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COUNTRY IN 2018: ENVELOPE—PUSHING AND STONEWALLING

If Santa ran Nashville’s record business, the stockings would be bursting. Look at UMG rulers Mike Dungan and Cindy Mabe’s utter dominance of the CMA Awards, with Keith Urban (Entertainer), Carrie Underwood (Female), Chris Stapleton (Male again, plus Song and Single), and Brothers Osborne (Duo). Add to all that Underwood becoming a producer unafraid of gravitas to the tune of 220k+ copies of Cry Pretty, Kacey MusgravesGolden Hour getting a coveted Album of the Year Grammy nod and a new George Strait coming soon, and you’d think there’d be nothing left over for anyone else.

Yet Randy Goodman’s Sony squad is busy forging country’s next generation with Kane Brown, Luke Combs, Maren Morris, LANCO and Old Dominion, as well as coming-on-strong newcomer Mitchell Tenpenny.

Scott Borchetta’s BMLG continues to build next-level acts: Thomas Rhett is an emerging superstar, Florida Georgia Line’s Bebe Rexha collaboration “Meant to Be” became ubiquitous, Reba McEntire was a Kennedy Center honoree, Midland California-country’d, and both Brett Young and Carly Pearce are becoming solid stars.

Over at Warner Nashville, John Esposito colors outside the lines. Dan + Shay blur genres as “Tequila” massively streams, Brett Eldredge’s smooth country swoons, Blake Shelton keeps his sense of humor as he doubles down on country touring with John Anderson, a pair of Ashleys (Monroe and McBryde) serve raw truth about women’s lives, and  Kenny Chesney’s critically acclaimed Songs for the Saints on Blue Chair/WMG Nashville debuted.

Indie world is making its mark as well: Norbert Nix and Co. have given Triple Tigers three straight #1s with Russell Dickerson and Scotty McCreery; Broken Bow’s Jon Loba matched Jason Aldean’s chart share with Kid Rock’s star power, while taking Dustin Lynch, Craig Campbell and Lindsey Ell onto the charts; and Big Loud Records stays loud with Chris Lane, Jake Owen, Morgan Wallen and boy yodeler Mason Ramsey.

With all that good news, it seems no one is getting a lump of coal. But every manager, label exec and booking agent agreed on one hot spot: the lack of women on Country radio. For all the articles, debates, CMT Artist of the Year’s all-female-honorees show and hand-wringing, this week marks the first time there’s no female voice in the Top 20. None. Nada. Zero. Maren Morris doesn’t get enough credit for breaking through the logjam, as she’s regularly alongside Underwood, Lambert and “female guests” on playlists; but even Underwood and Lambert have struggled with consistent momentum. Not to mention Pistol Annies’ frisky country got crickets.

Something needs to happen. FAST. Country
radio still targets women, even with the youth
quake. Not since the implosion of Dixie Chicks —who rocked as hard as any male act and made the airwaves safe for other women—has radio been female-strong.

Going back to the ’90s, just getting nominated for Female Vocalist was considered a win. Shania Twain, Faith Hill, Patty Loveless, Reba, Lee Ann Womack, Trisha Yearwood, Wynonna, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Pam Tillis, Kathy Mattea, Jo Dee Messina, Suzy Bogguss, Martina McBride and more women were 
having hits.

Maybe key chain programmers and label 
weasels need to get a room at the Country Radio Seminar, then get real with each other about what it’s going to take to break the stranglehold.

For the most part, the reckoning of “boys will be boys” behavior with the #MeToo movement has skipped Nashville. That, or our industry is populated by choirboys.

Maybe, too, we should figure this whole gun thing out. It’s not about taking away, but sane ways to regulate and moderate. If Vegas’ slaughter wasn’t enough, the dozen killed by another angry white guy at The Borderline’s College Night breaks my heart.

How does Kane Brown—whose massive six-figure first-week sales prove his very real connection with America—get shut out of CMA nominations/performance? Just asking for a friend.

Last week, African-American Jimmie Allen was #1. We can’t say 6-1-5 is woke, but with streaming starting to kick in—as several label execs noted—the face of country is starting to look a bit more like the face of America. Mixed-race Brown to Allen is awesome.

Now, if the genre with perhaps the highest concentration of LGBTQ workers could figure how to have an openly gay male country star—again, thanks Brandy Clark and McBryde for blazing the female trail!—country could reflect the audience.

In a world of polarizing media, embracing all is the wish I wish for those listening, streaming and dancing to country. It would be lovely if people weren’t kept out because of gender, race or sexual preference. Now that gift, Santa, would be turning all that coal into some mighty nice diamonds.

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