Oh, hey, it’s Tom, and this is me stepping onto my soapbox for a minute on this International Women’s Day. Everything below is just my opinion and my opinion alone, OK? It, and $3.95, will be enough to get you a latte at Starbucks, maybe. But here goes…
A lot has been made of the continued disparity of female artists vs male in country music these days. Just this week, Dierks Bentley, before breaking into his latest single “Woman, Amen” onstage in Nashville, implored the industry to take women more seriously and give them the same shot as men.
It goes without saying this shouldn’t even be something we’re talking about in 2019…yet, here we are. To paraphrase a recent comment from Ashley McBryde on my Podcast, Write You a Song, country music is a big table…so why aren’t there more women sitting at it?
And what’s weird is, I can clearly remember a time in the mid-to-late 90s when country music was dominated by female artists–Trisha, Martina, Reba, Shania–women so popular even today you only need to use their first name and you know who they are. And there were plenty of others regularly killing it on the country charts and out on tour: Pam Tillis, Patty Loveless, The Dixie Chicks, Faith Hill, Mary Chapin-Carpenter…I could go on. These are women who were enormously talented and popular. So what the hell happened?
There are plenty of theories, one of the more utterly preposterous being that some research seemed to indicate female country music fans do not necessarily want to listen to music by females.
I’m not making that up.
Truth is, there are more dynamics in play than that (if that one is truly a factor at all). And while some of it may be willful, I believe most of it is more about the industry following trends: male-dominated country has been a thing for awhile now, and Nashville (and yes, radio) still seems to be (caution: contradictory metaphor coming up) milking that cow for all its worth.
Why? Because it still sells, bottom line. And at the end of the day, the music business is a business: they are going to play it safe and go with what’s proven to work because they’re risk adverse, even at the cost of overlooking new, more diverse (but untested) talent. Sometimes, people get so focused on the bottom line they need a nudge so they look up and see what they could be missing.
Personally, I think the fact the issue is being talked about is that nudge (or maybe elbow) and that it will lead to change–shoot, Queen Reba herself addressed it last month when she expressed disappointment in the fact that not a single woman was nominated for ACM Entertainer of the Year…and she’s hosting the show! Another example: Kacey Musgraves continues to win major awards, which makes her more difficult to overlook. Carrie, Miranda, The women from Little Big Town, Sugarland and Lady Antebellum..? They are exceptions in the genre right now and have been for quite some time. Granted, they’re very successful exceptions but, let’s be real: they could use some company.
Again, though, I do believe things are changing, and that the smarter people in our industry are sort of “snapping out it”; they’re realizing (or maybe just remembering..?) that country music has a long history of strong, talented, iconic women (Loretta and Dolly, anyone? The Judds? Hello…) and are waking up to the fact that signing and recording more female artists has never hindered the industry before, so, duh, why would it now?
On this International Women’s Day, let’s hope that’s the case and in the meantime, let’s all do our part by supporting up-and-coming female artists: download some Kacey Musgraves, Maren Morris or Ashley McBryde. Go see Lauren Alaina, Carly Pearce or Kelsea Ballerini if they’re playing near you. Follow young women like Ashley McBryde, Lindsay Ell and Runaway June on social media (the industry pays attention to that). Get nostalgic and tell Alexa to play some Sara Evans or Suzy Bogguss. We as fans may need a nudge, too…because more women in country music will only help the genre grow, and, as already noted, there’s plenty of room at the table.