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IT’S A MAN’S MAN’S MAN’S MAN’S WORLD


When Reba made the big ACM Awards nominee announcements on CBS This Morning, the former ACM Entertainer of the Year was rankled by the lack of women in the coveted Entertainer of the Year category. What’s more, apart from Kacey Musgraves, on a juggernaut after sweeping the Grammys—including Album of the Year—despite zero Country airplay, the only solo woman nominated in the major categories is Bebe Rexha for her duet with Florida Georgia Line.

The argument on Entertainer can be made that in a radio blackout, women can’t get the momentum to sell out arenas, let alone stadiums. It would follow that other mainstream exposure serves as leavening for a major tour—the #1 promotional tool in country music. Beyond airplay, there are the giveaways, the drop-bys and the show sponsorships that reinforce a star’s place in the musical universe.

More disturbing still is the fact that without airplay, it’s almost impossible for female artists to be considered for Song or Single, especially in more mainstream rooms. If the Country Music Association is more inclined to lean into critical mass, has the ACM responded to Musgraves, Maren Morris and Ashley McBryde’s massive Grammy momentum? But even then, it’s more about the buzz than the music.

At a time when there’s so much talk about “changing the conversation,” how do women artists get served? And what about the female artists who don’t have the benefit of critical momentum? For that matter, critical momentum didn’t help Pistol Annies in the Vocal Group category despite the fact that theirs was the only album to rival Golden Hour in the various year-end lists and critics’ polls.

While there have been lots of female-empowering events, conversation and the Song Suffragettes writers’ group, trail-blazing duo Maddie & Tae, who delivered the trope-skewering “Girl in a Country Song,” are still struggling four years later. Danielle Bradbery gained massive visibility via The Voice to net big streaming numbers, and Carly Pearce achieved the rarest of all things—a #1 hit with “Every Little Thing,” yet they gained little in terms of tangible momentum. And Lindsey Ell, a world-class guitarist with rocker-girl attitude, needed to team up with roughneck Brantley Gilbert to get realistic traction with “What Happens in a Small Town.”

Women who are eschewing the high-gloss, Barbie-with-attitude approach are making some of the genre’s most interesting music, from tangential artists like Margo Price, Alison Krauss, Nikki Lane, Lee Ann Womack, Aubrie Sellers and Elizabeth Cook to newcomers including Rachel Wammack, Kassi Ashton and Tenille Townes. These women deserve as strong a shot as anybody else. What’s it going to take?

If “testing” leans into familiarity, listeners are getting used to not hearing women’s voices on Country radio—so they’re not going to be “familiar.” Rather than having a Grammy panel “balance” out the nominees, maybe it’s time for the labels to work with radio to create a viable platform to develop female artists. It’s more than a courtesy add at night, and it will take a bit of time to develop, but it should be apparent to every programmer who has a daughter, a sister or family friend coming of age that those women deserve voices they can model themselves after, not just pine for.

By contrast, women my age had Mary Chapin Carpenter, Patty Loveless, Trisha Yearwood, Pam Tillis, Lucinda Williams, Suzy Boggus, kd lang, Martina McBride, Sara Evans, Nanci Griffith, Kelly Willis, Kathy Mattea and Jo Dee Messina, as well as the more established Rosanne Cash, Carlene Carter, Tanya Tucker, Sweethearts of the Rodeo and Emmylou Harris, plus the legendary Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, Minnie Pearl and Dolly Parton.

That’s a whole lot of women (rattled off the top of my head) doing singular things. Today, sadly, that sort of individuality doesn’t exist; nor would radio support it if it did. That’s why so many of our young females feel like they’re being honed to fit through the same teeny funnel.

Fixing this development problem isn’t going to be easy, but continuing to talk without acting eradicates the depth the genre sorely needs.

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