I was listening to the radio the other day for an hour, and there were 10 songs played, eight of them were by males, and two of them by females. Of the two by female artists, one was ‘Cry Pretty’ by Carrie Underwood and the other was ‘Gunpowder and Lead’ by Miranda Lambert. Meanwhile of the previous eight, there were probably five or six songs about the objectification of women or songs perpetuating common (and quite frankly draconian) stereotypes.
This trend is nothing new and has been going on for years, however with the rise of feminism in our country throughout countless industries (including this one to an extent) this should be something that we can fix. My question for you is, why in 2018 why are we forcing women to work twice as hard for three minutes of airtime when they are producing music that is just as good, if not better, than their male counterparts in the industry right now?
I will sometimes hear the thinly veiled excuse: “There just aren’t a lot of good female artists in country right now.”
My response to this?
There are countless female artists right now who are not only great singers and songwriters, but they are pretty damn good performers too. There are young artists such as Cam, Lindsey Ell, Raelynn, Kelsea Ballerini, Lauren Alaina, Maren Morris, Maddie & Tae, Kacey Musgraves, Ashley McBryde, and Carly Pearce among countless others who are not being given the fair chance that they as young artists deserve because of the male dominated genre that they play in.
There has never been a shortage of female artists in country music with women such as Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette, who had to fight tooth and nail to scrape their way to the top. In the 90’s there were artists such as Trisha Yearwood, Shania Twain, The Dixie Chicks, Martina McBride and Faith Hill who ruled the country landscape.
It has always been women who have dragged this traditionally conservative genre forward. Loretta Lynn released her historic homage to birth control in the 1970’s which turned out to be a commercial success at the cost of her losing airplay on county radio throughout the nation. In fact, her label originally refused to release the song and country radio refused to play it, before it became a top 100 pop hit.
I recently had the chance to ask Jessie Goergen, an up and coming female artist who goes by her stage name Jessie G, why she thinks women aren’t being given a fair chance. She says that “Country music is in a place where the fans aren’t controlling what’s on the charts. The fans are rarely allowed to request an independent artist on the radio since radio has to play the music already approved for them.” A once independent artist herself, Jessie G has since signed for Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Records” label. Despite signing a deal and releasing her debut single “Army Ranger,” she is still fighting for new artists. She says that “Fans also don’t have a say [about] what songs get on the major streaming playlists (Pandora, Spotify, etc.).” She continues saying “If you’re an artist with a major record deal, you are more likely to get radio spins and adds on major streaming playlists which will obviously lead to virality of the song regardless of what the fans say.” She finishes by saying that “I don’t think women will be fairly represented in country radio until the fans change the system OR the suits decide we get a chance”
Goergen is completely correct when she says that fans don’t get a say in the songs that are put on radio and streaming platforms. We are forced to accept the status quo of one or two high profile female artists while the rest of country music is something of an old “boys club.” Until the executives on music row decide to take a risk and give younger artists a chance or the fans push for more change, not much will happen.
This year at the2018 iHeart Radio Music Awards, the category for Country Artist of the Year was filled by five male artists. These artists were Thomas Rhett, Luke Bryan, Sam Hunt, Jason Aldean and Blake Shelton, respectively. These guys are all amazing artists and fabulous performers, don’t get me wrong, but we can’t even get one female artist? Two of those artists, Sam Hunt and Jason Aldean, didn’t even put out an album in 2017.
Maren Morris released her debut album in 2017, one which included a debut single, ‘My Church,’ which peaked at number nine (U.S. Country Airplay), a follow-up single which nearly broke the top ten at its peak (No. 12 on U.S. Country Airplay), her first number one single, and a current hit which has already broken the top 20 at the time of writing. In addition to this she has featured on pop song ‘The Middle’ with Zedd and Grey as well as ‘Craving You’ with Thomas Rhett, both of which reached number one on the charts in their respective genres. If a male artist who has not released an album since 2014 can get a nomination but one of the top rising artists in Nashville, male or female, can’t even get one we still have a long way to go.
Sexism in the country music industry is a double edge sword, on one side you have female artists struggling for air play despite their obvious talent, and on the other is misogynistic and objectifying lyrics that, as previously mentioned, perpetuate common and outdated stereotypes of women.
Artists such as George Strait, Garth Brooks, and Conway Twitty have been singing about women and relationships for countless years, however romantic love songs such as ‘I Cross My Heart’ and ‘If Tomorrow Never Comes’ have been replaced with songs that have clear misogynistic undertones such as ‘Country Girl (Shake It for Me)’ and ‘Get Your Shine On.’
An even worse trend in the genre is the murky definition of sexual consent. In a time when rape culture is being brought to the forefront of discussion, it is very concerning that a genre’s top hits sound like they are going end in date rape. While these songs may not explicitly imply date rape, it provides good background music for taking a woman into the woods to try and talk her into having sex.
A great example of this trend can be heard in the aforementioned ‘Get Your Shine On’ by Florida Georgia Line. Amy McCarthy of the Dallas Observer pointed out “The ‘girl’ in the song is encouraged to keep drinking moonshine, then ‘slide that little sugar shaker over here’ so that she can ‘rock all night long.’ Something tells me that FGL isn't talking about a guitar jam. Not to mention the fact that they're driving down what presumably is a country road, which doesn't exactly provide for many escape routes.”
Language like this can make it harder for female artists, like Maren Morris, to breakthrough in the genre and ultimately succeed. In the same article, McCarthy pointed out that in the past 10 years, only ten percent of No. 1 hits have come from female artists which is a 14 percent decrease from the 1990’s. There has been an improvement recently in regards to artists like Chris Janson and Keith Urban singing about respecting and appreciating women with their songs ‘Drunk Girl’ and ‘Female,’ respectively. However, we cannot be satisfied with just this. This is a great start but we need other males in the genre to continue what these two have started, or at the very least stop the sexist trend that “Bro-Country” has started.
Despite all of the progress made through female pioneers of country music, it is disheartening to see artists like Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line dragging the genre backwards. However, artists like Maddie & Tae, Kacey Musgraves, and Miranda Lambert will continue the fight to ensure the rise of women in country music, because artists like these deserve to have their music on the radio alongside male artists that respect them both as women and as musicians.