Taylor Swift has been awarded the Country Music Association’s Pinnacle Award for attracting a worldwide audience to the music genre.
The US singer, who has sold 25 million albums globally, is only the second recipient of the prize after country favourite Garth Brooks won for his contribution in 2005.
Swift picked up the award in Nashville last night, thanking those present for making her feel "so special".
Artists who had invited Swift to open for them on tour as a teenager, including Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, George Strait and Keith Urban, joined her on stage as a surprise.
The 23-year old then enjoyed a video tribute featuring Justin Timberlake, Carly Simon, Julia Roberts and Mick Jagger.
The New York Times was cynical of the decision to award Swift the top honour, claiming that she was picked for being “country music’s cash cow”.
“The only way for country music to respond to [Swift] - and for her to engage with country music, a dance partner she only sometimes favours - is to fete her endlessly,” wrote critic Jon Caramanica.
Before taking home the Pinnacle Award, Swift performed her hit single “Red” with Alison Krauss, Vince Gill and Sam Bush.
The singer went on to win two further awards for musical event of the year and video event of the year for "Highway Don't Care".
George Strait took home entertainer of the year while Miranda Lambert and husband Blake Shelton were named best female and male vocalists for the fourth time each.