New Findings About Women in Country Music Tell an Incomplete Story
New data shows that women are still a marginalized minority in country music, and things haven't really improved since Tomatogate in 2015.
The Tennessean reports that the number of purely female songs on a country airplay chart published by the industry trade publication Country Aircheck dropped by 2.6 percent between 2016 and 2017, from 13 percent to 10.4 percent. It's not clear exactly how many songs that percentage reflects, but with some savvy math, we may be able to figure it out.
In 2016, 97 total artists charted a song on the Country Aircheck/Mediabase chart. In 2017, there were 89. Blake Shelton was the most-played artist on country radio in 2017 and landed four charting songs inside the Top 50. Most artists chart just one, but an average of two per artist would mean 194 total songs in 2016 and 178 in 2017, making the 2.6 percentage dip year over year about seven fewer songs.
Lost yet? Hang in there, because this part's important, as it pertains to the number of women on the radio, not songs.
Of the 97 artists who charted a song in 2016, 14 were solo women (14.4 percent), 62 men and 21 duo or groups. There were 18 female voices (including duos and groups) in the Top 100 most-played songs of 2016.
Of the 89 artists who charted a song in 2017, 14 were solo women (or 15.7 percent), compared to 59 men (66.2 percent) and 16 duo or groups (18 percent). Sixteen percent of the Top 100 songs of 2017 featured a female voice. The historical average (1989 to 2014) of female voices inside any given year's Top 100 country songs is about 25 percent (per Country Aircheck).
The two percent drop means 2017 featured the lowest percentage of female voices on the radio since 1994, when just 13 percent of the Top 100 songs featured female voices. There was great hope that action after Tomatogate would lead to a surge of female voices. The #TimesUp and #MeToo conversations reintroduced the conversation, but the imbalance has long been the norm in country music. And we're not alone.
Research has shown the gender imbalance goes beyond terrestrial radio. After the 2018 Grammy Awards, Wide Open Country found that women were marginalized in several popular country music playlists on Spotify, almost making "country radio look like a Utopian paradise." Furthermore, the Tennessean sources a report from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative called "Inclusion in the Recording Studio" that showed that just 16.8 percent of the most popular all-genre artists were female, the lowest in six years. Songwriters (12.3 percent) and producers (two percent) were even harder to find among the most popular all-genre songs.
Maren Morris — one of country music's most popular female solo artists and a frequent champion of women in country music — responded to the newly-revealed data on Monday (June 11). RaeLynn, Cassadee Pope, Lindsay Ell and Kalie Shorr also reacted:
Morris' tweets bring attention to the low number of women on the radio, even though Morris herself feels the situation is improving. During a No. 1 party for "I Could Use a Love Song" earlier this year, she remarked that the years-long battle is starting to pay off.
“It’s a slow process, but I think it is getting better," said Morris at an industry event back in February. "There have been a lot of people coming into the fold that are getting noticed."
The 2018 ACM Awards noticed. While not represented well among award winners this year, 11 of the 25 performances on the April 15 broadcast featured women, including eight of Billboard's Top 10.
Kalie Shorr, a primary member of Song Suffragettes, also told Taste of Country that she sees changes unfolding. “I think the coolest change I’ve witnessed is just how the girls are treating each other,” she said earlier this year, specifically observing growing a frequency in girls' nights and massive group texts that she's been a part of within the industry. Girls are rooting for girls — there is no longer an overhanging feeling of competition, she said.
Sunday's (June 10) Tennessean article comes three years after Tomatogate, which unfolded when a consultant named Keith Hill delivered research showing that just 19 percent of all songs played at country radio (not just charting songs) were created by women. Then, he offered the metaphor heard 'round the world, saying females were the "tomatoes of our salad," while men like Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan represented the lettuce. These comments got national attention, igniting grassroots efforts to create balance in the country music industry. Both the Song Suffragettes' #LetTheGirlsPlay movement and Change the Conversation (co-founded by CMT's Leslie Fram) were started before Tomatogate, and both saw attendance spikes.
Taste of Country had a longstanding partnership with Song Suffragettes to spotlight rising female singers and songwriters in Nashville. Shorr was a 2017 Taste of Country RISER. Taste of Country is part of Townsquare Media, one of the country's largest owners of radio stations.
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