#LetTheGirlsPlay: It’s Time for a Movement
One year ago, Taste of Country compiled some startling facts about women in country music. At the time it’d been 18 months since a female solo artist notched a No. 1 hit in Billboard, and no new female solo artist had truly broken through to top the charts in years. Little has changed, but much is changing.
The streak remains alive today. October will mark three years since Carrie Underwood's "Blown Away" hit No. 1 on Billboard Airplay. Gretchen Wilson remains the last female artist not named Carrie, Miranda or Taylor to celebrate her first No. 1 hit. That’s a tricky stat. Other female artists like Sara Evans and Martina McBride have scored No. 1 hits in the decade-plus since “Redneck Woman” sailed to No. 1. But few new female artists have found a strong foothold.
Having a No. 1 at Billboard isn’t the be-all, end-all, but it’s symbolic of where the format is at today with regard to women. Attention was first called to this issue in 2013, and some media outlets called 2014 the "Year of the Woman," or something similar. That proved naive and ultimately untrue. In fact, one could argue that 2014 was worse for women in country than 2013. Good songs from Kacey Musgraves, Kellie Pickler, Jennifer Nettles and more floundered. New artists like the talented Leah Turner were dropped.
Then came Christmas, and fresh snow and a fresh perspective. Maybe.
Depending on who you ask, the problem is either A) getting better, B) an opportunity in disguise, or C) not a problem at all. Older female artists tend to be more pragmatic then young artists like Mickey Guyton, Kelsea Ballerini, RaeLynn and Jana Kramer.
“I feel like Reba McEntire came in and stormed all the doors and opened all the doors, and somehow, in the last 10 years, somebody started closing the doors back," Trisha Yearwood told Taste of Country late last year.
McEntire alluded to the same issue in admitting she wasn't sure she would record again, because she wasn't sure if radio would play her songs. McBride split the difference.
"Right now the culture isn't too friendly to females on the radio ... but it never really has been," she said, before admitting that the tide is not only turning at radio, but at the publishing and writing level as well.
Song quality and talent are no longer an issue. Several years ago, one could make a case that was part of the problem. Women were pandering to what was popular, and many were trying to be the next Taylor Swift. Listen to Guyton’s “Better Than You Left Me.” Wash yourself in Kramer’s sincerity. Frolic in RaeLynn’s storytelling when she sings “For a Boy.” These women are truly talented.
If radio isn’t giving them a chance, other artists are. Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton continue to be at the forefront of the movement. Shelton has recorded and released duets with Gwen Sebastian and Ashley Monroe in recent years. Lambert just announced the all-female Roadside Bars and Pink Guitars tour.
"I'm actually working on it now," Lambert said of the issue. “I just really want to bring it to the forefront because I just feel like we’re missing something right now. There’s so many amazing talented females out there. If I can have any part of getting them heard, I want to.”
The success of RaeLynn’s "God Made Girls" can be directly attributed to Lambert. It’s a good song, but exposure on the Certified Platinum tour and a heart-to-heart about the music business went a long way. A more obvious example is Pistol Annies, and from there Monroe.
Swift is also lending a hand, bringing instant credibility to Ballerini by reaching out for a hang. “Love Me Like You Mean It” shows the most promise of songs on the chart currently, sitting at No. 14 with a bullet.
“I think it’s such an exciting time for women in country music right now," Ballerini says, "and to be one that’s kind of breaking through is such an honor and such a big deal."
Todd Cassetty and Helena Capps want to make sure the talent never dries up. They want to ensure that once this problem disappears — and it will — it’s gone for good. Song Suffragettes is their vaccine. Every Monday night, five new, female singers take the stage at the Listening Room on 2nd Ave. in Nashville. They trade songs and celebrate successes, be it a big show or a spotlight on a syndicated radio show. It’s girls helping girls, with no drama.
I think it’s such an exciting time for women in country music right now and to be one that’s kind of breaking through is such an honor and such a big deal.
The ages vary, but most are young artists hoping to score their first recording or publishing contract. #LetTheGirlsPlay is their motto, and Taste of Country was happy to adopt it for a new monthly series, focusing on one artist from the Song Suffragette collective.
This week, you’ll learn Kalie Shorr’s story. The Portland, Maine singer/songwriter is confident beyond her 21 years. She’s a Song Suffragette original, and a leader amongst the 70 females who’ve joined them over the last 50 weeks (a vetting process ensures only the most dedicated, talented females perform). When she sings, you scoot forward to listen. When she tells a story you put down your beer, or your burger. Shorr is an artist with “It.”
Taste of Country is proud to give her and many more like her an outlet and the support they need to reach an audience that some feel is being kept from them. The hope is that in 12 months, we'll be sharing news that a #LetTheGirlsPlay artist has found new success as a singer or songwriter. We're in this for the long haul, and hope you'll be there for these women as well.
Startling Facts About Women In Country Music