How Toby Keith helped launch Taylor Swift's career: Vintage clip from 2005 is unearthed

8 February 2024, 13:17

Taylor Swift speaks about Toby Keith
Taylor Swift speaks about Toby Keith. Picture: Getty/WSMV 4 Nashville

By Tom Eames

The death of country music legend Toby Keith has sparked a wave of nostalgia and tributes from fans and fellow artists.

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Among them is a video clip from 2005, showing a young Taylor Swift gushing over Toby Keith in an interview.

The video, which has gone viral on X, reveals the surprising connection between the two singers, who had very different musical styles and political views.

Toby Keith was one of the co-founders of Big Machine, the record label that launched Swift’s career in 2006. He left the label shortly after to focus on his own imprint, Show Dog Nashville, but not before signing Swift as one of his first artists.

In the interview with WSMV 4 Nashville, a 15-year-old Swift expressed her admiration for Keith, saying: “You’re in the room with him and you can feel it. There’s a power there and you’re just like, ‘Oh my God.’ I don’t think I’ll ever get to a point where I won’t see him and be like, ‘Oh my God, that’s Toby Keith.’”

Many music fans were unaware of the role Keith played in Swift’s early success. “I had no idea Toby Keith gave Taylor Swift her start,” one user tweeted.

Swift has not yet commented on Keith’s passing, who died from stomach cancer on Monday. The two singers had a complicated relationship, marked by their contrasting political stances.

Keith was a staunch supporter of the war in Iraq and a vocal critic of former President George W Bush’s opponents. His famous song, 'Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue', became a patriotic anthem after the 9/11 attacks.

Toby Keith in 2014
Toby Keith in 2014. Picture: Getty

Swift, on the other hand, has been vocal about her support for the Democratic Party and her opposition to Donald Trump. She also endorsed several progressive causes, such as LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and racial justice.

Keith also had a long-running feud with The Chicks (formerly known as the Dixie Chicks), who were ostracized by the country music industry after one of their members, Natalie Maines, said she was ashamed of Bush in 2003.

Swift, who grew up idolizing The Chicks, said their backlash was a turning point in her political awakening. In her 2020 Netflix documentary, Miss Americana, she said: “Throughout my whole career, label executives and publishers would say, ‘don’t be like the Dixie Chicks.’”

Taylor Swift also had a bitter dispute with Big Machine, the label Keith helped create, after it was sold to Scooter Braun, a music mogul who Swift accused of bullying her. Braun acquired the rights to Swift’s first six albums, which she has been trying to reclaim ever since.

Taylor Swift in 2007
Taylor Swift in 2007. Picture: Getty

However, the video of Swift praising Toby Keith shows how much the singer has changed and evolved over the years, both musically and politically. It also shows how Toby Keith influenced her career, for better or worse, and how his legacy will live on in the country music scene.

Carrie Underwood, Blake Shelton, Dolly Parton, Jason Aldean, Old Dominion, Luke Bryan, Jelly Roll, Zach Bryan, Dan + Shay and Luke Combs are among the country stars who paid tribute to the 'Red Solo Cup' singer.

"We’re gonna miss you, Toby, but my heart has no doubt that you are standing in the presence of our King right now!!" Carrie Underwood said. "See you again someday, friend."

Aldean called Keith's death "a sad day for country music and its fans." He said: "Toby was a huge presence in our business and someone we all looked up to and respected. You and your music will be forever remembered big man."

Dolly Parton praised Keith for being "one of the greats," adding that his "music and legacy will live on."

An emotional Blake Shelton wrote: "Even though I knew about your battle these last few months I still never imagined this day. Anyone who knew you knows what I mean. You were the toughest man I ever met. Thank you brother for being a friend, a hero and an inspiration. There will never be another Toby Keith."

Tim McGraw remembered how he and Toby Keith released their first albums on the same day in 1993, saying: "Our self titled debuts came out on the same day, April 20, 1993… Toby and I spent quite a bit of time together early in our careers.

"We had a lot of good times and conversations about what we wanted out of our careers and our lives. He was a maverick. He did things his way, on his terms, a true artist. I always have and always will have tremendous respect for his artistry, dedication and fearlessness to do his thing. We all will miss you, brother."