When I say country music what comes to your mind? Banjos? Whiskey? Pick-up trucks? You may not believe me, but it’s so much more than that. Contemporary country is moving past the traditional ideals that overshadow its reputation and is changing country music for the better.
Personally, I was brought up surrounded by lots of different artists and genres, from Shania Twain’s country to Stevie Wonder’s soul, my dad always encouraged me to branch out with my music taste; but it wasn’t until I found country artists such as Carrie Underwood (‘Before He Cheats’) and Lady Antebellum (‘Need You Now’) that I started shaping my own music taste.
When I look at the artists that I love within the country music genre about 90% of the artists are female; in my own opinion, I think that most of the male artists are too 'country' for my personal taste and generally they all sound quite similar. Alternatively, the female artists not only have stunning voices and musical ability, but they use their stage and platform to empower women, songs such as Maren Morris’s ‘GIRL’, Carrie Underwood’s ‘Church Bells’ and Lauren Alaina’s ‘Road Less Travelled’ are incredibly empowering songs and as such, they have got me through some tough times throughout my life.
Unfortunately, something that always caught my attention was the little acknowledgment that the female artists received in the US market and until a recent concert with US country music singer Cam, I didn’t realise it was a recognised problem within the industry. When I looked at the country 'Top 40' in the US today, there were only four female artists placed in the chart. Four female artists within thirty-six male artists. This is due to the lack of air-time given to these female artists compared to their male counterparts. In a podcast presented by Elaina Smith, Carrie Underwood states that this is because it has been wrongly declared that “women don’t want to hear women”, but the podcast, fittingly titled ‘Women Want to Hear Women’, is trying to confront and challenge this view.
Kacey Musgraves is an incredible female artist who is challenging the boundaries within country music. Her new album, Golden Hour, combines country, singer-songwriter and even disco, and the album recently won Country Music Album of the Year and Album of the Year at the Grammys. Yet, previous to this, her songs have been banned from the radio in the US; her song ‘Follow Your Arrow’ speaks about LGBT relationships and smoking marijuana which was frowned upon in the industry. Conversely, there are male artists who are incredibly misogynistic with their lyrical messages and yet apparently that is deemed acceptable to be blasted across music stations?
Further into the podcast Carrie Underwood points out that when a little girl tells her, “'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 is not the case right now?” For women, it’s getting increasingly harder to get onto the US country music scene, even though there seems to be endless amounts of new male country music artists stepping onto the scene every week.
However, country music is starting to make its way to the UK, and the UK is embracing female and male country music artists alike with no preconceptions, allowing it to grow in our society. Country artists are even making their way to our mainstream charts; Maren Morris featured on Zedd’s ‘The Middle’, Chris Stapleton was on Justin Timberlake’s ‘Say Something’ and Kelsea Ballerini appeared on The Chainsmokers’ ‘This Feeling’.
Not only is the UK beginning to embrace US country music artists, but UK country music artists are starting to become more successful; acts such as The Shires and Ward Thomas are frequently played on tv and on the radio and both have Number 1 albums.
As the UK is approaching country music with open eyes and ears, it creates a gap in the UK music industry with equal opportunities for both male and female country music artists, the US however, have still got quite a way to go.