Taylor Swift turned a negative into a positive, and it has netted her a special nomination at this year's Country Music Association Awards.
Swift received her first CMA song of the year nomination for Mean, her spunky rebuttal to cynical criticism. That trophy goes to the writer, not the artist, and is among the most coveted awards in a town where the songwriter is celebrated and revered.
"Respectfully, it's about time," said Scott Borchetta, head of Swift's label, Big Machine Records. "I don't think she gets near the props she deserves for her songwriting. I've been in the business with Taylor for almost seven years now and her songs were great when I met her at 14."
Swift has gotten her share of love for her songwriting. She won a Grammy for best country song in 2010. Nashville Songwriters Association International has named her songwriter/artist of the year four of the last five years — and at 21 she remains the youngest winner of that award. And BMI, the performing rights organisation, has awarded her all-genre song of the year once and country song of the year three times.
She's won a trunk full of CMA trophies, including top award entertainer of the year in 2009. But she's never broken through in that songwriting category.
Mean, a retort to nit-pickers, bullies and perhaps curmudgeonly commentator Bob Lefsetz, was hard to resist. It shows Swift at her best. It's both vulnerable and confident, with an infectious chorus, an upbeat, empowering message and among her most countrified instrumentation built around Swift's six-string banjo line.
The song went to No 1 on the country and adult contemporary charts.
"Getting a CMA nomination for Mean was definitely a jumping-up-and-down moment for me because this song is really close to my heart," Swift said.
"I'm so thrilled it was nominated for song of the year because it's a song that I wrote on a really, really bad day, but it has produced so many happy days for me since."
With more to come perhaps. Brad Paisley, a six-time nominee in the category, believes Swift has been unfairly overlooked as a songwriter among the industry voters who make up the CMA. He points out that most of the voters are in their 30s and 40s, and older. This year's nomination could be a breakthrough.
"There's no 18-year-old in the world that you talk to who doesn't relate to some of her lyrics," Paisley said. "And in that sense, though, she's laughing all the way to the bank as the voters might be saying, ‘Well, you know, that's not for me.' That's not fair. In some ways it's even more groundbreaking what she's done. I'm proud of what she's done."
Other nominees in the category are Zac Brown, Coy Boyles, Wyatt Durette and Levi Lowry for Zac Brown Band's Colder Weather, Kimberly Perry for The Band Perry's If I Die Young, Brantley Gilbert and Colt Ford for Jason Aldean's Dirt Road Anthem and Deana Carter and Matraca Berg for Kenny Chesney's You and Tequila. The field can be considered wide open with Berg the only previous winner, in 1997, as co-writer of Strawberry Wine.
Swift might not win, of course. But like the song points out, she's already a winner.
"She's just been on an amazing streak," Borchetta said. "Whatever her surroundings, wherever she happened to be, this is what she saw. And [the songs] are very sophisticated. They're very catchy. She's a brilliant songwriter and if you ask any of the other artists who are hip to her, they know. So I'm thrilled the CMA has acknowledged her."