Ahead of the ACM Awards Sunday night, the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative dropped a report on women in country music. We already knew they were being shut out on the radio (and we heard it from Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood, Kacey Musgraves — basically, the most influential women in the genre are pissed about the lack of play time they and their peers are seeing).
Now, we're seeing the results of icing women out of country as the ACMs have no women up for their biggest award, Entertainer of the Year, for the second year in a row.
The Annenberg report performed a study across Billboard's Year-End Hot Country charts from 2014 to 2018, and found women only made up 16% of the top songs in the genre. The study revealed that male artists are allowed to age, while female artists hit a wall before they even turn 30. The average age of men with hit records in that time span was 42. Women? None of the women were over 40, and their average age was 29. Twenty-nine years old! That data means that men are more likely to be successful, it means they have longer careers.
Knowing that, it makes sense, in a messed up way, that the majority of the nominees at the ACMs are men. Despite women making up over half the population and well over half the audience for country music, the myth that the audience doesn't want to hear women persists.
Universal Music Group Nashville (UMGN) president Cindy Mabe commented, saying, "We clearly have a problem. Our job is to amplify our artists’ voices and help them introduce their stories and connect to their audience. This has gotten increasingly harder and limiting over the last few years, especially for women and it has dramatically affected the perspective, reach, and depth of our country music genre. Taking a reflective, disciplined look into our own actions can only help inform and influence our decisions going forward so that all of our artists’ voices are heard."
Once again, everyone but terrestrial radio is stepping up to even out the playing field for women. YouTube has committed to partner with the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative to "examine the digital popularity of country artists by gender." Women Nation, a division of Live Nation, "has committed to examining audience demographics for country music festivals and concerts" to figure out if there is a gender-based difference in what audiences want — because the lack of radio airplay is impacting women's ability to launch tours in country music. And the ACMs have already begun a Diversity & Inclusiveness Task Force to evaluate their awards show.
But one big problem remains: radio is a massive driver for country music audiences. Being ignored by the radio is a significant barrier to having a hit song; it's the foundation of most country music marketing plans. Musgraves has shown artists a way around that by touring with Harry Styles and not servicing a single to country radio until she won her Album of the Year Grammy, when they were basically forced to play her. It is still discouraging to see that no radio outlets pledged to work with the Annenberg team — and is essentially forcing women to reinvent the marketing world for their industry to find an audience.
If you want to see how pervasive the problem is on the airwaves, just check out Billboard's year-end Country Airplay Songs chart for 2018, where only 10 out of 60 songs have a woman on them — and the first one with a woman as the primary artist (not a feature) is Bebe Rexha, a pop star, who had a duet with Floria Georgia Line, at No. 26. It's time for the part of the industry who shut women out to open the doors again — and put them back on the air, in bulk.