Country music has been edging women out of the format over the last 18 years, a new report finds. It’s a problem women artists have gotten more vocal about in the past few years, with big names such as Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves, and Maren Morris addressing the issue of representation for women on the airwaves and festival stages. Now, we can see, thanks to this crunching of radio spin numbers, just how bad women have it.
Data scientist Jada E. Watson, in conjunction with the Women of Music Action Network in Nashville, compiled an alarming report that shows a steep drop in radio airplay for women on country stations from 2000 to 2018. The rate of play went from 33.3% to 11.3%, hitting its lowest point in 2014, when women earned only 7.3% of airtime. That means, their study found, songs performed by men are played at 4:1.
The conversation around (not) playing women on country radio started with a blog post in 2015, when a consultant told radio programmers that if their playlist is a salad, women should be the tomatoes — sparse and colorful — but the bulk of the plate is lettuce (men). That convoluted metaphor turned into a philosophy that many programmers took to heart, and it has driven airplay for women down for years. This research shows, however, that it was hardly the start of inequality for women on country radio. Rather, it has been a slow downward spiral for women over nearly two decades.
“Women had 2,846,744 million spins in 2000, and decreased over this 19-year period to 1,067,483 million by 2018...This, while male artists increased steadily and indeed significantly from 5,896,507 million total spins in 2000 to 10,336,609 million in 2018,” the report finds. That’s an incredible discrepancy that effectively benches women artists in the genre, giving them a lower promotional platform that translates to less visibility on streaming platforms, on tours and festival bills, and less award nominations (the ACMs had no women in the running for their biggest award, Entertainer of the Year, for the second straight year). The report also found that men get more recurrent (old hits) plays than women in addition to more plays for their new songs, meaning their legacies are also in danger as they’re erased from the airwaves.
This unequal representation says men have more cache in country music than women, making men unequally more popular and richer from their work (thus increasing the pay gap), and that if this trend continues we might live in a world where having a woman’s voice on a song is enough to make it less country than a man’s song — just because it's not what we’re used to hearing.
This headline has been updated for clarity.