Country Music Is Notoriously Bad To Women — Are The CMAs Finally Getting It Right?

Photo: Taylor Hill/Getty Images.
For the first time in a decade, two women — Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood — have been nominated for Entertainer Of The Year at the Country Music Association Awards.
Judging by the list of 2020 CMA nominations, it seems as if the awards show is finally doing something to address its notoriously sexist history. Singer Lambert leads the nominations with seven, adding up to a grand total of 55 CMA nominations in her career, which is a new record for a woman. It's been five years since she last was in the running for Entertainer of the Year. Luke Combs followed with six nominations, Maren Morris with five, and Carly Pearce with four. The Best New Artist category is notably women-dominated and also notably includes newcomer Jimmie Allen, who is the only Black musician with a nomination this year.
Lambert also happened to be a contender in the last face-off between two women in the Entertainer of the Year category 10 years ago, when she competed against the Hillary Scott-fronted Lady A (formerly Lady Antebellum). The last time two solo women were nominated, however, was back in 1979, with Barbara Mandrell and Crystal Gayle. Competing against Lambert and Underwood this year are Combs, Keith Urban, and Eric Church. A woman hasn't won the most prestigious award since Taylor Swift clinched the title in 2011.
In 2019, the CMAs themed its show around the contributions of powerhouse women throughout country music’s history. The ceremony was hosted by Underwood, along with icons Rebe McEntire and Dolly Parton. Another country legend, Loretta Lynn, who was the first woman to be named Entertainer of the Year in 1972, was in the front row while a group of women sang the chorus of her 1971 hit “You’re Lookin’ At Country.” But critics felt that the CMA announcers should’ve been more explicit in their acknowledgment of why this show of solidarity was necessary in the first place. The awards also received backlash from fans who felt that Underwood was snubbed for the Entertainer of the Year honor.
It was also a show, however, that was rife with more tension than usual between country radio, woman artists, fans, and the country music industry. According to the Annenberg Inclusionist Initiative, women only received 16% of radio airplay from 2014 to 2018, which is significant in an industry where radio still holds an immense amount of power. Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles even showed up to the ceremony in a Christian Siriano-designed jumpsuit stitched with the words "play our fucking records, please and thank you," on the front, and “equal play” on the back. Advocacy group The Women of Music Action Network catalogued some of the responses of prominent country radio DJs and personalities, further underscoring the sexism still at play. One of the tweets: "make records that sound more like men."
While the CMAs seem to be doing more to give nods to women this year, some have still been left wanting more. Kelsea Ballerini expressed her disappointment on Twitter about being left out completely of the nominations. "Last time this happened, I wrote homecoming queen the next day about the feeling," Ballerini wrote, referencing the lead single of kelsea that she wrote following getting snubbed at the ACM Awards last year. Her album Unapologetically, however, earned her a Grammy nomination soon after. "Something beautiful will undoubtedly come from the current disappointment. nonetheless, congratulations to my friends & peers that got nominations. proud to be a part of the country family, always."
Other country artists tweeted their support for the artist, including Kane Brown, who similarly has seen mainstream success and has a huge fanbase in country fans, but hasn't yet been acknowledged by the Country Music Association body. Canadian country artist Madeline Merlo underscored that Ballerini doesn't need their validation: "It’s all about label votes girl. You're crushing it & let those tickets sales & streams and moments with fans rise to the top."
Another glaring issue in the country world is the lack of non-white artists and musicians honored at their award shows. Even if women artists are being honored, there is so much more work to be done. But for now, we're left wondering who will actually bring home a trophy at the end of the night on November 11.

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