If Maren Morris’ huge night at the CMA’s taught us one lesson it’s that a revolution is needed at country radio. For years country radio as saturated with what Grady Smith refers to as “boyfriend country”. Boyfriend Country is a trend that involves male artists fawning over the women they love over the sound of a snaptrack. While, on it’s face there is nothing objectionable about Boyfriend Country, it’s saturation and overplay on country radio, coupled with often monotonous and indistinguishable lyrics has led to yet another era in country radio where high quality music is pushed aside in favor of more Boyfriend Country. Much like the Bro Country era that preceded it, Boyfriend Country has managed to push many unique female artists to the outskirts of radio fame, and while some women have managed to succeed within the current format, what radio has done is a major disservice both to artists and to fans of the genre. Country Radio has worked under the faulty assumption that male artists are more popular and as a result have played men more, while failing to realize that many male artists tend to be more popular simply because of the increased airplay they receive. In the age of streaming one would be excused for thinking radio spins don’t matter as much anymore, however radio is still shown to be the number one mode of new music discovery. As Sony Nashville head Gary Overton once put it “if you’re not on country radio you don’t exist”, For years label execs have made sure that many of the most unique voices in the system “don’t exist” while at least to them at least. For this post we’ll be using Overton’s formulation and putting the artists into three categories “always exist” “sometimes exist” and “never exist”. This obviously not how we view the artists, simply where they fit into the spectrum that country radio has designed for itself. For us they all belong in the “always exist” category.
There are currently only four women in country music who’s music is guaranteed to go top 10 at country radio, Carrie Underwood, Maren Morris, Kelsea Ballerini, and Miranda Lambert after radio finally remembered that she existed, which didn’t occur until some point last year. The other three artists often operate in a space that radio and their labels view as “poppy” enough to garner crossover appeal from the pop radio and listeners. While, Miranda doesn’t fit into the pop bubble she benefits from being a star before country radio fully transformed. All four of these artists are able to achieve succsess within the system because their music has broad appeal and can’t be passed up. However, there are many other female artists that shouldn’t be passed up either yet country radio has managed to do so.
As a result of this bias toward “poppyer” sounds country fans are missing out on great artists like Ashley McBryde, who’s voice, incredible songwriting and penchant for traditional sounds, should make her an impossible artist not to play. While radio has finally started to take notice of McBryde, with her single One Night Standards climbing the charts. Maddie & Tae also boast a more traditional sound and after a five year hiatus and a whole bunch of label turmoil finally released their sophomore album this year. While, prereleased single, Die From A Broken Heart was able to make a LONG climb to the top of the charts. Carly Pearce finally scored her first radio #1 with I Hope Your Happy Now, which netted her a CMA, and is hoping to follow that up with another big single, so for now Carly stays in this group. Although, Carly and all of these incredible artists deserve better from radio.
Never Exist/Used To Exist
This category is the most complicated to define so we decided to define it as artists who have either to this point in this career not achieved radio success that matches their output, and artists that have had success and then radio seemingly out of nowhere decided to shun them.
The first artist that comes to mind that meets the first criteria is Caylee Hammack, Hammack’s debut single, Family Tree charted but never reached the top 10, and her follow up Small Town Hypocrite, inarguably of the best songs released all year has not moved at radio. Tenille Townes has the most unique voice in the industry and has released some incredible songs, including Somebody’s Daughter and Where You Are, yet country radio continues to ignore her. The last artist in this category is Runaway June, who’s latest single We Were Rich is also one of the best songs released in this past year both lyrically and istrumentally, mand does Natalie Stovall play a mean fiddle!
We made the second criteria with two artists in mind, Kacey Musgraves and Ingrid Andress. We still don’t know who at country radio Musgraves must’ve ticked off ,but the constant lack of airplay of Musgraves despite her incredible success both, in a critical realm at the Grammy’s and from a steaming perspective, is at this point borderline criminal. On the other hand, Andress, did succeed achieve radio stardom right off the bat with her debut single More Hearts Than Mine reaching number one, yet her follow up singles The Stranger and Ladylike have failed to move the needle at radio, despite both being incredible and unique singles.
The change Country Radio needs to make is simple, play better, more unique music and right now the women are producing!