Despite the inarguable truth that Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire are two of the greatest humans to ever live and the fact that Kacey Musgraves’s Golden Hour was the only country album many people listened to last year, women are still having a hell of a hard time breaking into the industry.
A recent study by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that only 16 percent of country artists and just 12 percent of country songwriters are women. And those numbers get worse the older the women musicians are. The average age of a top woman performer is 29, but for men, the average age of a performer at the height of his fame is 42.
The study looked at 500 songs from Billboard’s Year-End Hot Country charts over the course of five years, along with nominees for entertainer of the year, song of the year, duo of the year, and group of the year at the Academy of Country Music Awards. Just 15 percent of nominees in those categories were women. In December 2018, Billboard revealed that there were no woman artists in its Country Airplay Top 20, and in February 2019, no women were nominated for entertainer of the year at the Academy of Country Music Awards.
Reba (who I am on a first name basis with because she’s my mentor) says the findings are pretty unremarkable to someone who’s been in the industry as long as she has, telling NPR, “It didn’t surprise me.” She also said that Nashville has a “bro culture,” where “everybody’s good old boys.” Rebs (that’s the nickname she lets me call her) called the situation “disappointing,” which should be reason enough to fix it. Rule number one: Don’t anyone ever disappoint Reba.
Of course, gender isn’t the only problem in the country music world right now. The trap-country hit “Old Town Road” was removed from Billboard’s Hot Country Charts for not being “country” enough, prompting the artist, Lil Nas X, to add 57-year-old white dude Billy Ray Cyrus to a very good remix, perhaps in hopes of getting industry gatekeepers to reconsider.
In response to the study, Cindy Mabe, president of Universal Music Group Nashville said in a statement:
“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.”