How Crossover Artists are Changing Pop and Country Music

This article looks at how pop and country differ, where they overlap, and artists who have crossed over to please fans of both genres.

By bonneville on March 29, 2024
Women in country clothes on music festival. Blurred background with bulb lights.
Photo: Adobe Stock


With the release of Beyoncé’s “Cowboy Carter: Act II,” we’re looking at crossover artists who have performed well in both country and pop music charts. Though all genres are fluid, with many artists rejecting whatever label writers or DJs give them anyway, sometimes defining them helps to provide language to patterns to shape people’s listening traditions. This article looks at how pop and country differ and where they overlap, and looks at artists and tracks that have blurred the lines between the two. 

Country music originated in the southern United States as a mixture of ballads and dance tunes played on the fiddle, banjo, steel guitar, and drums. When it first emerged as an art form, it primarily focused on working-class Americans and blue-collar, rural lifestyles. The roots can be traced to African-American folk music, though the genre also draws inspiration from Mexican, Irish, and even Hawaiian music. 

Pop music is a generic term for popular music encompassing any genre, though it is also a genre in itself. It is characterized by catchy choruses, danceable tracks, and uplifting themes that empower listeners. It tends to draw in younger listeners and can be a more accessible genre of music for the general public around the world. 

Notable Crossover Artists

Hank Williams: Pioneer of Western music 

Hank Williams, Alabama born and raised, is considered a rock and roll pioneer. He influenced artists like Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and Ike Turner in their work. His honky tonk music also paved the path for the emergence of Western and Country as a genre. Though he passed at the young age of 29, people regard him as one of the greatest country artists of all time. 

Dolly Parton: Her chart-topping hits span both genres

Dolly Parton, the patron saint of country music, is a legend in both the country and pop worlds. She gained notoriety in the country world in the 1960s with several releases, but her first crossover hit came in 1977 with “Here You Come Again.” The single topped the US country singles chart and also reached number 3 on the pop singles charts. 

Shania Twain: A trailblazer who seamlessly blended pop sensibilities with country roots

After releasing her sophomore album in 1995, “The Woman in Me,” Shania Twain became one of the best-selling female country artists of the decade. Following it up with “Come on Over” in 1997 solidified her status as both a pop and country artist, with hits like “Man! I Feel Like a Woman” and “That Don’t Impress Me Much” still getting airplay. Twain broke out of traditional country stereotypes and embraced pop and rock elements in her music and style, making her a beloved musician worldwide.

Kacey Musgraves: Indie country superstar

Beginning her career in the early 2000s, Kacey Musgraves has earned acclaim in both the country and the pop worlds for her work. She broke through after singing in the competitive TV show, “Nashville Star,” where she finished in 7th place. After signing with Mercury Nashville, she released “Same Trailer Different Park” in 2013, earning her the Grammy Award for Best Country Album. It was “Golden Hour,” released in 2018, where she saw the most crossover success, earning Album of the Year and three other Grammys that year. Despite minimal airplay on country radio, she soon gained a following among indie rock enthusiasts and music critics alike. 

Taylor Swift: Celebrated singer-songwriter who fights for musicians rights

We would be remiss if we didn’t include Taylor Swift in this article, who started as a country artist and continues to experiment with the genre, even though her more recent work is more pop-heavy. Swift is acclaimed for her songwriting prowess and advocacy for artist rights. She is also one of the world’s best-selling musicians. 

Chris Stapleton: Alt-country rock and roller

Alt-country is another crossover genre gaining popularity, with Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, and Jason Isbell standing out as notable examples of the style. Hailing from Kentucky, Stapleton broke through the mainstream with his 2015 release “Traveller,” which reached number one on the Billboard Top 200. His collaborations with Justin Timberlake show that Stapleton is not afraid of embracing pop music. In addition to his solo work, Stapleton has written almost 200 songs for other pop artists, including Shania Twain, Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, and Adele. 

Iconic Collaborations

Over the years, several famous country artists have intentionally collaborated with pop and hip-hop artists to bring fans of both genres under one roof. For example, Lil Nas was still relatively unknown when he released “Old Town Road” in 2018. The song earned him a record signing with Columbia, who re-released it in 2019 with a remix featuring Billy Ray Cyrus to widespread acclaim. The song catapulted both artists to the spotlight, and remains a classic crossover hit in country and R&B charts. 

Nelly has collaborated with several country artists over the years, including Tim McGraw, Florida Georgia Line, and Thomas Rett. His collaborations have influenced other hip hop artists, including Snoop Dogg with Willie Nelson on “Superman,” Lil Durk and Morgan Wallen on “Broadway Girls,” and Taylor Swift with B.o.B. on “Both of Us,” to name just a few. 

Challenges and Criticisms

When Beyoncé performed “Daddy Lessons” with the Chicks at the 2016 CMA Awards, she was dismissed, the performance was removed from the recording, and many fans argued that she didn’t belong on the stage. Her new release is, in one sense, a response to the haters—though in actuality, her Southern upbringing and musical training situate her well within the country tradition. 

Country music has long been marred by accusations of being chauvinistic, with genre policing over who is considered an “authentic” country artist. As Kelefa Sanneh writes in his book “Major Labels: A History of Popular Music in Seven Genres,” country music is full of purists who wish they could separate the genre from others. The book quotes Wesley Rose, a music industry executive and record producer, saying, “You can’t be country and be on the pop charts at the same time.” When critics accused singer Dolly Parton of leaving the genre behind, she responded by saying, “I’m taking it with me to new places.” 

This tension between authenticity and mainstream success will always bring critics who disagree with who belongs and who doesn’t. As music and technology evolve, however, genres and fusions of music will always blend elements from everywhere, blurring the lines between what is and isn’t country or pop. Rather than regulating who gets placed under what category, music should be celebrated for its authenticity and greatness, regardless of who creates it or their background. 


Country and pop hybrids have an enduring appeal to music fans, and we are likely to see more artists crossing genres and experimenting with new sounds over the years. The beauty of music is that it constantly evolves, giving us new perspectives as it touches a deep part of our soul. Music is meant to be enjoyed, so celebrate whatever music resonates with you despite what critics say. 

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