Country, pop, and rock music have similar roots, and every once in a while, the genres will come together and cross over. The crossover phases seemed to come in cycles, first in the late 1970s and early 1980s, then from the mid-1990s to early 2000s, and coming back around now, in the late 2000s and 2010. Many of these crossover acts went on to have long-lasting careers in country music.
One of the earliest successful crossover acts was Olivia Newton-John, a pop star from Australia who hit the country charts in 1974 with “Let Me Be There.” She went on to win the Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance and the Country Music Association’s Female Vocalist of the Year.
Starting in 1977, Kenny Rogers hit both the country and pop charts with a string of hits like “Lucille,” “The Gambler,” and “Coward of the County.” Rogers’ popularity translated into the Urban Cowboy phase of music, as the movie and its soundtrack became popular. In the early 1980s, Dolly Parton had a huge crossover hit with the title track from her movie 9 to 5, which went to number one on the country and pop charts in 1981, and a hit duet with Rogers on “Islands in the Stream,” written by the BeeGees, in 1983.
After a brief hiatus, the country-pop sound returned in the mid-90s, thanks to the stage show of Garth Brooks. Brooks’ high-energy concerts were more like a rock show than a country show, and his appeal reached fans of all ages, from grandparents who enjoyed his country stylings to their grandkids, who appreciated his shows. Another singer who benefitted from the resurgence of country-pop was Shania Twain, who came from Timmons, Ontario, Canada to take over Nashville with the release of her album The Woman in Me in 1995. Her infectious sound came in part from her collaboration with then-husband Robert John “Mutt” Lange, who was responsible for hit rock albums from Def Leppard and AC/DC, among others. LeAnn Rimes also benefitted from the mid-90s resurgence. While her voice was stand-up country on songs like “Blue,” she could belt out classic pop tunes like “How Do I Live” and “Can’t Fight The Moonlight” with the same authority.
In the last few years, the country-pop sound has returned, thanks to young artists like Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, and Lady Antebellum. Swift has sold more than 16 million albums worldwide since her debut self-titled release in 2006, while American Idol winner Underwood has achieved similar success since her debut the same year. “Lady A” crossed over to the pop charts in 2010 with the hit song “Need You Now.”