“Even when I was growing up I wished there was more women on the radio, and I had a lot more than there are today,” Carrie Underwood said, while appearing as a guest on the podcast Women Want To Hear Women.
Women hoping to make it in country music are not only faced with the the difficulty of getting signed and the uncertainty of trying to make it in the industry, but they are dealt a second and more targeted blow: the number of women getting airtime on country radio stations is significantly decreasing. “You think about all of the little girls that are sitting at home saying ‘I want to be a country music singer.’ What do you tell them?...How do you look at them and say, ‘Well just work hard sweetie and you can do it’ when that’s not the case right now,” Underwood told podcast host Elaina Smith. The percentage of country songs sung by women, excluding duets with men, has decreased from an already low 13% to 10.4% in the last year, according to the Tennessean. The problem is not a shortage of women pursuing careers in country music, but the attitudes of industry gatekeepers.
As 2015’s “tomato-gate” saga showed, women in country are treated like an unwelcome inclusion by industry professionals who have decided the music people actually want to hear is by men. That sexist opinion sparked outrage within the music industry, but airplay for women on country radio has continued to decrease.
“How do we change it?” Underwood asked, her exasperation barely hidden. “I don’t know. How do we change it?” Until the people who choose who gets through the gate see women as more than duet partners and believe their music is more than something to sprinkle in among the music people “actually want to listen to,” women will continue to fight for a place.
A radio hit remains a key component to success in country, but representation on curated playlists on streaming platforms (where a lot of listeners discover new music) shows the same marginalization. Wide Open Country found that many of Spotify’s country playlists fail women in their lack of representation. They are at best sprinkled in for good measure.
Underwood is challenging the norm by announcing a tour of all women artists, and says that she was met with surprise. She didn’t believe it should come as a shock that she chose two talented acts, Maddie & Tae and Runaway June – who happen to be women – to open for her. “First and foremost, they’ve earned it. I’m not throwing anyone a bone by taking them out on tour with me,” she added. In years past, Underwood has kept her opinions out of the public eye, but now she is using her influence as one of country’s biggest stars to get more women on stage and on the radio in the hopes of establishing a new norm.