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Taylor Swift has so effectively reinvented herself as a pop superstar over the past seven years that when she surprise-released her Americana-leaning Folklore album this past July, it almost seemed like a radical departure, rather than a return to her country roots.
But on Wednesday, the nine-time Academy of Country Music Award-winner reminded everyone just where she got her start, when she gave her first performance on any country music awards show since 2013, crooning the Folklore track “Betty” from Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry House at the 55th Annual ACM Awards.
Swift’s last country awards show performances took place at the 2013 ACMs, when she duetted with Tim McGraw and Keith Urban on McGraw’s “Highway Don’t Care,” and at the Country Music Association Awards that same year, when she sang the title track to her final country-categorised album, Red, with Vince Gill and Alison Krauss.
A year later, she released her first official “pop” album, the blockbuster 1989 — and aside from a trip to the ACM podium in 2015 to receive a Milestone Award and a couple appearances as a country awards show presenter, she has seemingly never looked back.
This Wednesday, Swift still donned some sequins worthy of an appearance on the Billboard Music Awards or VMAs, but her acoustic, stool-seated, harmonica-embellished “Betty” on the bare Opry stage was an otherwise subdued affair, stripped of all the bells, whistles, backup dancers, and giant hydraulic rattlesnakes of her recent awards show performances and stadium tours.
Unsurprisingly, with the ACMs’ primetime broadcast being a family-friendly affair, she switched the song’s original caustic line “Would you tell me to go f*** myself?” to the radio-edit version’s decidedly tamer “Would you tell me to go straight to hell?”
Wednesday’s ACM Awards ceremony was historic not just because of Swift’s much-hyped prodigal-daughter return, but because it was the first ACMs to actually take place in the city of Nashville. It was also, obviously, the first ACMs to take place during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Originally slated for April 2020 before it was delayed due to coronavirus concerns, the rejiggered ACM Awards telecast, hosted by Keith Urban, aired from three socially distant, iconic Music City venues: the Opry, the Ryman Auditorium, and the Bluebird Café.
Other performers on Wednesday included Kelsea Ballerini, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Luke Combs, Mickey Guyton, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris, Thomas Rhett, Carrie Underwood, and two reality-show couples: The Voice coaches Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani, and recently married American Idol Season 16 alumni Gabby Barrett and Cade Foehner, who are expecting their first child.