I have always loved country music. I grew up listening to artists I adored: those like Martina McBride, the Dixie Chicks and Faith Hill. But the more I listened, the more I noticed something strange about the artists I love.
Martina slowly faded out of the industry, the Dixie Chicks were hated across America for speaking out against George Bush, and Faith was hardly ever talked about without the mention of her equally successful husband Tim McGraw. These women were extremely talented but were for some reason overshadowed by male artists. I didn’t understand why.
I also began to notice a larger theme within the genre: trucks, beer and women. There are an uncountable number of songs about women, whether it is about a female dancing on a tailgate or strutting in daisy dukes. It’s almost easier to name songs about women than to name ones sang by women.
Now that I’m older, I can see this is a bigger problem than I realized.
Earlier this month was the 53rd Annual Country Music Association Awards. The award show is self-proclaimed as the “biggest night in country music,” and just about every country artist attends. This year, the night was supposedly dedicated to women, having Carrie Underwood, Reba McEntire and Dolly Parton as hosts.
It started off with a dozen female artists singing a medley of women’s music from over the years. It was a beautiful way to begin, and I was elated to see women being celebrated in a way they never have been at any country award show in the past. But it takes more than dedicating a night to women to tackle the misogyny present in the industry.
Over the course of the night, only three female vocalists won awards, one in a category dedicated specifically to women. Meanwhile, six male solo artists and groups won awards, with Luke Combs winning twice. Though what really got people talking was the award for “Entertainer of the Year,” which is awarded to an artist who excels in their performances, attitude, staging, and overall contributes to the country music image. Several country artists came forward before the show and expressed support for the only female nominated in the category, Carrie Underwood. The Boot did a poll to see who the public thought should win, with Carrie receiving 51 per cent of the votes amongst the five nominees.
Despite only receiving four per cent on the polls, Garth Brooks managed to bring home the award. This is the seventh time in his career that Garth has won Entertainer of the Year— the exact same number of times a female has ever won it since the CMA Awards began in 1967. Despite Carrie’s many successes this past year, she is a woman and female artists don’t get the recognition they deserve in this genre.
Jennifer Nettles of the group Sugarland did not shy away from expressing her anger about the misogyny in country music. She walked the CMA red carpet wearing a suit with a cape that read “Play our F*@#!N Records Please & Thank You.”
Airplay time on radios is another big issue. A study by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative looked at how gender held up when it came to the Year-End Billboard Hot Country charts from 2014-2018. They found that only 16 per cent of artists from these top songs were female—a ratio of one female to every 5.2 men. And it’s not just that there are fewer women’s songs on the charts either: the study also found that country songs by men were played on the radio at least twice as often as those by women.
What I found most interesting is how the study looked at the age of these artists on the country charts. It found that the average age for a male solo artist is 42, while the average age for female artists is 29. Female artists commonly have short-lived careers because of their age. When I reflect back to the women I loved growing up, many are no longer producing music. On the other hand, the men I grew up listening to are still some of the most popular artists today. Why did the women slowly fade out while men have the ability to drag out their 20-year-long careers?
No one gender has better music than the other — female artists sell just as many records or have just as successful tours, yet women still don’t receive the recognition their male counterparts get. And I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s because women don’t sing about trucks and beer, or maybe some believe that there isn’t an audience for female vocalists. What I can tell you is that as a woman myself and an avid country music fan, all I want is a fair representation of the talented female artists I love.