Grammy Noms 2022: From Country To Pop – What’s In A Name? Or Genre?

Kacey Musgraves
John Davisson
– Kacey Musgraves
Kacey Musgraves ignites the audience during Coachella’s second weekend on Friday, April 19, in Indio, Calif.

Music, like most great art, can be unclassifiable, all about the artist following their intuition and creativity – genre be damned. Musicians and their creations often don’t fit neatly into a box, no matter how much radio stations, Billboard song charts and the Grammy Awards might like to categorize them. 

While it may have seemed silly to some when Justin Bieber released a statement last year objecting to three of his 2020 Grammy nominations for being in the pop category rather than R&B, art is supposed to be about self-expression – not having outsiders tell you who you are. 
Most of us don’t like being labeled but that’s exactly what happens when the Recording Academy’s screening committees analyze which categories potential nominated recordings should be sorted into. 
The Grammy genre drama continued this year with the news that Kacey Musgraves’ latest album, Star-Crossed, would be considered for the pop category, rather than country. The decision was especially confounding because Star-Crossed is similar stylistically to her fourth studio album, Golden Hour, which took home Grammys for Best Country Album, Best Country Song for “Space Cowboy,” and Best Country Solo Performance for “Butterflies,” along with the coveted prize for Album of the Year. 
Universal Music Group Nashville president Cindy Mabe sent a letter to Recording Academy chief Harvey Mason Jr. in hopes of changing the ruling and to “help (Mason Jr.) and the Grammys fully understand the importance of Kacey Musgraves to country music,” especially at a time “with women making up only 10 percent of all country airplay,” according to Variety. She added, “The idea that a handful of people including competitors, who would benefit from Kacey not being in the country category, are deciding what is country only exacerbates the problem.”
An article by Jem Aswad and Chris Willman for Variety pointed out that “it’s possible that Mabe’s accusations of self-interest are valid; this is after all a business, and a Grammy Award isn’t just the music world’s biggest honor, it’s an almost guaranteed sales and profile boost.”

Variety spoke to an unnamed source (a “Nashville insider”) who explained that the Grammys’ country screening committee sent Star-Crossed “to the pop committee to see which category the album fit, and would have reinstated it for the country category if pop rejected it – but the pop committee agreed that that genre was the rightful home for Star-Crossed.” 
That being said, the Star-Crossed track “camera roll” was submitted for consideration in the country category and remained in the category. 
Musgraves responded to the Recording Academy’s decision by taking to Instagram Oct. 13 to share a photo of a young Kacey sporting a smile and a giant red cowboy hat, with a caption saying, “You can take the girl out of the country (genre) but you can’t take the country out of the girl.” 
To prove her bona fide country roots, Musgraves also shared photos and videos on her Instagram Story of herself and country stars including Shania Twain, Dolly Parton, George Strait, Martina McBride, Reba, Alan Jackson and Kris Kristofferson, with captions such as “Ain’t that right, Loretta Lynn?” 
Anybody can argue all day about whether or not Kacey’s music is country or pop or something else – but doesn’t she know best what her music is? And also, what makes country music country? Is it the subject matter, twang to one’s voice, the inclusion of a slide guitar or fiddle? 
To some artists and fans, country is more than a genre. It’s an identity, a lifestyle. 
Brandi Carlile also posted a statement on Instagram to express her disappointment that her current single “Right On Time” wouldn’t be eligible for a nomination in the American Roots category and would instead be lumped in with pop. 
Brandi Carlile
Scott Dudelson/Getty Images
– Brandi Carlile
performs during day 2 of the Ohana Festival Encore weekend on Oct. 2, 2021, in Dana Point, Calif.

“Americana/American Roots music is more than a genre to me. It represents my community, my family, my friends and my beautiful island of misfits. I am also proud that it represents a great number of people actively WORKING to platform marginalized people – LGBTQIA, women, and people of color (who, of course, actually built the genre),” Carlile wrote Oct. 26, while noting that she’s “incredibly flattered to be considered ‘pop’ as a 40-year-old crooning lesbian mother” and that being recognized by the Grammys in any form is a great honor.  

