No Really, Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever…” Is Not Country

October 19, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Down with Pop Country  //  51 Comments

The long running, incessant debate about what is country and what is not can get so bogged down in manusha and rehashed arguments that even I get tired of it sometimes despite it being one of the reasons I founded this website. With Taylor Swift’s song “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” you can make a clear case that this is the first song ever that is 100% certified pop, yet is somehow labeled country. But even this argument feels moot. Country music’s autonomy has been so compromised at this point, and the boundaries stretched so ridiculously in the pop and rock and rap directions, arguing about it seems about as useful as trying to reason with the sun to not set in the evening.

Where the situation has become exceptional though surrounds the Billboard Hot 100 Country Charts and their newly-implemented rules that reward digital downloads, online streaming data, and “crossover” plays on pop radio, firmly ensconcing Swift’s “We Are Never…” in the #1 spot for now a second week. Forget what you or I want to call country, when it comes to “We Are Never…” not even the artist or her label is calling it country. In fact, they are going out of their way to not call it country and label it pop, releasing the song in two versions, with the “pop” version being the “preferred” or “official” version of the song.

When talking to the USA Today, Taylor Swift explained that she wanted to make the song purposely poppy and positively radio friendly to get back at an ex-boyfriend.

(He) made me feel like I wasn’t as good or as relevant as these hipster bands he listened to. So I made a song that I knew would absolutely drive him crazy when he heard it on the radio. Not only would it hopefully be played a lot, so that he’d have to hear it, but it’s the opposite of the kind of music that he was trying to make me feel inferior to.

In other words, Taylor Swift specifically made this song to lack substance. And when asked why she would make a song specifically to torment someone, Swift’s answer was, “Because that’s fun.”

Huh. That sounds pretty “MEAN”.

But back to the Billboard issue, according to Taylor’s label Big Machine Records, the only “official” version is the pop one. Though the “country” version was sent to some country radio stations, this version is not available to the public if you buy “We Are Never…” on iTunes, Amazon, or anywhere digital music is sold. You will receive the pop version. In fact, the only entity that appears to be calling “We Are Never…” a country song, is Billboard.

“We Are Never…” has gone on to become the best-selling digital single released by a female, ever, eclipsing Ke$ha’s “Tik-Tok” by selling 623,000 copies in its first week, and selling 2.4 million copies total and counting. And every one of these sales, even though they are specifically labeled “pop,” along with the data of its plays on pop radio are going into account of how “We Are Never…” fares on charts meant for country music.

In a live chat through Twangout on Friday, Billboard Editorial Director Bill Werde did not directly answer the question of why Billboard had deemed Swift’s “We Are Never…” as a country song, but did admit they had, despite the pop delineation coming from Swift’s label.

Our viewpoint is philosophically, genre charts, whether it’s R&B or country, should be a list of the biggest country songs in the world right now. So if we identify a song as country, then all of its airplay travels with that song.

As one of the Twangout chat’s moderators Rita Ballou of Rawhide & Velvet pointed out, “The people that are upset, they should be more upset at the song.”

That is a good point, but Billboard is the one determining it as a country song, not the song itself, the label, or the artist. Billboard seems to be the only one not clued in that “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” is not country, affecting the integrity of their chart and causing a backlash amongst certain country music fans.

(A complete analysis of the Bill Werde Twangout live chat is coming.)

51 Comments to “No Really, Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever…” Is Not Country”

  • Thank you for posting about this. I watched the Twangout session as well, and he failed to give any real answers about anything. I’m also frustrated with how he directs such harsh criticism towards Carrie Underwood fans, in particular. Yes, I am a Carrie fan, but the fact that she was the first casualty on the new chart does not bode well for most Country acts that don’t have her less-than-Taylor crossover appeal.

    And he also seemed to ignore the fact that Country radio dismissed the song and it did not even crack the Top 10. Shouldn’t that count as something? The popularity of a song sure come from it’s placement on Country Radio (with the combination of digital downloads and streaming). While the intentions of the new chart are good, the delivery is flawed. There should be weight given to the various components that are used to determine the top songs. Country Radio airplay, quite frankly, should have the most weight, with digital downloads coming in second. Follow that with streaming and wrap up with a slim percentage of crossover radio airplay. It should be a fair playing field, not one that so obviously benefits one artist. Taylor’s “Never” is still climbing at POP radio, so I imagine it will stay at #1 for quite sometime. How is that fair??? Sigh.

