40 charts: "Love Story" and "You Belong With Me."

A country star gaining crossover fans from the pop-music world is nothing new; it happens more and more often in an industry that increasingly blurs the line between the two genres, experts and fans say. Still, the question remains: Is Swift still predominantly a country artist, or is she now mostly a pop princess?

J.D. Greene, a deejay who worked for two years on Pittsburgh pop/rock station KISS-FM, calls Swift, 19, a country artist who happens to be having crossover success right now.

"I think when it's all said and done, Taylor will always be a country artist," says Greene, 28, formerly of South Park. He moved a year ago to Minneapolis, where he works for country radio station KEEY-FM. "I don't think she makes music saying, 'This can go to the Top 40.' I think she'll still make her country songs, and they'll find a way to get it onto the Top 40.

"It's hard, as a Top 40 radio station, to go out on a limb and play a country artist," Greene says. "Country can be a polarizing outlet. ... She somehow won over the pop crowd."

Frank Bell, vice president of programming for Pittsburgh's Froggy 104.3-FM country radio, calls Swift both pop and country, in the same way the Beatles were both pop and rock.

"I think Taylor is a smart enough artist that she knows country music and country radio brought her to the party," says Bell, who has worked at many pop radio stations. "The reason she got in the business in the first place was hearing LeAnn Rimes."

Swift, a Berks County native, clearly wants to continue to be identified as a country artist, Bell says, and she values her relationships with country radio and country listeners highly. Part of what makes her so appealing beyond genre boundaries is the lyrics of her self-penned songs, he says. Her words relate to people's lives, particularly those of teenage girls, who form a huge part of Swift's fan base, Bell says.

"That's why she's so successful," he says. "I don't see any reason why she can't continue to appeal to both pop and country fans. ... I think it's really just more about her wanting to reach as many people as she can with her music. Why limit yourself by pigeonholing yourself?"

Fans' opinions on Swift's status as pop or country are mixed.

Tori Grinchuk, 11, of Natrona Heights says she's not a country music fan -- only a major Swift fan. Still, Tori views Swift as more of a country singer than a pop singer.

"It's her style -- the way she sings, her voice, and the way she projects herself," Tori says. "I like her personality, and I really love her songs."

Emily Ahearn, 14, of South Park enjoys playing Swift's songs, such as "Our Song," on the guitar. She votes for pop.

"I think (Swift) started out being more country, but now, she's more pop," Emily says. "It's the sound."

Emily calls herself a bit of a country fan, although the acts she likes, like Shania Twain and Faith Hill, are crossovers. Emily likes Swift because of "the things that she writes about," she says. "Because I can relate, and she has a good voice."

Julia Hansberry, 12, of Upper St. Clair says Swift is the only country artist she likes. Julia says Swift is "somewhere in between" country and pop. "It sounds like pop music, but it also sounds like country music," Julia says. "I think she is a little more pop than country."

Julia says she likes Swift because her songs are good and she has interesting music videos. Swift won the best female video award in September at the MTV Video Music Awards, a first for a country artist.

"She can actually sing, unlike some of the other singers ... (who) just sing into a microphone and someone redoes their voice," Julia says.

Jeremy Mulder, a Froggy DJ who does the afternoon show as "Danger Frog," says Swift is absolutely a country star and has not tried to be a pop star. She might not have the twang of classic country, but she has boots, a cool dress, a guitar and a story to tell.

"Country music is known for telling a story," Mulder says. "She's definitely not singing about her bling bling. ... She wrote songs about her life on her guitar, and people relate to her. And that's country.

"So many teenage girls love her and want to be like her," he continues. "I can understand why her music speaks to so many teenagers. ... They listen to her music, and she's writing about things they're going through now."

Additional Information:

Taylor Swift

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

Admission: SOLD OUT

Where: Mellon Arena , Uptown

Details: 800-745-3000

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