Carlile added, “The importance of staying and working within Americana is greater than just me. There is not a moment where I don’t view my role as something larger. I feel great responsibility in representing marginalized queer people in rural America who are raised on country and roots music but are repeatedly and systematically rejected by the correlating culture. Every rung I can sling my gay sequined boot up on top of gets queer people a little higher on the ladder to being seen as just a bit more human in the great American roots landscape.” 
Billboard notes that this is far from the first time a country artist wasn’t nominated for a Grammy in their home category, from Dolly Parton to Kenny Rogers to Glen Campbell to Linda Ronstadt.  
Of course, the country controversy took place before the Grammy Awards nominations were even revealed. When the Grammy nods were announced on Tuesday, Star-Crossed was snubbed in all of the album categories but the track “camera roll” earned nominations for Best Country Song and Best Country Solo Performance.
Carlile earned five nominations with “Right On Time” nominated for Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year and Best Pop Solo Performance. “A Beautiful Noise” – Carlile’s collaboration with Alicia Keys – was nominated for Song Of The Year and she also earned a nod for Best American Roots Performance for her featured role on Brandy Clark’s song “Same Devil.” 
Although “Right On Time” wasn’t included in the American Roots category Carlile was still quite pleased with how things worked out. She posted on Instagram Nov. 23, “Takes a lot to shut me up, but I am absolutely stunned speechless and over the moon with gratitude and happiness for myself and all my friends who got their flowers this morning…Congratulations everyone, and happy Grammy Day!!”
Some artists have embraced multiple genres – take Linda Ronstadt who has won 11 Grammy Awards including prizes in pop, country, Mexican-American and tropical Latin – while others have made distinct moves from one category to another.   

Of course, you can’t have a conversation about country-pop cross-over without talking about Taylor Swift. While the one-time country princess had began dabbling in dance-pop / pop rock / electropop with singles from her genre-bending fourth studio album, 2012’s Red, such as “I Knew You Were Trouble,” “22” and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” she went all in with her fifth album. 

Taylor Swift
Taylor Hill/FilmMagic
– Taylor Swift
performs during the 2019 Z100 Jingle Ball at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 13, 2019, in New York City.
To promote 1989, Swift invited a group of fans for a five-song set at New York’s Empire State Building in August 2014, where she told the crowd at the half-hour Yahoo livestreamed performance that 1989 was her “first documented, official pop album,” according to USA Today. As for the leadoff single “Shake It Off,” produced by Max Martin and Shellback, Swift said her goal was to create a tune that sounded like “nothing I had done.” 
While artists, record labels and award shows may care about genre, to most fans it doesn’t matter what you call the music, as long as they can connect to the songs. 
“She’s doing what she feels,” Messina Touring Group founder Louis Messina, who has long promoted Swift’s music, tells Pollstar. “I’m going to quote Billy Joel’s line – it’s still rock ‘n’ roll to me. And you know, it’s like, what, is she a folk singer now? Because she does Folklore and Evermore? You know how music evolves … wherever their creativity take them, I think that is what they do. … I mean, she just puts out great music, right? 
“I once said, you put a fiddle on any of her [new] songs and they’re country songs. … She appeals to everybody worldwide and every genre. I know George Strait loves Taylor. Eric Church loves Taylor. You know, George doesn’t go, Oh, Taylor went pop, I don’t like her anymore. He loves Taylor,  Eric loves Taylor. Kenny [Chesney] loves Taylor.  …. I don’t put any artist in any category, you know?” 
He adds, “She can write gospel music. She can do anything she wants. And she does … she’s great. That’s what she writes: she writes greatness and that’s why she’s a worldwide superstar. 
[An] artist, they may start out in a, let’s just say, a country format, but trust me, are they going to be upset that their song crossed over to mainstream? Absolutely not. You know, I’m saying mainstream, you know, like adult contemporary. Once again, [going] back to the categories … like Eric [Church] is in country but it’s a rock and roll show.”
As for how Messina approaches promoting different genres, he says, “No matter if it’s country pop, rock, you know, bagpipe [music] – whatever. As a promoter, you need to promote. You want to create the fantasy of the show, of how wonderful it’s going to be. And the acts I work for, all my artists are wonderful. So I have an easy job – most of the time.” 
Swift is up for two Grammys in the Album of The Year category for Evermore and her songwriting contribution to Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour. She made history in March at the Grammy Awards with her win for Folklore, making her the first woman to win album of the year three times (tying with Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder).
When it comes to touring Swift has also set records at the box office. Since launching her debut concert trek, the 2009-2010 “Fearless Tour,” as a country singer, Swift has continued to bring in bigger grosses with each tour as she’s embraced pop and other genres. 
Swift ranks No. 4 on Pollstar’s Top Touring Artists of the Decade list with $899,627,048 grossed between 2010-2020. Reports submitted to Pollstar from her most recent run, 2018’s Reputation Stadium Tour, include two nights at the Tokyo Dome Nov. 20-21, 2018, that grossed more than $14.8 million and sold 100,109 tickets.  
Fans are eagerly waiting for Swift to announce tour dates in support of her Folklore and Evermore
As for Musgraves, her “Star-Crossed: Unveiled” arena tour is set to kick off Jan. 19 at Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul, Minn.
Carlile’s “Beyond These Silent Days Tour” launches June 11 in George, Wash., at the Gorge Amphitheatre.

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