The biggest pop crossovers in country music history
The line that designates what is and is not country music is muddier than most of us are willing to admit. What is abundantly clear, though, is that country music appeals to more people than just rednecks and sappy beer drinkers. Taylor Swift may think she's reinventing the wheel in her journey from plucking a banjo to the top of the pops, but country crossover artists have made moves into the mainstream for decades, arguably more so than artists in any other genre.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Faith Hill reigned over the music industry almost without challenge. In what would become her first crossover success and eventually Hill's most notable track, "Breathe" was the most popular single of the year on both the pop and country charts in 1999. Hill would later go on to produce both pop and country recordings, sometimes alongside husband and similarly successful artist Tim McGraw, proving that this Mississippi girl is perfectly at home in either genre.
Forget about Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean. Taylor Swift is largely responsible for country music's resurgence in mainstream pop culture. Well before the release of Red , the first album that Swift released to both pop and country stations, her infectious energy and self-written lyrics had attracted hordes of pop fans, from soccer moms to tweenagers. She may have ditched the banjo and carefully cultivated small-town twang for a boom box and twerking dancers in her latest album, but time will tell whether or not Swift ultimately belongs in Nashville or New York.
Darius Rucker's first taste of fame as lead singer of one-hit (or two?) wonder Hootie and the Blowfish may have ended well before the release of his first country album, but he's proven that he can top the charts no matter what he records. As a country artist, Rucker has recorded three commercially and critically successful albums. His better-than-original cover of Old Crow Medicine Show's "Wagon Wheel" also earned him a Grammy for Best Country Solo Performance.
He will always be known as the Rhinestone Cowboy, but that doesn't mean that Glen Campbell was only fawned over by country fans. Before starring in John Wayne movies and hosting his own wildly popular television show, Campbell made history by being the first person to win Grammy awards in both the pop and country categories, most notably for his smash-hit "Gentle On My Mind" -- and, of course, the aforementioned "Rhinestone Cowboy."
Shania Twain may have actually written the book on country-pop crossovers. With producer and ex-husband Mutt Lange, Twain recorded some of the best-selling records of all time, in any genre. After toiling away at the top of the country charts, Twain launched into international superstardom with "You're Still the One," a love ballad that helped her sophomore effort sell more than 12 million copies. After staying out of the spotlight for close to a decade, Twain took an exclusive residency at Caesar's Palace last year and announced plans for a new album in the not-too-distant future.
The Dixie Chicks
It's probably more accurate to say that the Dixie Chicks were forced over to the pop charts than leaving country on their own accord, but they were well-received nonetheless. After being shunned by country fans and radio stations across the country, the Chicks took a few years to reflect and write before releasing "Taking the Long Way," a multi-platinum smash that debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard pop charts. There are still decidedly country tracks on the album, like "Lubbock or Leave It," but "Not Ready to Make Nice," Natalie Maines' take on her experience in the industry, made the most impact from this record.
Even after winning American Idol, no one could have predicted the meteoric rise of Carrie Underwood. Immediately after she took the crown as the fourth Idol, Underwood's first single, "Inside Your Heaven," became the first country track to debut at number one on the Billboard Hot 100. She then continued to set and smash her own records with "Before He Cheats" and "Jesus Take the Wheel." Even though she may be the current reigning queen of pop country, Underwood's roots in Checotah, Oklahoma still hold strong.
It's no secret that Kenny Rogers polished up his rough rockabilly-jazz style to make it more appealing to audiences, and who could blame the guy? As the elder statesman of country music, Rogers dazzled music fans of all stripes while selling millions of records and concert tickets. "Islands in the Stream," the mega-hit duet with Dolly Parton, cemented Rogers' status as a pop star in the truest sense, and his solo work was almost equally successful. Later, Rogers would go on to success as both an actor in television and film, and the owner of a mediocre fast-casual food chain.
Olivia Newton-John's initial success in country music got off to a rough start as critics debated over whether or not a British-born Australian could really be a country singer. In fact, Newton-John was pissing off country critics before she even moved to the States with her Grammy-winning hit, "Let Me Be There." Up until her resurgence in the late '70s as Sandy in "Grease," Newton-John's hits still performed better on the country charts. After, though, she became a bonafide mainstream success with "Let's Get Physical" and "Xanadu."
Even though Dolly Parton will always be known as the godmother of country music, she has still had plenty of success in the mainstream. Before higher-ups realized the power of Parton's down-home charm, she was initially offered up to record strictly pop songs. Since, Dolly Parton became one of the most transformative songwriters in country music history, and is one of the few people in all of entertainment to be nominated for all major awards in entertainment, including as many Grammy nods as Beyonce.
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