Sheryl Crow Knows Country Music Has a Problem With Women & We Couldn't Agree More
Singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow has some things to say about the current state of country music. Crow took to Twitter a few days ago to say: “Would someone please play a woman on the radio? Any woman. Doesn’t have to be me but if I hear one more bro country song I’m gonna vomit!” Well said! But her gripe is far from unique. Even though country is a radio format that “primarily targets women,” women are barely being played on country radio at all. If you take a gander at Billboard’s current Country Airplay chart, you’ll find only four female voices inside the top 30. This Sunday, the 49th Academy of Country Music Awards will air on CBS. The award show’s New Artist of the Year category has three nominees — and they’re all men.
That speaks volumes about where women stand in country music today, doesn’t it? What gives?
“Bro-country” is what gives. Bro-country, a term coined by New York Magazine’s Jody Rosen in 2013, has taken over country radio. I’m talking about songs like Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” and “This is How We Roll,” Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kind of Night,” and Brantley Grant’s “Bottoms Up” — the list goes on and on. It’s the songs that talk about beer and girls and tailgating and dancing and skinny-dipping and moonlight and every other country music cliché that you can possibly think of, all rolled up into nice little country-pop packages. When British GQ asked country newcomer Kacey Musgraves, “What musical trend needs to die out immediately?” in an interview last year, she responded, “Anyone singing about trucks, in any form, in any song. Literally just stop — nobody cares!” If only the industry had heard her plea.
Carrie Underwood spoke to Billboard about country music’s woman problem earlier this year, noting that while there are plenty of talented women who want to make it in country, “there seems to be only room for a few.” To the contrary, there seems to be “plenty of room” for the overwhelming amount of men singing about drinking, pick-up trucks, and “parking lot parties.”
There are lots of theories as to why women are not being given their fair shake. One theory is that women tend to write and perform songs with more substance, and that’s just not the trend right now. Julie Stevens, program director at radio station KRTY San Jose, wonders if male country artists get more initial exposure than women because their managers aren’t afraid to send them to any gig in the country, where labels and managers are “a little more cautious with a girl.” She continues, “They have to be a little more careful about where she stays, who she’s with, who’s doing the asking for her to perform the gig, etc.” Wow. How incredibly sexist! But entirely possible.
Another theory is that once female country artists are successful, they try to broaden their appeal and branch out to other radio formats (see: Taylor Swift). Smokey Rivers, music director at radio station KPLX Dallas, explains: “That increased airplay can cause quicker burn for the artist. The audience gets tired of hearing her on every station in town, which forces country radio to have to go looking for the next female superstar prematurely, and the cycle begins again.”
But if that were true, wouldn’t country audiences have gotten tired of acts like Florida Georgia Line by now? The group even remixed their already massive hit single, “Cruise,” with rapper Nelly in order to get increased airplay on other radio formats. I’m just not buying it.
Marc Patric, music director of country at radio station CJJR Vancouver, says that he would “love” for there to be more female artists on country radio, but listeners just don’t want to hear it. According to Patric, it’s the female artists who need to change their approach, not the country music industry:
The country females making it today are relating or winning over female listeners. If you are a female artist you need to win over female listeners somehow by making them love you, or cheer for you, as a person and what you stand for. You can't just be a pretty face and a beautiful voice. In today's landscape, that's not enough.
So the fault lies with women and not with an industry that is marred by sexism and is primarily dedicated to traditional gender roles? Yeah, I’m not buying that, either. In her article, No, 2014 is Not Country Music’s ‘Year of the Woman’, writer Tasha Golden argues that the few female artists who have continually found success in modern country music (Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, Miranda Lambert, etc.) have done so with songs that stick to the “cash cow country music narrative in which women do nothing but long for men, fall for “bad boys,” and marry uber-young.” She’s has a point: country music has carved out a very narrow lane that women need to stay in in order to be successful.
Aforementioned newcomer Musgraves took home a couple of Grammy Awards this year for her impressive debut, Same Trailer Different Park, but fantastic lead single “Merry Go ‘Round” failed to take off at country radio, possibly because of its supposed “anti-country” sentiment. So where do we go from here? Does Musgraves need to pen a song called “Backyard BBQ” and enlist Nicki Minaj to rap on the bridge in order to have a hit? It certainly seems like it (though I don’t even know if that would do that trick at this point).
The fact of the matter is: the female voice is sadly missing from mainstream country radio at the moment — and that’s got to change. Chipping away at the country music industry's sexist foundation would be a start, but that's a task that's easier said than done.