  • The “MEAN” jab was unnecessary, but I absolutely agree with the point of this article. This mess clearly shows that Billboard is unqualified to judge what genre a song belongs to. Instead, genre rankings should be determined by fans of that genre, through media that specifically caters to that genre.

    • The “Mean” jab was warranted.

      Taylor Swift is a hypocrite.

  • This song should not even be labeled “pop country”. It’s just pop, period. I think you could create a new category called “Down with Pop in Country” and put this article under that.

  • BTW, many review sites apparently received advance copies of the “Red” album, as they have already posted their reviews of it. Have you gotten any such copy?

    • No, unfortunately all my contacts at Big Machine have dried up ;) . I’ll get it on Tuesday like everyone else.

      • The artist you love are guilty of the same things. You are very inconsistent in your views. Aldean and gilbert suck but Hank 3 is great. So is Hellbound Glory. Ive told you before, Im from Georgia and Brantley sings what he knows. I knew that dude years ago. Hank 3 is guilty of some of the same things you knock artist for, so is Hellbound Glory. I like your site for the comments but it seems if you are not indie its no good. I get thats your thing to knock mainstream but if you really listen there is good in that as well…..If your :Saving Country Music” give these people real reviews with no bias as a country music lover with no agenda. If not let me review albums for you. Hell. I am Roy Acuff Jr. for gods sake. Country Music does need saving for sure. There is tns of crap out there, but sometimes I think you are blinded by your own personal taste…..just my opinion, not trying to offend you.

        • I love hearing and learning from criticism, but for the life of me I can’t understand how I must continuously fight off the wholly incorrect notion that this site is somehow a bullhorn for Hank3 here in 2012. Yes, this site started as an organization called “Free Hank III” and ran lots of positive stories on the man and I am very proud of that. But it has been over 4 years since things changed over, and over two years since I would even say he has been a featured artist on this site. As I just pointed out less than 8 hours ago on a different article, I have written a total of 3 articles this entire year about Hank3 out of about 300, and the last album review I did for him was negative. So you and other folks can say that Hank3 is what this site caters to, but that perspective is about 800 days old. Actually, more like 1600 days old, and most hardcore Hank3 fans would completely disagree with you because they labeled me as a turncoat sellout years ago.

          As for Hellbound Glory, I’m not sure what they have to do with this article, or what their music and Taylor Swift’s does similarly. I’d really like to hear that because I am struggling to find the connection. And just for clarification, this is not a review, it is an industry piece.

          I would love for you and others help me work through the back log of albums I want to feature on the site, but please understand 3 things before you get started:

          1. There’s no pay.
          2. The standard of what I am willing to run on the site are very high.
          3. You will have commenters come and bust your balls for things you did four years ago that have absolutely nothing to do with the topics you address, or the music you review.

          • Sounds like fun to me. Where do I sign up?

          • I have a personal question for you.

            You have mentioned numerous times that you do not get paid for anything related to this site. If so, how do you make a living?

            I have heard that you were once a freelance writer for various outlaw magazines. However, I haven’t seen an article under your real name in quite some time. Do you still write for these magazines under pseudonyms?

            I’ve also read that you were once a drummer in a band based in Oregon. Are you still a professional musician?

          • It’s “minutia(e)” :-)

  • i’m just tried of swift period and pop just needs to claim her as their own.

  • I completely agree with this. I do have a question: How does this compare to purely pop songs having success at country radio in the past (“Here You Come Again”, “Islands in the Stream”, “Queen of Hearts”, etc)?

    • WANEGBT already beat out Kenny Rogers’ “Lady” (written by Lionel Richie) as the longest #1 country on Billboard’s “Overall” Hot 100 Chart, so from a charting standpoint, it is already surpassed any other “country” song it is overall crossover appeal.

      Sonically I think it is miles away from “Island In The Stream” or “Queen of Hearts”. Those songs were pretty pop, but had their buried country elements. WANEGBT has absolutely nothing country in it on purpose. Wikipedia is describing it (and we can go back and forth on the credit of that outlet) as a “bubblegum pop song.” And I would say that is this songs true genre genre home.

      • Even if you don’t consider Islands in The Stream a country song, you still have to admit that the Bee Gees did a pretty good job as songwriters. But Taylor Swift is being a bully against her ex boyfriends, and everybody seems to praise her. Believe me, if a guy did that, he would be accused of being a sexist or even a bully, but since it’s Taylor Swift, people don’t say anything. Not to mention it’s a song any girl from my senior year could have written.

        • I was in now way equating Taylor Swift with Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, because that’s obviously not a contest. But yes, I see what you mean about the “pop-ness” of the respective songs. I also think it is interesting that the reason “I Knew You Were Trouble” didn’t chart on the new chart is because of its EDM influence and not being promoted to country radio, you know, as opposed to “Red” which is still in the top 10.

