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From Country Comfort to Pop Icon: How Nashville Shaped Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift’s story begins in Nashville, a city in the southern United States. The country music tradition here cultivated her unique narrative and lyrical tone, and the strong circle culture provided her with an initial stage. Even though she later moved to New York and was no longer limited to country music, she still maintained “Taylor’s voice.”

“I’m going to Nashville”

Taylor Swift’s career began in Nashville, Tennessee, the “Music City” of the United States.

In the opening credits of “Miss America” ​​2020, 11-year-old Taylor walked onto the huge stadium, holding a microphone, wearing a red coat and a red headband to sing the American national anthem. Her name was read on the radio – “Taylor Swift from Reading, Pennsylvania.”

The same scene also appeared in the 2010 documentary “Fearless Journey”, but it was not the opening of a grand story, but a portrayal of a sad childhood. At that age, Taylor fell in love with singing and performing on stage, and did not care about other activities that other girls enjoyed, which made her feel out of place among her peers. Her stadium debut put her in the newspapers and left her in the cold. She was having a hard time at school, and no one even wanted to sit at the same table as her at lunch. She said to her mother: “I’m going to Nashville.” That’s where American country music queen Faith Hill was discovered.
It takes more than 12 hours to drive from Redding on the east coast of the United States to Nashville in the center of the United States, a total distance of 780 miles. During spring break that year, her mother took Taylor to Nashville for the first time.

For an American who wants to be an original singer or songwriter, moving to Nashville is a natural thought. Scarlet Keys, a professor at Berklee College of Music in the United States, like Taylor Swift, was not born in Nashville, but went there to become a musician. When Taylor Swift arrived in Nashville, Scarlett was already writing songs for Warner Chappell Music.

Scarlett described to me the rich musical atmosphere of that city with great nostalgia. “It was a songwriter town, and living there you literally lived among the best songwriters in the world. At that time, you might bump into a teenage Taylor Swift on the street, or bump into Chris in a restaurant. Chris Stapleton. People come from all over the world to live in a tight-knit community that is constantly producing music.”

The rise of Nashville’s music industry can be traced back to the 1920s. At that time, most of the people living in the agricultural areas of the southern United States were British immigrants, who created early country music. In 1920, the first radio station in the United States was launched, and lyrical and romantic country music also moved to the city along with the radio. In this process, the “Grand Ole Opry” program launched on Nashville’s WSM station in 1925 played a key role. Every Saturday they invited a large number of artists to perform live, play and sing. By the time of World War II, “Old Opry” had become the most influential country music program in the United States. The show continues today and has become a live performance, radio and television program. In order to get on this stage, countless artists gathered in Nashville to polish their songs and wait for the day they would be discovered.

In the documentary, her mother brought Taylor to Nashville for the first time. She excitedly looked at the signs along the street and suddenly shouted: “That’s Mercury Records! I want them to hear my songs!” This lanky little girl with messy blond hair rushed straight in. Record companies one after another began to perform their own songs to them.

This is an opportunity that a mature music industry city can provide. Scarlett told me: “In Nashville, you can walk to most record companies and small studios.” According to the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, as of now, there are more than 190 local music studios and more than 3,000 active music professionals. People, 80 record companies. More importantly, Nashville is a city of songwriters. There is even the “Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame” here, which recognizes the achievements of outstanding music creators in the form of murals. More than 230 celebrities have been on the list since 1970.

Scarlett told me that it takes at least 5 to 10 years for a songwriter to make a name for himself in Nashville. “Of course Taylor’s situation is different. She is a performer, not a simple songwriter. And she was very young at the time. It’s hard not to notice a little girl who can hold a guitar and play and sing.” Even so, Taylor still experienced Some twists and turns, “There is fierce competition there, but if you are young and you want something, just go for it, and this city can give you a lot back.”

The first company to extend an olive branch to Taylor was RCA, for which Taylor and her mother officially moved to Nashville. In the 1960s, it was once a giant alongside Columbia Records, but by the time Taylor arrived it had changed owners several times and was part of Sony Music. Cooperating with a large company may mean that you have a bright future, but it also means that you are easily buried. RCA signed a “development agreement” with Taylor for one year, which means to see her development within this year and then decide whether to release a record for her next year.

Where opportunity abounds, competition is fierce. “In a city where outstanding songwriters gather, it is extremely difficult to become famous, and the probability is surprisingly low.” Scarlett said, “Thousands of songs are born there every day, and everyone is looking forward to themselves. Songs are selected for an album, and an album only has 10 or 12 songs. You may write a great love song and your agent likes it, but the night before release, the producer and he. The wife gets into a fight and then suddenly he doesn’t like the song, or you write a song about cocktails and the producer just quit drinking, you know, that happens all the time.”

After his one-year contract with RCA expired, Taylor failed to get a record deal and decided to leave. What follows is like something out of a movie. Taylor took her guitar and went to “Bluebird Coffee” to sing, which is where Faith Hill was discovered. One day, a man named Scott Borchetta came over and said he wanted to release a record for her. The problem was that he didn’t have a record company yet, and he didn’t even think of a company name. Taylor said in the documentary that she felt it was good to be his first signed artist and to grow with the company, so she decided to trust him.

