Monday Joe Mauer became the 5th Minnesota Twins to win the American League MVP. November 11th Taylor Swift became the 29th person to win the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year Award. Mauer received 27 of 28 1st place votes and won universal praise from baseball followers of all varieties. Mauer was the first player in the American League since George Brett in 1980 to win what has been dubbed the “Modern Day Triple Crowd” (leading the league in batting average, on-base %, and slugging percentage). Mauer, who has won three batting titles, hit .365 this year while winning a gold glove playing the most important defensive position (catcher) in baseball. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who doubts Joe Mauer is deserving of the accolades he is receiving.
Taylor Swift has sold more albums than any other country artist this year. Her singles have major hits. Her concert tour was a huge success. She has helped usher country music into the digital age. It was Swift who was the first country artist to successfully use social media like MySpace, YouTube, and Facebook to bring her music directly to her fans, and hold an on-going conversation with them. In a changing music landscape, Taylor Swift has been out front of the rest of the country music world helping to keep country music relevant. Yet you will find many people who think Taylor Swift is undeserving of the accolades she is receiving.
It was once that way for Joe Mauer as well. When the Twins’ drafted Joe Mauer #1 overall in 2001, critics quickly denounced the pick claiming the Twins should have taken highly touted pitching prospect Mark Prior instead. When Prior beat Mauer to the major league then won 18 games to lead the Cubs to the brink of the World Series, Mauer’s critics howled even more. Today Mark Prior’s career is in ruins. He had one great season and since has battled injuries.Mauer has won three batting titles and is now a MVP.
Mauer’s critics have complained about his lack of power, his supposed health issues, and his lack of vocal leadership in the clubhouse. Funny how all those complaints have now disappeared. Mauer is not only the best catcher in baseball, he is one of the two best players in all of baseball (Albert Pujlos is other). Mauer hits for average, power, walks more than he strikes out, and is one of best defensive catchers in the league. He has lead a less then stellar pitching staff to overachieve, and helped the Twins win two division titles and come within an eyelash of another title in the last four years.
Taylor Swift’s critics claim she cannot sing. They say she writes fluffy songs about nothing but teenage love. They say she is only interested in crossing over to pop music. They claim she will destroy country music.
Sadly I have heard these criticisms in country music before. Shania Twain can’t sing and will be the death of country music. Alan Jackson is boring, Tim McGraw is a weak vocalist, Brooks & Dunn are all show, Reba McEntire has forgotten her roots, George Strait’s albums all sound the same, Brad Paisley’s music is bland, Toby Keith is all about image not music, the Dixie Chicks are traitors, Dwight Yoakam is an aloof troublemaker, Garth Brooks is ruin of country music. Funny how these artists have taken heat at one time or another in their careers, and yet all are now respected artists.
The CMA Awards voters often seem to cast the votes not for who the think was the best, but who they think would represent the country music genre best. Vince Gill did not deserve to be CMA Male Vocalist for five straight years (1991-1995) yet he won all five years. It was fairly obvious the CMA wanted to push Gill forward as representative of country music. He was what they wanted people to think about when they thought country music.
Taylor Swift will not be the death of country music as many people think. No more so than Kenny Rogers, Garth Brooks, or Shania Twain was before her. If country music dies it will be because of its way of doing business. Country music’s current business model has large record labels spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on developing artists who they then spending millions more on promoting to radio. Now these labels find they no longer have the money to sustain that model.
In a new model Taylor Swift helped create, artists will use the Web to promote themselves and work to gain a core following before sending their music to radio. This following will help promote the artist’s music to others who will then in turn help push the artist’s music when it finally reaches the radio. Lady Antebellum is an excellent example of the new model. I knew about them long before they ever released a single to radio. I was not alone. Now they are raising stars.
Music will be distributed via methods such as iTunes and Amazon.com. Artists will produce and promote music at lower cost. If your costs are lower, you need to sell less to make money. In his 2006 books The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More Chris Anderson explains the future of music is not having a few superstars selling 5-10 million copies of their albums, it will be several artists selling 250,000 or 500,000 or 1 million copies of albums. Artists will sell less, but more artists will sell. Anderson talks about a new model of doing business in the music world which is similar to the model used by Taylor Swift.
Taylor Swift’s CMA wins had little to do with her singing. They were an acknowledgement that she is the future model of what a country music superstar must be – an artist who can not only write and sing, but be willing to engage their fans in an on-going dialogue on current and new mediums of communication.
You may not like her singing, you may think the songs she writes are fluff, you may think she is full of herself, but you cannot escape the fact that Taylor Swift has come to be the symbol of country music to an emerging audience that will not longer play by the old rules.
Taylor Swift is sustaining country music in terms of sales and exposure. Without her the life boats would be lowered because country music would be sinking. The CMA grabbed a hold of its biggest life preserver – Taylor Swift – and asked her to keep country music a float.
No one with the Minnesota Twins is thinking of lowering the life boats. With an exciting nucleus of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Denard Span, Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, J.J. Hardy, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn, and Joe Nathan the Twins have a chance for something big. Joe Mauer will soon be signing a long-term contract extension as the Twins will not let him leave. Mauer’s presence will make the Twins relevant for years to come. No one will argue Joe Mauer’s greatest. No questions will be asked about his game. Like other legends before him such as Ruth, Cobb, Williams, Musial, Mantle, Aaron, Mays, Bench, Jackson, Schmidt, Henderson, Griffey Jr., and Pujols, Joe Mauer’s greatest seems assured.
Joe Mauer and Taylor Swift now the banner carriers for two things I love – Twins baseball and country music - with Joe Mauer being universally loved and Taylor Swift anything but. I find the reaction to both interesting. Why is one of them so loved and the other not? Is it the perspective from which one views them? Ten years from now will people view Swift differently like they view Joe Mauer now or for that matter Shania Twain?
I have meet Joe Mauer multiple times in person. He is a great guy. He has shown his greatness on the field and yet remained humble. He is seemingly loved by everyone. I have never meet Taylor Swift in person, yet I have seen her accept her awards humbly. She has rarely complained the criticism she has received. Yet she is both loved and hated with intense passion.
Baseball and country music both inspired great passion. Much passion is directed toward who is greater and who. Is Babe Ruth greater than Hank Aaron? Is Alan Jackson greater than Garth Brooks? Yet two different standard barriers at the top of their games – Joe Mauer and Taylor Swift – inspire much different reactions. Joe Mauer seemingly can do not wrong; Taylor Swift seemingly can do no right. Perhaps one should step back and see that in fact Taylor Swift may not as bad as she seems. Joe Mauer has proved that you should wait awhile before passing judgment.