The 53rd Country Music Awards aired a little over a week ago on Wednesday, November 13th. Jennifer Nettles, lead singer of country duo, Sugarland, made a huge statement on the red carpet. Nettles wore a Christian Siriano white pant suit with a pink train, but this was no ordinary award show outfit. When she first stepped onto the carpet to be photographed, her exposed train revealed a sketched face of Alice Mizarachi with the female gender symbol below it. Written across her back were the words “equal play,” the “E” in the shape of an equal sign. She revealed the best part of her outfit though, when she opened up her train to the words “PLAY OUR F*@#!N RECORDS” on the right side, and “PLEASE & THANK YOU” on the left. The opening of her pink train also put on display the second female gender symbol on Nettles’ right pant leg.
This act of Nettles’ comes after years and years of women not getting much airplay on country radio. It can be said that the country music scene is heavily dominated by women. Legends like Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Linda Ronstadt, Reba McEntire, Tammy Wynette, and Emmylou Harris are all huge names in the industry. These women paved the way for singers such as Carrie Underwood, the Dixie Chicks, Faith Hill, Shania Twain, Martina McBride, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris, Kacey Musgraves, Nettles herself, and even Taylor Swift before she crossed over to the pop world. For an industry with so many talented and impactful women who have broken barriers and taken country music to new heights, why are they not getting the same amount of promotion and credit?
In April of this year, Rolling Stone had reported that Dr. Jada Watson from the University of Ottawa released a report titled “Gender Representation on Country Format Radio: A Study of Published Reports from 2000-2018.” This was the first time country radio had ever been examined for its airplay and investigated for the gender inequality it knowingly promotes. This research found that Kenny Chesney, the most played male country singer, was given double the amount of spins on the radio compared to that of the most-played female country singer, Carrie Underwood. The report even cited many phrases women in the country music scene hear such as “country radio is a principally male format,” “women don’t have as many hits,” and “we only have space for one female on the roster.” The report also stated that less and less women are being played on country radio as the years go by.
Modern day country queen Kacey Musgraves has had a remarkable past couple of years. At the 2019 Grammy Awards, she won all of the major country categories. She took home the Grammy for Country Song, Country Album, and Country Solo Performance. Better yet, she took home the biggest award of the year, Album of the Year, beating out big names like Cardi B, Post Malone, and Drake. For a singer with this many achievements, one would think she is getting radio play from her home genre, but she isn’t. Musgraves’ song “Rainbow” was sent to radio after the Grammys and it peaked at #33. Musgraves has criticized country radio numerous times. She speaks about how they talk down to her because she is a female and how she refuses to beg them to play her music. Clearly, she is successful without radio spins.
At the CMA awards this week, the opening performance was conducted by only females, 14 of them to be exact, featuring all star tributes to Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette. The show was even hosted by only women: Carrie Underwood, Dolly Parton, and Reba McEntire. However, only one woman, Underwood, was nominated for the biggest award of the night, Entertainer of the Year. The last time a woman won that award was Taylor Swift in 2011. And this was the first year, yes, it has taken this long, that a woman was nominated for Musician of the Year.
Women in the music industry in general have struggled in many ways, but it seems as though country music, despite it having a huge female presence, is continuing to get worse when it comes to equal gender representation. There is a clear issue in the country music scene, especially when it comes to radio play. Something needs to change and Nettles’ goal was to make her message visually, so she could not be ignored; she is forcing them to listen. Country music started out as music meant to tell a story, and women’s voices and stories deserve to be heard just as much as their counterparts.