        • I may catch hell for this, but I think “Islands In The Stream” is an excellently-written and performed song. Is it country? Probably not. But where the bar has been moved to today, I’d much rather be hearing songs like that as representative of the “pop” side of the genre than WANEGBT.

          • The problem is that pop itself has deteriorated dramatically over the last 20 years. Today’s pop does not hold a candle to 80s adult pop. Unlike today, pop was actually music back then.

          • Eric, I disagree. Granted, pop country is horrible but in my opinion, there is some great pop coming out. I guess it depends on your definition of pop though.

          • Pop country is actually the best mainstream music today, by far. The problem with pop today is that it fundamentally lacks a focus on good melody, harmony, and instrumentals, and instead is based entirely on rhythm and beat. Pop country is the only area of mainstream music where actual melodic/instrumental music can be found. Furthermore, the lyrics in pop are nowadays primarily based on repetition and “catchiness” instead of on emotion. At least pop country lyrics are based on emotion, as cliched as the expression of those emotions may be.

            There is a reason why country music has grown in popularity over the last decade, and why Taylor Swift and Lady Antebellum have found such crossover success. As pop has declined, disaffected classic pop fans have flocked to pop country as the one last bastion of tolerable music on the radio.

  • I’ve never understood suicide, but every time I hear or see this girl mentioned I know why such a seemingly positive personality, like the legend that was Faron Young, shot himself. Among other things he knew Barbara, Garth, etc signified the beginning of the end and THIS was coming : ( Long Live REAL Country Music

  • Who will save country music? The shroud of the dark side has fallen. Begun, the country music wars has.

    • Ha!

      The answer though?

      Marty Stuart. Or at least he the one trying the hardest at the moment.

  • I can hardly stand to read about music in general these days. With most “music” being technically produced and social media deciding which “music” is “popular” on the “charts,” my gut just clenches. American Idol and other “musical” games shows, along with total non-talents being at the top of the charts, I just stick to what I know is real music and write off the rest. So sick of Ms. Swift being the watermark for what is country and what isn’t. Gawd, what the hell happened to us?

  • You hit the nail on the head nice review.
    While her handlers are calling the song pop they still want to reap the rewards on country charts. I would like to add
    Taylor need to grow up writing song after song about a break up is getting old.

    • Taylor Swift seems to fall in love with anyone she has casual coffee with. She should try dating, and casual sex. Sage advice from Dr. Trig.

      • Am I the only one that thinks that Taylor must be a sadist? She seems to love inflicting pain on the people she used to ‘love’.

      • After Jake Gyllenhaal, Taylor was single for 18 months before meeting Conor Kennedy.

        And it’s not like she’s the first singer-songwriter to have a tendency to fall hard. Back in the day, Joni Mitchell used to fall in love with guys after one night together.

        • “After Jake Gyllenhaal, Taylor was single for 18 months before meeting Conor Kennedy.”

          The same 18 months that a typical album cycle adheres to.

          It’s not difficult to see what’s going on here. Open your eyes.

          • You’re right, it’s not difficult to see. It’s pretty hard to date someone while you’re busy working on a new album AND getting over a hurtful breakup at the same time.

            See? No extra theories needed!

      • Maybe all the men she;s dated should get together and write a song about her and call it “Bad”

  • Great article as usual; no other news outlet besides Billboard has labeled it as even country pop. Bill Werde should just admit he is a fan of hers and get on with it.

  • http://screen.yahoo.com/sketchy-were-never-ever-actually-050000933.html

    Parody of her song, We Were Never Ever Actually Together. Pretty funny. Especially the guys doing the ooh, ooh, oohs.

  • It is Taylor Swift. Who cares and why is she talked about so much on here anymore?

  • http://youtu.be/o_xV53_5rJQ this is actually a prety funny spoof of her song and kinda the mind set I feel like she has haha

  • Taylor’s album was leaked, so you can start early if you like :)

  • HI there, Have you heard Taylor’s new album Red? Its been leaked and what are your thoughts on it? Too Pop ?

    • I don’t do leaked albums, torrents, or file sharings. Either I get a legit advanced copy directly from an artist or label, or I wait like the rest of the chumps until the album is released. And then it usually takes at least a few days of listening before I can determine how I feel, sometimes weeks.

