Mainstream country music has a problem with women.
Its most powerful platform — commercial radio — is already known for its dearth of female artists, and that issue exploded this month when, for the first time in its history, Billboard’s Country Airplay chart did not feature a single female artist in the top 20 songs.
Some in the industry were embarrassed. Others just shrugged it off.
Marissa Moss, a freelance music reporter for Rolling Stone and many other outlets, has been covering this issue and talked to WPLN’s Jason Moon Wilkins about how we got here and what’s next. Listen to the full interview above, or read interview excerpts below.
When you saw that the Billboard Country Airplay chart came out for the first time since it began in 1990, with zero female artists in the top 20, what was your reaction?
“Nausea. But I mean, I was not surprised. It’s upsetting, and it’s been upsetting for a long time. But the trend is not improving. Things aren’t getting better. So after that first initial feeling of, ‘Oh God, this is awful,’ I was like, ‘Well, of course!’ Because nothing has really changed to try to chip away at this problem.
Watch: Carrie Underwood shares her frustration with the lack of women on country radio during an interview with the Women Want To Hear Women Podcast:
In a year where the spotlight has been harsher, why do you think it has gotten worse?
“I’ve heard everything from, sadly, that folks at radio, now that they’re having this so-called problem thrown at them, have been not even wanting to play women as much as sort of a rebellion from all of the pressure — to, everyone sort of falls back on this faulty research that has been passed around for years saying that women don’t want to hear women. But no one can actually sort of offer any concrete evidence that that’s true.
“At this point, it has become such an endemic part of country music that it’s now becoming true. It really comes down to familiarity. You have these songs from men, and you’re so used to listening to men that when you hear a woman on country radio, it’s kind of jarring. … And it’s not because it’s a woman, it’s because it sounds different. So it’s become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Are we seeing similar problems though with female inclusion on the streaming side?
“We are. There’s a lot of hope for streaming when it comes to country as sort of being this place where women can finally have an equal playing field, and maybe that’ll eventually come, but it hasn’t yet. I was looking through Spotify’s hot country playlist. … Out of maybe 40-50 songs, I saw two from women. So they’re not really doing anything to break out of the same pattern for women.”
Watch: Maren Morris implores female artists to “be bold, be brave” and “speak your truth” during her acceptance speech at CMT’s Artists of the Year Special:
Who else do you think needs to speak up now in order to address this?
“Men! It’s great that CMT focused their Artists of the Year (special) entirely on women. I think that was wonderful. And it’s great to have Carrie (Underwood) speaking out. It’s great to have Maren (Morris) speaking out. Their voices are so important, but 2019 needs to be the year that country’s men come out and join this fight. That’s what’s missing.”
Watch: Songwriter Emma White chronicles the struggles of female artists and writers in her song “Ten Year Town,” performed at the recurring, all-female writers’ night, Song Suffragettes: