What Happens When you Take Women Out?

I debated whether or not I should write this piece because it’s really quite personal, and I’m not sure if it will be relatable or have a point when I’m done here, but it’s still on my mind after a couple of days, so I’ll try my best to be articulate as I express my thoughts.

The inspiration for this piece came after the news that Miranda Lambert’s “Tin Man” fell from #38 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart this week to #42, despite its sales and the ridiculous spike after her ACM performance. Now, as I’ve seen a lot of people point out, Miranda has never had the greatest treatment at radio anyway. There’s also the fact that “Tin Man” is stripped down, not necessarily radio-friendly, and quite traditional, so it’s got those strikes against it–although “The House That Built Me” had all of these characteristics and still gave her a #1 hit. But the glaring fact is, a big part of this simply has to do with the fact that Miranda Lambert is female, and in 2017, despite all the think pieces and supposed inclusion of more women by the country awards shows, females are still systematically ignored on country radio and by the country industry as a whole–and if you think these awards shows really want to include more women, why are there fewer nominees for ACM Female Vocalist of the Year? Sure, more women have been signed to major labels recently, but they’re not generally given the same chances to succeed; there’s a quota for females on country radio, and Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood are filling it. And now it looks like Lambert will be replaced by Kelsea Ballerini, who is as non-country as Sam Hunt and the bros.

Keith Hill said back in 2015 that radio should “take women out.” The more infamous part was calling them tomatoes, but the more alarming part was taking them out. Lindi Ortega said then, “I can’t begin to describe to you how my blood boils at those words. Erase us, delete us…make it so we don’t exist.” And that’s what country radio is systematically doing–taking the female perspective so completely out that it’s shocking to imagine a woman’s point of view beyond the “girl” on the tailgate. Maren Morris recently spoke about this when she wrote that women in country can’t be sexual in their songs–they are supposed to be pretty and desirable but not write about their own desires. That inspired another piece which I haven’t yet written and have many conflicting feelings about writing–mostly because so many people I know will read it, and Maren Morris is a stronger person than I am–but it’s a more specific issue deriving from the same problem: take women, and their perspective, out. “Girls” are okay–and that’s why Kelsea Ballerini’s music can succeed on country radio; that, and that it isn’t country and seldom has substance.

So what actually happens when you take women out? I could go on about how it takes away their perspective in the mainstream, or how it leads to radio being one-sided and favoring music that marginalizes them, but I’m going to answer it from a personal place instead. I grew up in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, and one of the first country records I ever owned was a Dixie Chicks album, Wide Open Spaces. I fell in love with their music because it was country, but also because I could sing it and relate to it. They were women, and what they sang about appealed to me. I loved Martina McBride and Faith Hill, and later Miranda and Carrie. I sang an inordinate amount back then, so I will say that part of the appeal in their albums was that I could sing them; their ranges matched mine. But more than that, I related to them. I enjoyed plenty of music by male artists–and still do–but I naturally gravitated toward more women artists. Even today, on this blog, I can go back and look at the very few tens I’ve awarded–it’s a subconscious thing, but more of those records are by women. They have nothing in common in production, style, lyrics–but tens are set apart from nines for me because they can connect emotionally, and I have connected emotionally with more women in the history of running this blog, it seems.

The point of all this is that I fell out of love with country radio for the same reasons you all did; it lost its sound and its substance almost overnight. More than that, here in Oklahoma, radio killed Red Dirt around the same time. It had once lived on our radio stations along with mainstream music, but things like the rise of iHeart helped to destroy it. Even more than all of that, though, I became disenchanted with country radio because of the lack of women. I didn’t know then that there was all this independent music floating around just waiting to be discovered, and all of a sudden, I couldn’t relate to anything on the radio or sing along with any of the records. I mentioned that I sang, and I will now say that I grew up wanting to be those women. And I don’t think it’s even possible to do that now. You can’t turn on country radio and hear Miranda lambert as a young girl and say, “I want to sing like her” or get that passion for country music like I did. It’s the same thing I said in my piece about genre awhile back, that it makes me sad that your average young person can’t just turn on the radio and find and fall in love with traditional-sounding country. But even that’s starting to make its way back in, (slowly), with Stapleton, Morgan, Pardi, Midland…while the women are being pushed further and further out. Sure, there are plenty of them out there if you know where to look, but you have to love country first before you go seeking out Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley and Margo Price.

And I’m not saying a girl can’t fall in love with country from listening to men, or anything close to that; I’m only saying that in my case, I don’t think I’d be sitting here writing this if I hadn’t heard all those women on country radio back then, and if country radio’s systematic ignoring of females keeps even one girl from falling in love with this wonderful genre, then that’s the real problem, and the real danger of taking women out.

16 thoughts on “What Happens When you Take Women Out?”

