Sitting center stage at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, on a stool with a bright spotlight right behind her, Swift sang a quiet acoustic rendition of “Betty,” a story song about a teenage love triangle. (And yes, she swapped out the expletive lyric for a more TV-friendly version.)
Swift’s appearance at the three-hour show was significant: Some gatekeepers in Nashville do not look upon performers fondly if they decide to experiment with other genres — or, like Swift, leave it altogether with a very direct announcement that she was going pop. But Swift’s presence still looms so large (she arguably changed the genre forever when she proved that young listeners do, in fact, listen to country) that she’s one of the rare artists who still gets to drop in any time she wants.
Also, “Betty” is Swift’s latest attempt to have a hit on country radio, which is quite particular about artists from other formats lobbying for space on the airwaves. Although Swift’s early singles — “Tim McGraw,” “Our Song,” “White Horse,” etc. — were hits on the country airplay charts, her reign faded when her music took a serious pop turn in 2012 with “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” In 2017, her label sent the ballad “New Year’s Day” (off her album “Reputation”) to country radio, but it barely made it to the Top 40 before stalling.
But “Betty” looks like it actually has a shot — it was the most-added country song of the week when her label released it to radio stations in August, and it is currently at No. 35 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart. Plus, Swift is putting in time to promote it with her appearance at the ACMs.
Despite her pop superstardom, Swift never really “left” Nashville, as she still has a residence there. Behind the scenes, in recent years, she has written two hits for other country artists: Little Big Town’s “Better Man” and Sugarland’s “Babe.” And now, with “Betty,” she’s showing she still has a place onstage.