  • Her new album is really good actually. If you listen to a tune like “All Too Well” and try to convince me she has no talent then i will laugh in your face. Wow…she is so staggeringly talented…i just wish she never went for that bid for added commercial success by bringing M. Martin in. The songs that Taylor wrote by herself are all incredible.

  • Am I the only one who feels like they’re getting to know Taylor Swift a little bit too well by regularly visiting this website?

    • Without question, there’s been a lot of articles involving Taylor Swift over the last few weeks and months. And I hate to break it to you, but with her releasing a new album on Tuesday, her being right in the middle of numerous big news stories at the moment, and with the CMA Awards coming up in less than 2 weeks, there’s probably a lot more coming.

      Make no mistake about it, I am very aware that in certain circles people believe SCM has become synonymous with Taylor Swift coverage, or think that I’ve sold out and now only cover mainstream topics. A simple glance at the home page tells a completely different story, with articles on .357 String Band, Sarah Gayle Meech, Rev. Peyton, Aaron Watson, and Sturgill Simpson; all solidly underground and independent artists. But I have been paying more attention to the mainstream lately and Taylor Swift by proxy because I believe we are in the midst of a historic time in country music, with many of the big entities in the industry shifting and re-shaping, and I feel it is important to keep folks informed about these changes from an independent viewpoint, NOT the sugar-coated perspective pandering to the industry. Gaylord’s restructuring, the Billboard chart changes, Big Machine virtually taking over the country music industry, these are massive, important stories, that you or others may not care about, but others do, and quite frankly, I do, and find a lot of passion writing about them. And yes, because Swift is right in the middle of the Billboard situation (which this article is about), and is signed to Big Machine, her name is coming up quite often.

      I always try to keep my finger on the pulse of the most important topics happening right here, right now, instead of worrying about “Oh, have I mentioned Taylor too much here recently? Well then I’ll avoid this potentially landmark story.” It may not make me popular in certain circles, but it is what in my heart I believe to be best. I make mistakes every day, but I do the best I can and appreciate any time anybody reads my ramblings.

      The gaggle of Taylor Swift news will pass as all things do. But for now, I feel it would be unfair to ignore the most pressing and important news of the day just because it is becoming unpopular to mention Taylor Swift’s name.

      • Well explained, Triggerman.

        And you make no mistake either; I’m going to keep reading.

      • I was a pretty huge mainstream country fan in my tween and teen years, from the late ’80s to the mid-to-late ’90s, but I haven’t really liked what’s been going on in popular country since the early ’00s or so — except for an occasional song that might grab me, I mostly just try to keep up with my old favorites (most of whom, such as Patty Loveless, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Rosanne Cash, have long since stopped getting airplay) and check out the fringes.

        So I’m glad I stumbled across this blog earlier this year — from what I’ve seen so far, you have an interesting perspective on what’s happening in country, mainstream or not. :)

  • if Taylor Swift really wants to grab the pop and country markets by the throats,she needs Bob Log III to produce her next album…

  • Trig, is there a joke about the spelling of “manusha” that I don’t know about?

  • “Country music’s autonomy has been so compromised at this point, and the boundaries stretched so ridiculously in the pop and rock and rap directions, arguing about it seems about as useful as trying to reason with the sun to not set in the evening.”


  • I pretty much agree with most of what you said…except the spelling of “minutiae”. Sometime phonetics are not your friend.

  • ““We Are Never…” has gone on to become the best-selling digital single released by a female, ever, eclipsing Ke$ha’s “Tik-Tok” by selling 623,000 copies in its first week, and selling 2.4 million copies total and counting,”

    Not sure what you mean by this. Perhaps you mean the fastest selling within some specified period? “We are never …” is nowhere near the biggest-selling digital single released by a female. That honor belongs to Adele’s Rolling In The Deep, which has sold more than 7.5 million copies so far. Indeed, “We are never” hasn’t sold even half as much as Carly Rae Jepsen’s recent Call Me Maybe – a song with which it deserves to be compared!

    That nitpick aside, thanks for expressing so articulately what we are all thinking.

    • It means it had the best first week ever for a digital single released by a female. Adele’s is the best selling over a longer period. Whether “We Are Never…” will eclipse it is yet to be seen.

      • Thanks for clarifying – I guessed that was what it meant, but that wasn’t quite what it said ;-). As you say, time will tell whether these big early sales can be sustained over the longer term, especially given that her album sales are becoming increasingly frontloaded with each new release – a pattern typical of pop stars, not country stars!

  • Remember when Tim McGraw said, “They put POP in my country.” I always thought that was hilarious. Not only was his wife already a star for becoming a pop artist when he wrote that but soon after he was doing the same thing!

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