It’s been 14 years since Taylor Swift first broke into the mainstream country music scene, where she comfortably stayed until she released her first official pop album 1989 in 2014.
But, on Sept. 16, she returned to those country roots, taking the stage at the iconic Grand Ole Opry to perform at the American Country Music Awards — this time with her fan-favorite single “Betty”.
Her decision to perform “Betty”, which has already been dubbed a queer anthem by her fans, seems like her way of unapologetically telling the traditionally conservative country music industry that if they want her back, they have to take her for who she is now.
“Betty” certainly isn’t the first country/folk-eqsue song to have some LGBTQ+ references in it but, unlike Kacey Musgraves’ song “Arrow,” Taylor’s single is entirely based around a queer relationship.
Sure, Taylor technically denies this song is about a lesbian affair, but she knows that queer fans have already claimed it as their own and she seems to be perfectly fine with it. Which is why her choice to perform it at the ACMs is all the more amazing.
It was as if Taylor, who is always so deliberate in everything she does, happily returned to her cozy childhood home with every intention of ruffling a few feathers during her visit, and left grandma to clutch her pearls when she headed back to New York City.
As someone who grew up listening to country music, I am here for this.
It’s a male-dominated industry with a lot of cringey stereotypical songs about beer, pickup trucks, and the country version of a manic pixie dream girl who wears daisy dukes and downs shots of whiskey. It’s a place where, for years, Taylor felt like all she was allowed to do was sit there, look pretty, and sing her songs.
And who could blame her? She was in the same genre that forced The Chicks (formerly The Dixie Chicks) into hiding after they voiced their disapproval of George W. Bush. It’s not exactly a place that’s been historically open to different ideas.
Between this and her music’s popularity, Taylor’s transition into pop music wasn’t a big surprise and you could argue that she underwent the most personal growth over the course of those three albums. She seemed to figure out who she was, stopped biting her tongue, and learned to be comfortable in her own skin.
Folklore is the perfect culmination of all of that growth — both personally and professionally. It’s a “take it or leave it” album that doesn’t fit perfectly into the box of any genre.
So it makes sense that, if country music wanted to take claim of this album and welcome Taylor back to the genre, they’d be forced to accept her for exactly who she is now. And what better way to drive that point home than by performing “Betty” on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry?
After all, Taylor Swift never does anything by accident.
As for the performance itself, it was lovely. Other than a harmonicist off to the side, it was just Taylor on a stool with her acoustic guitar and a spotlight shining out from behind her. It wasn’t flashy but she still had a little signature sparkle with a dark sequin top — a far cry from her wardrobe of country award shows past.
She seemed, arguably, the most at home she’s ever been.