The hot topic of conversation, both in and out of the country music scene, is gender inclusivity and equality. In many aspects of life, there is clear gender divide, but this appears to be more prevalent than so in the US country music scene. Research commissioned by Change the Conversation and Stanford university displayed that between 2008 and 2015, just 32% of new labels signings, that were women, appeared within the top 20 charts (versus 57% of new male signings). This discrepancy in the gender statistics was recorded at the height of ‘bro’ country, and some movement has been made towards promoting gender inclusivity within the country music industry but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.
A recent tweet from Kelleigh Bannen highlights the issues experienced by some women outside of the world visible to the public. An industry professional stating to her that “was told ‘the numbers still say women don’t want to listen to other women.’” This kind of systematic oppression and rejection from industry professionals is one of the many reasons why the gender gap is so large.
Alongside this, it is obvious from chart data that women are being rejected by radio and media outlets within the industry. In 2015, it had been a decade since a woman had a topped the country airplay chart with a debut single, until Kelsea Ballerini came onto the scene and finally shattered the dominance of male airplay. Continuing this feat, Kelsea Ballerini became the first female to top both the Hot Country and Country Airplay charts at the same time. Despite this incredible achievement, the percentage of females charting on the billboard charts with country singles in 2014 was a mere 8%. A shockingly low percentage which does not get any better when you consider that the peak percentage for females on the billboard charts was 16%.
The late 90’s and early 00’s was the height of inclusivity of females in country music, with artists such as Shania Twain, the Dixie Chicks, Martina McBride and LeAnn Rimes proving that women can take the charts by storm. Despite this charting success of the late 90’s, Women on the ‘Singles Artists’ chart peaked at just 32%. This has significantly dropped since as ‘bro’ country has gained increasing chart and airplay dominance.
Although this divide is seen in the US scene, the UK and European Country music scene is a completely different story. Females dominate the live scene and media within the UK and Europe, with artists such as Ward Thomas, not only breaking onto the live scene but the popular music charts within the UK. The live scene is particularly interesting to note with many young female artists, as individual artists, groups and bands displaying complete dominance over their male counterparts.
From my personal experience, both of UK and US artists touring within the UK, it is evident that women outsell their male counterparts at live shows. A trend not represented within the US country scene (although there are a number of exceptions including Kelsea Ballerini and Taylor swift – preceding her pop takeover).
My intentions are not to ignite an argument over whether males or females are better, or if the UK s or US scene is better, just merely to state fact. Gender imbalance is a roadblock to great music and hinders the incredible talent of many independent artists whom have not been given a chance by a major label. Equality is a long and difficult road but there is definitely a lot more to be done by all parties. Not just within the country music and entertainment industries, but by all.
Article written by Liam Lewis (twitter.com/liam0324)