Where have all the women gone, country music?

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Last week on Nashville (aka, My Show), fictional country music superstar, Rayna James, made an impassioned plea to fictional country music up-n-comer, Sadie Stone, to join James’ new music label, Highway 65 Records. Do not join that other label, Rayna implored, where “big-hat cowboys” rule the roost and female artists are an endangered species. Highway 65, Rayna told Sadie, wants to support female artists, get them back on the charts.

It got me thinking. Despite now living out here in the good ol' cornfield, I am barely literate when it comes to the who's who of contemporary country music artists. But I know that the scene, the lyrics, the image, is less than supportive of women's success and autonomy than of their superstar men's. Sure, there are acts like Maddie & Tae who had a tongue-in-cheek hit with their single, Girl in a Country Song, poking fun at the role of once powerful players in Country having been relegated to Daisy-Duke wearing booty shakers sitting in the back of pick-up trucks while the men have their fun (and get gold records), but I'm guessing this will be a one-hit wonder, likely to have offered some discussion this summer, but barely a revolution. Where have the all the women gone? As I said, I have little in the way of even a fan's knowledge of the country music scene, but I did work for a record company for 12 years, I know what those boardrooms look like. And I know how to read a Billboard chart. So just for fun, let's see how they compare:

Adapted from Billboard.com.

Country airplay:

1 Burnin' It Down Jason Aldean
2 Dirt Florida Georgia Line 
3 Leave The Night On Sam Hunt 
4 Neon Light Blake Shelton 
5 Roller Coaster Luke Bryan 
6 Ready Set Roll Chase Rice 
7 Day Drinking Little Big Town
8 Sunshine & Whiskey Frankie Ballard 
9 Small Town Throwdown Brantley Gilbert Featuring Justin Moore & Thomas Rhett
10 Somewhere In My Car Keith Urban

Pop airplay:

1 Black Widow Iggy Azalea Featuring Rita Ora
2 Shake It Off Taylor Swift
3 All About That Bass Meghan Trainor
4 Bang Bang Jessie J, Ariana Grande & Nicki Minaj
5 Don’t Tell ‘Em Jeremih Featuring YG
6 Habits (Stay High) Tove Lo
7 Don’t Ed Sheeran
8 Break Free Ariana Grande Featuring Zedd
9 Cool Kids Echosmith
10 Blame Calvin Harris Featuring John Newman

R&B/Hip Hop airplay:

1 New Flame Chris Brown Featuring Usher & Rick Ross
2 Lifestyle Rich Gang Featuring Young Thug & Rich Homie Quan
3 Don't Tell 'Em Jeremih Featuring YG
4 Hold You Down DJ Khaled Featuring Chris Brown, August Alsina, Future & Jeremih
5 ***Flawless Beyonce Featuring Nicki Minaj Or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
6 0 To 100 / The Catch Up Drake
7 Hot Boy Bobby Shmurda
8 Studio ScHoolboy Q Featuring BJ The Chicago Kid
9 About The Money T.I. Featuring Young Thug
10 Stay With Me Sam Smith

So, to recap: As of the week of October 20, 2014, women in country are silenced even more than women in the notoriously misogynist hip hop sphere. (Don’t argue with me on this one - note the artist woman abuser in the top spot.) But then I thought, ok, this is just a snapshot; a week in time. Surely women are given more credit in maintaining the modern country music scene than the charts would suggest.

And then I saw a commercial for the upcoming CMA Awards. Performers were listed, and I watched as male after male (big-hat cowboys, thank you Nashville writers) were shown:

Jason Aldean
Dierks Bentley
Luke Bryan
Kenny Chesney
Eric Church
Florida Georgia Line
Lady Antebellum
Tim McGraw
Brad Paisley
Blake Shelton
The Band Perry

Oh, wait! Kacey Musgrove. (Though the wording is unclear as to whether she will be singing on her own or as part of a collaboration.)

Phew. And hey, there are a few other women on the bill. Ariana Grande is performing. With Little Big Town. But look! Miranda Lambert is performing! With Carrie Underwood. Who – vindication! – is also a host. Oh – with Brad Paisley.

What is CMA afraid will happen if a woman gets the stage to herself? Will she start a revolution? Flash the old-timers in the front row? Declare that they are leaving their record company to join Highway 65? I suspect the true fear organizers have of putting women on the stage on their own is much more nefarious: They might prove themselves better performers than the men. And for some reason, in country music, more than in pop, rock, or even hip hop, the men seem to always need to be seen as stronger, better, larger than the women. I suspect that’s what all them big hats are for.


1 comment:

  1. I really did not know about Rayna James and haven’t even heard about her before. As you have described about her I think she is also one of the hot country singers. Can you please share some more information about her?


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