WHY ARE FEMALE ARTISTS UNDERREPRESENTED IN COUNTRY MUSIC?
I've been reading for a while that some female country artists are feeling ignored. All the mainstream news outlets pounced on a study by the Annenberg Journalism School that showed female artists accounting for only 16% of the 500 top country songs (for the years 2014-2018). While the study leveled no accusations, the sites that picked up on it went wild. "Sexism!" cried USA Today. NBC made the audacious claim that "country music radio has ignored female artists for years." NPR flat-out posited that "country music excludes women."
See, this is what happens when a writer with no country music knowledge sets out to write a think piece. All manner of ignorance ensues.
Let's take a deep dive, shall we?
Starting in the fifties (you know, when women were relegated to the kitchen to scour pots), Kitty Wells had a massive hit with "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels". Jean Shepard's "Dear John Letter" stayed at number one on the charts for six weeks. And, of course, there was Patsy Cline, still considered the greatest female country artist of all time.
Now, granted, fifties female artists rarely if ever headlined their own concerts, but it was the fifties.For those not in the know, a lot of things didn't happen in the fifties. The fact remains that Wells, Shepard and Cline outsold the vast majority of male artists put together.
Next, a decade I'm a bit more familiar with, the nineteen sixties. Any idiot who claims that female artists in the sixties didn't shine is frankly insane. Everyone is familiar with Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette, but what about these: Connie Smith, Lynn Anderson, Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline (again), Jeannie Seely, Wanda Jackson, Barbara Mandrell, Bobbie Gentry, Jeannie C. Riley, Susan Raye, Jody Miller, Dottie West, Jan Howard.
In fact, the most overplayed single of the 1960's was this:
Who knew that the sixties (60'ish years ago) were more enlightened than this second decade of the twenty-first century? Men were less sexist then? How the hell did that happen?
But we'll leave that question alone for the time being as we scoot along into the seventies. It's a pretty safe bet that the two most popular female artists of that decade were Crystal Gayle and Barbara Mandrell. But Tammy and Loretta were still pushing out hits, along with Lynn Anderson, Dolly Parton, and Connie Smith. Then there was Janie Fricke, Emmylou Harris, Tanya Tucker, Jeannie Kendall, Sammi Smith, Jeannie Pruett, Anne Murray, Jessi Colter, LaWanda Lindsey, Shelly West, Gail Davies.
The two most overplayed hits of the seventies?
Man, what a horrible time to be a woman country singer!
Surely, things go downhill from there. Let's check in on the eighties. I see Patty Loveless, Highway 101 (Paulette Carlson), Rosanne Cash, Tanya Tucker, Marie Osmond, The Judds, Barbara Mandrell, The Forester Sisters, Sweethearts Of The Rodeo, still Emmylou and Dolly and Anne Murray, Holly Dunn, Kathy Mattea, Reba McEntire, Charly McClain, Sylvia, Suzy Bogguss. It's like a female music desert!
It's hard to single out the most iconic female track of the eighties, so let's just watch one of my favorites:
Now, the nineties...(sigh). The nineties were the most sexist decade in country music, bar none. It's a wonder any female artist had one little bitty hit. I mean, when I think back, there was only Trisha Yearwood, The Dixie Chicks, LeAnn Rimes, Shania Twain, Mindy McCready, Jo Dee Messina, Martina McBride, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Pam Tillis, Carlene Carter, Tanya Tucker, Patty Loveless, Lee Ann Womack, Reba McEntire, Lorrie Morgan, Suzy Bogguss, Holly Dunn, Lari White, Faith Hill.
My recollection (and I listened to country radio constantly in my car) is that just about every other song spun was by a female artist. Sexist bastard program managers!
So, why are female artists underrepresented in country music today? Have we regressed this much as a society? Can't we all just get along and put women on a pedestal where they belong? It's not fair.
Yes, country music in the 2020's overall reeks, and yes, recording a song is really difficult! And then there's that whole auto-tune thing to bother with. Being a social media influencer is basically a full-time job in itself! Ya gotta write all those tweets about how men are keepin' ya down.
I'm no expert, but based on past country music history, my advice would be to:
- Write or find good songs
- Be a good singer
- Try to conceptualize what country music is and do that
Then come back in a year and report on how things are going. You can even tweet about it.
Michelle Anderson, Senior Country Editor