Leave it Mickey Guyton to kick off CMT’s Next Women of Country 2019 unveiling with “Sister,” a femme-powering anthem of support and co-operation she shared with Tenille Townes, Rachel Wammack, Clare Dunn and Leah Turner. With the lines, “Yeah, it makes you jaded, yeah it makes you tough/ When it knocks you down, we gotta pick each other up,” Guyton’s song captured the spirit of “build it together” in a world where this year alone saw Carrie Underwood taking Maddie & Tae and Runaway June on tour, Kacey Musgraves ruling the world without radio and Miranda Lambert bringing Elle King, Ashley McBryde, Caylee Hammack and Townes on her tour. All powerhouse women taking matters into their own hands.

This is perhaps the strongest Next New Women of Country class, and there was plenty of “Go, Girl” to go around. With Brandi Carlile getting the Impact Award and her recently resurrected icon Tanya Tucker announced as the anchor for CMT’s Next Women of Country Tour, Leslie Fram and Martina McBride presided over two waves of emerging female acts, who brought an unprecedented level of depth, heart and diversity to the day. Walker County created an organic funkiness that suggests The Judds and Kylie Morgan channeled Sophie B. Hawkins vocal delivery, while Hailey Whitters song about an 80-year-old woman named Janis offered a strong dose of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s real life narrative and KT Oslin’s grown-up perspective, and Avenue Beat’s “Be a Bro” flipped the dude paradigm to deliver an almost-Billie Eilish punk/pop onramp for younger girls.

If Musgraves and Lauren Alaina were part of the first class and, as Fram offered, “There are over 75 female artists in the franchise,” that’s a lot of girl power passing through this initiative since its launch in 2013. Still, the breakout females—hello, Maren Morris—have been few and far between, as women artists struggle to get on the radio.

Almost as if being called to answer, though it was deemed to celebrate the effort, Warner Nashville’s John Esposito, BBR’s Jon Loba, Sony Nashville’s Randy Goodman, Big Machine’s Scott Borchetta and Universal Nashville’s Cindy Mabe were offered the stage to talk about how they see the place of women in country. While all the men offered positive spins, Loba even talking about “profitability,” it’s a far more complex issue than merely flipping a switch—and certainly not an issue that lends itself to soundbites.

Still, leave it to the one woman in the lineup to deliver perhaps the most accurate and realistic, if sobering assessment. It speaks deeply to the state of how things are as we walk up the Underwood/Dolly/Reba-hosted CMA Awards, from the one female label president in Nashville.

“We can all keep moving through and thinking that things have changed at the rate they need to change, and they haven’t. This platform and these artists today are so much more than a positioning statement that makes it to a press release this afternoon,” Mabe began.

“This is about how we give a voice and a perspective to half the world. There is so much said about women not wanting to hear other women’s voices, but speaking for all the women that I know and raising two little girls of my own, and I can only speak for them, but they only want to hear female voices.

“You are the ones that show them the way. You are the ones that will dictate the next generation’s impact. You represent how they are felt and represented in the world—and their feelings, and their thoughts and their voices. Then show them that they matter.

“I think back to my childhood and how music spoke to me. I can say without a doubt that I wouldn’t be here without the voices of Dolly, and the Judds and Reba in my ear—because they raised me. On the eve of country’s biggest night, I can’t help but think about our sole female Entertainer of the Year nominee—and the fact that Carrie Underwood wouldn’t exist without the impact of Martina McBride. The impact her music made on Carrie as a little girl is what changed a whole generation.

“This is how it works, and this is how each of you that are sitting in this audience need to understand your impact for where you go from here.

“I would be remiss to say that it’s going to be an easy way, and you are all going to forge your own way—and not all of them are going to look like radio. We have artists like Kacey Musgraves that are showing there are now ways to you can expose new music to the masses and I think that if there is anything to say today, it’s that the women are bringing interesting, state of the art, cutting edge music and it doesn’t all fit in a box, that’s the truth of the matter.

“We will spend the next years figuring how we get it exposed, one foot in front of the other, because great music should always rise and it’s not about fitting into a box. I’m speaking on behalf of Universal Music Group. We are committed—I can say I get out of bed every day and move it toward making women’s voices matter.”

The 2020 Next New Women Class is Abbey Cone, Avenue Beat, Hammack, Whitters, Morgan, Madison Kozak, Renee Blair, Sycamore, Tiera and Walker County.

Dynamic duos (12/7a)
I.B. Bad on music's biggest comeback (12/7a)
It's De-Lovely. (12/7a)
We salute the winner and still champ. (12/7a)
It's beginning to look a lot like Xmas. (12/6a)

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