This record company was Big Machine Records, which later parted ways with Taylor over the rights to the first six albums. But Scott Borchetta was no self-made dreamer, and Taylor and her parents were no trusting gamblers. Prior to this, Borchetta had worked in the Nashville music industry for more than 20 years and served as an executive at the Nashville division of DreamWorks Records.

Taylor soon released a self-titled album and a single. Scarlett hadn’t heard of Taylor when she first came out, until she appeared on the radio. In 2006, Nashville musicians still relied primarily on radio to promote themselves. Taylor visited radio stations asking for opportunities, which she humorously called a “radio tour.” Countless people like Scarlett got to know her through the radio. Her album sales began to skyrocket, and she appeared on the stage as a warm-up guest for many well-known country music singers, including Tim, who she used as the title of her first single. ·Tim McGraw. She also got her first chance to perform at the Old Opry, performing “Tim McGraw” live with her guitar in hand.

What is “Tyler’s Voice”?

This year, Scarlett taught a Taylor Swift Musical Technique class at Berklee, analyzing the creative techniques she uses in her songs, such as beats, melodies and metaphors.

“In the past, I would choose works by some classic singers, but I always found that some students were not interested. For example, he might be a Kpop composer, and I chose country music as an example. Or he might be an R&B singer, and I chose Celine Dee. Weng. But now we have Taylor Swift, a singer who continues to write a lot of songs, and she has a few exceptionally high-quality tracks on each album, and there is no one who is not interested in her method of writing. .

On the morning of the conversation with me, she was analyzing Taylor’s “Cardigan” in class. In the verse, Taylor used a triplet every three lines, repeating it in one line. superior. “When you were young they assume you know nothing.” (When you were young they assume you know nothing.) “In her eight previous albums, I had never heard a rhythm like this, and she used this special beat. to emphasize an important line and get your attention,” Scarlett said.

In each class, Scarlett will select three to four songs and analyze them at the same time. In the class that day, she put together three songs from “Folklore”, “Invisible String”, “Mad Woman” and “Cardigan” and analyzed them, ” Because different techniques can be reflected in each song.” She would explain the “hook” in a song, then divide the students into groups and give them half an hour to create a riff using Taylor’s techniques. “I’m amazed at what they create in half an hour. In class, they create pieces that really sound like Taylor’s compositions. But over time, they are able to use Taylor’s techniques to create their own style s things.”

Taylor lived in Nashville for 10 years until moving to New York at the age of 25. That year she released her fifth studio album, “1989”, named after the year of her birth, marking her official shift from country music to pop music.

If you look back at Taylor’s country music period, you’ll be amazed by the difference between her style transitions between Nashville and New York. But country music’s lyrical tone and narrative have become part of Taylor’s DNA. From a music teacher and songwriter perspective, Scarlett helped me identify the “constant” parts of Taylor’s voice.

She hummed ME to me! and the riff from I Knew You were Trouble. Both songs have a long “me” that spans several notes. It takes up three notes in the first song, but eight in the second. “When it comes to the ‘me’ in ‘Invisible Thread’, you will hear 11 notes,” Scarlett said. “This melisma is her personal mark. You can see it in many of her works. The mark recurs and expands. This is Taylor’s voice.”

“In the music industry, many singers write their own songs and accept songs written by others, but Taylor sings almost all the songs she writes herself. Although she also collaborates with many singers, they are more like members of her team. “Nobody’s expression is as personal as hers and makes you feel like you really know her in real life,” Scarlett said. “We’re always able to recognize her and still bring her own presence to new works.” New harmonies or different production methods are used, electronic drums are added or it sounds extra grand, but the melody of her writing is always there, and who she is as a person can always be found in the songs, perhaps as she becomes more worldly and mature. It has changed a bit, from a girl wearing a T-shirt and sneakers to an actress attending parties, but she is still her.”

While people appreciate Taylor Swift’s change, change can also be exhausting. In “Miss America”, she has a confession about self-reshaping, as if she is looking for a complicated balance between self-identity and external evaluation, “We must constantly discover new aspects of ourselves and make ourselves look new, but we can only Reinvent ourselves in new ways that we want, but only in ways that we find equally gratifying and challenging, and tell stories that are interesting enough to entertain us. , but not too crazy that makes us feel uncomfortable.”

After Taylor became famous, Nashville became a popular place for fans. Prices have risen and cities have expanded a lot. Scarlett still goes back to visit from time to time. “It’s still a special place in my heart. I go back to see friends and take walks along Radnor Lake. I heard that Taylor also returns to the lake occasionally.” Take a walk”.

Back to the beginning of the story, we have Nashville to thank for not living up to Taylor, in every sense of the word. She spent a happy high school life here, and no one thought it was strange that there was a classmate in the class who wanted to be a singer. She met her best friend Abigail at school and wrote a song for her called “Fifteen.” In the song, she borrowed the story of Abigail’s broken love and heartbreak, as if to comfort her and to explain herself, “Because when you are fifteen and someone tells you that he loves you, you will believe him.”

In May 2023, Abigail went to the Nashville stop of the “Era Tour” concert, and Taylor sang the song she wrote for their 15th birthday in the surprise track. She added “but it’s okay” after “we all cried”. At this time, Taylor had just ended her six-year relationship with Joe Alvin, and Abigail had already gone through a divorce. But it doesn’t matter, they are no longer 15 years old.

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