  1. I can certainly relate. I got into country in the late ’80s/early ’90s because of singers like Dolly, Reba, the Judds (and solo Wynonna), Holly Dunn, Rosanne Cash, Patty Loveless, Kathy Mattea, Lorrie Morgan, Pam Tillis, Suzy Bogguss, Carlene Carter, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Trisha Yearwood and Martina. Not only a fun variety of voices and styles, but also a wealth of songs I could connect with on an emotional level. (In fact, the Chicks were probably the last new artist/group I got into before I began to burn out on country radio.)

    So yeah, I agree it’s definitely frustrating about the female artists who have come along in the past decade or so still putting out that sort of quality work yet can’t seem to get nearly as much of a fair shake as the guys. :\ (Ashley and Angaleena are my current faves, along with Kacey Musgraves and Brandy Clark.)

    1. Interesting you mention the variety of styles and voices, since in this radio climate, so many of the male artists sound identical/interchangeable, and yet there seems to be room for all of them. As for my current favorites, I’d have to say Ashley, Angaleena, and Kacey as well, along with Miranda Lambert, Courtney Patton, and Jamie Lin Wilson.

  2. I have a couple of thoughts on this issue and if it comes across the wrong way, please forgive me. First, regarding the lack of women on country radio, I guess I have a hard time getting very exercised about the issue. To me it is just one more thing that is busted about the current state of affairs in Nashville. The very sound and tradition of the music is threatened at this point. Worrying about how many men or women are on the radio is just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. That is not to say I want country music without women and I would hate for the genre to be saved but women left out of the resurgence. I just think there is bigger, more fundamental systemic problems that country fans of both sexes face.

    Second, I think the female audience is, to some degree, part of the problem. As misogynistic the bros and some of the other current crop of “country” singers are, I think a lot of their shtick is aimed at the female audience. If women weren’t buying what these dorks were selling, no one would be buying at all. Two purely anecdotal perspectives have convinced me of this. First, my wife is the one who first pointed it out to me. She is a veterinarian at an animal hospital. Almost all her staff are women and almost all of them are fans of this crap. They even liked the simultaneous mashup of all the bro songs that was floating around a few years ago! Seriously! On the converse side of things, all the guys I know hate the crap that passes for country on the radio. Maybe these trends are different across the country but in our neck of the woods, this is certainly the case. It may be guys on the radio but the guys out here in the real world are the ones left out in the cold as far as what is on the radio. It is almost entirely catering toward women. I see this as a larger trend that begin in the 00’s with the “Mom Country” phenomenon. Country pushed hard to court that audience and a lot of the music that was produced was utterly uninteresting to guys (Lonestar, Rodney Atkins etc.). Women still seem to be the target audience but in a more sexpot sense. This is not to shift blame onto women at all. In fact, it appears to me to be part of the warp and woof of the corporate move to market specifically to women, since their purchasing power has grown so significantly in the last few decades.

    Lastly, my best friend lives out in Texas and has claimed in the past that he was not a fan of most women in country music. In many cases, I agreed with him, since a lot of the women he noted were mostly known for songs that were less accessible thematically to men. I made him a few CD’s and sent them out to him. One was Heather Myles, the other Lindi Ortega and another a mix with stuff like Kellie Pickler, Whitney Rose, Carter Sampson and stuff like that. He thought they were dynamite and recanted.

    1. To your first point, I certainly agree there are other problems facing the genre, and the lack of women is only one of many. I wouldn’t liken it to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic because I think it amounts to a deeper problem than that, but I do understand your point.
      To your second point, I agree that a large part of this caters to a female audience, and in a recent post in reply to a ridiculous Whiskey Riff article, I addressed this and called out women who seem to not mind the more misogynistic lyrics because I do think that’s part of the issue. It’s interesting to hear your perspective on this as a man, and interesting that while female artists are left out, many male listeners are as well. As I say, it’s nice to hear this perspective, and I certainly don’t take this the wrong way–this was quite a personal post, and one that very much reflected my personal journey into and relationship with country, and I certainly don’t expect everyone to agree with and/or relate to that. Equally, I thought my experience might be relatable to some people and explain this from a different, more personal angle. But that’s just it, it’s somewhat personal to me, and different perspectives on this issue are certainly welcome. Thanks for sharing yours.

  3. This is why bubbasuess’ post is so spot on. (And forgive me for using “chicks” but it is apropos).

    You know why hair metal became so popular in the 80s? Because chicks dug it. And where the chicks are, that’s where the guys are. Why did Poison and Warrant and RATT and Bon Jovi, etc. become so big? Because the chicks liked them. Why did it take bands like Metallica and Anthrax longer? Because the chicks didn’t dig them at first.

    Guys are going to go where the chicks are and gravitate towards what the chicks like, especially publicly. They may go home and put on some Lindi Ortega, but out in public, they’re riding with FGL because that’s what the chicks like.

    Back in the 80s I knew guys who loathed Poison, but when Poison came to town, guess where they were? At the Poison show. Why? Because that’s where the chicks were.

    As much as we want to make it a male-driven thing in country, the sad fact is that it’s female-driven and the chicks don’t care much for the female artists.

    You, Megan, are unique. I’m unique. The dumb masses are not.

    1. Again, good points. As I say, these are just my personal thoughts and certainly not the thoughts of all women–equally I can’t be the only woman who feels like this, as evidenced by a comment above, even if I am in the minority, or as you say, unique.

      1. You are in the minority, at least in what the public likes. I’m in the minority.I’m comfortable being in the minority, even if I don’t exactly like it. As much as anyone doesn’t want to admit, especially women, women drive what is popular in music. For exactly the points I mentioned. The blogosphere is different, but in the mainstream, it’s totally true.

        1. I would argue that while this is certainly true, age plays a bigger part in driving what the public likes, or rather, what’s marketed to the public, than gender. Country radio and the industry as a whole are marketing to a very specific demographic, but that’s almost its own topic.

  4. I have personally made the decision that when I have control of the radio dial I will not listen to country radio. I can get plenty of great music from the independent realm male and female. Its despicable how little representation females have on country radio and the little that is represented is pop music. It’s great to see the female perspective on this but I would imagine many young females will simply not relate to country radio and tune it out in the future. I’m not surprised at all that Tin Man isn’t doing well on radio. A quality country song by a female is not welcome. Maybe if Miranda was more pop and sang the word boy more. Maybe if like Kelsea she could just be a walking stereotype who was never not happy she would do better on the radio.

  5. Excellent piece Megan! It really seems like no matter which area of Country or Americana you turn to, females are always getting the short stick. It is an interesting to get a female perspective on this, although sadly I’d probably agree with a lot of Michael’s points. You and I and him are unique. Unfortunately the majority of people aren’t. I respect all opinions of course but hey, that’s just how I see it.

    I’m not gaga over every female artist out there. I think Margo Price is overrated (I like her, but I only thought “Midwest” was like 7/10 good rather than a million out of 10), and I would say the same about Karen Jonas and Kelsey Waldon’s latest albums, but there are easily a thousand more male artists who I could say this about as well, and the aforementioned artists deserve more attention as far as I’m concerned.

    As for what I gravitate towards, it’s a mix. My favorite album last year was Southern Family where the female led tracks (Lambert, Clark) were my favorites. In 2015 it was Gretchen Peters with Blackbirds. Even now my top two spots for this year are dominated by women. However, when I look at the rest of the top 10, honestly the majority is male, so I guess I like a mix of voices.

    1. YES! Loooved ‘Southern Family’ and the Gretchen Peters CD. 🙂

      As for Americana/folk, I’m especially digging the recent releases from Rhiannon Giddens, Hurray for the Riff Raff (Alynda Segarra), and Valerie June.

    2. I totally agree about Karen Jonas and Kelsey Waldon. On Price, that’d be about an 8/10 for me, maybe 8.5. I definitely gravitate toward a mix of artists, Way Out West by Marty Stuart is holding its own as my favorite 2017 album, last year it was a tie between Dori Freeman and Courtney Marie Andrews, and in 2015 it was the Turnpike Troubadours. But beyond those, when I look at the tens, and music that I connect with more, more of it seems to be by women, and I guess they just resonate with me more often, if not necessarily deeper. It has been great to hear all the different perspectives on this, I honestly didn’t think this would inspire so many kinds of reactions.

    3. I’ll say this. Margo Price is excellent live. I saw her in a small-room setting last year ( about 10 feet away), and I recently saw her in a large venue opening for Sturgill Simpson (probably 8-9,000 people – I’d have to look it up). There are lots of “songwriter-singer” types who aren’t really suited to “scaling up” to larger venues, but she was equally capable in that setting. I’ve also met Kelsey Waldon and saw her perform in a small room with maybe 70 people. I haven’t heard her live with a full band, but she was certainly very good in that setting.

  6. I’m a bit disappointed that no one has mentioned Kree Harrison.I think she has Trisha Yearwood type talent plus she co-writes a lot of her songs. My wife and I saw her last June open for Ty Herndon and this past February at the Bluebird Cafe. We love her debut album. Her first two singles went nowhere. She said at the Bluebird show that her next single would be “Drinking for Two” but I haven’t seen any reviews.

    Next Friday we get to see Brandy Clark for the first time since a Bluebird show in November of 2013.
    Brandy & Kree are my two favorite solo female country artists right now. Candi Carpenter sounds great with her “Burn the Bed” song and Cam is another favorite. Female artist in groups rarely get mentioned but I really like Stacey Lee Guse of the Western Swing Authority, a Canadian group, Jay O’Shea of the Aussie wife and husband duo O’Shea and Sarah Zimmermann of Striking Matches..

    1. Glad to have you, Bob! As for Kree, thanks for bringing this to my attention; I really enjoyed her back when she was on American Idol and unfortunately was not aware of her debut album. Liking what I’m hearing so far. She’s very talented and certainly deserves recognition. I may review this single soon.

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