How many times must we go through this? Every year, some major publication boasts that that particular year is the “Year of the Woman.” This time ’round, it’s Country Weekly. On their latest cover (dated Jan. 27), the headline (and subsequent tagline) runs: 2014 Is The Year Of The Woman — Will Miranda, Reba and Carrie Help Turn The Tide For The Future Of Country Music?
I would hope, that in 2014, we wouldn’t be forced to even have this discussion, but as Beyonce recently pointed out: gender equality is far from becoming a reality, particularly in music.
Further down on the cover, the magazine includes Kacey Musgraves, Martina McBride (who is set to release an R&B covers album in March) and Jennifer Nettles as possibilities to improve the genre. Sure, Musgraves “Same Trailer Different Park” saved me from ramming toothpicks under my fingernails, but I would hardly consider McBride (whose early ’90s work I adore) and Nettles (with her eclectic “That Girl”) beacons of defining country music. Plus, since when is Reba McEntire expected to release a new album? Even if she does, it’s not like radio has ever been kind to 40+ year-old country-pop divas.
Last year, the mainstream, in particular, was certainly an all-boys club, with such chart-topping and record-breaking hits coming from Florida Georgia Line (“Cruise”), Luke Bryan (“That’s My Kind Of Night”) and Blake Shelton (“Boys Round Here”). Hip-hop influences became even more of a guiding compass for the men, sparking subsequent cliched and copy-catters all across the board. Cole Swindell, Dakota Bradley, Chris Young (and so many others), I’m lookin’ at you and hanging my head in shame.
Meanwhile, traditionalists had to dig a little deeper to find something substantial to hold on to. Fortunately, for us, Brandy Clark, Ashley Monroe, Holly Williams and Lindi Ortega bestowed our ears with worthwhile records that may soon stand the test of time. Their influences run the gamut, from the quirky sensibilities of John Prine to the pioneering work of Loretta Lynn. They get it. It’s about real stories, channeling hurt and pain into raw vocal performances. Seriously. Have you heard Williams’ “The Highway”? One of the best recordings in recent memory.
Given that the trifecta of Taylor Swift, Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood are all between albums and reportedly working on new material, our best assumption is that the responsibility of delivering more thought-provoking material lies with these leading ladies. Whether you consider Swift country or not, at least her material is remotely interesting, even if it is more pop than ever. Underwood and Lambert, on the bright side, have embraced their country roots than ever before — “Two Black Cadillacs” and “Mama’s Broken Heart” were two of the most innovative releases of 2013. So, naturally, all eyes and ears are on them to continue pushing the envelope, in a good way. (And no, Tim McGraw’s latest piece of trash, “Lookin’ For That Girl,” does not count.)
If you look at the current Billboard and Mediabase charts, the men are dominating…again. Florida Georgia Line’s faux-emotional “Stay” is leading at No. 1 for a fourth straight week on Billboard Country Airplay, and Brantley Gilbert’s hilarious “Bottoms Up” is already proving that the men are, yet again, taking the lead into hip-hop and rap-country dribble. Elsewhere on that same chart, for example, you’ll uncover the misogynistic, painted-on-blue-jeans stylings of David Nail’s “Whatever She’s Got” (No. 7), Cole Swindell’s equally absurd “Chillin’ It” (No. 8), Jon Pardi’s one-hell-of-a-work-week “Up All Night (No. 13), Scotty McCreery’s less-offensive bro-country-lite “See You Tonight” (No. 19) and Dan + Shay’s Myrtle Beach getaway “19 You + Me” (No. 20).
Note: McCreerians, I do enjoy McCreery’s sophomore album. His current single just happens to be an answer to a trend.
Meanwhile, there are only two solo females in the Top 20 on that same chart: Cassadee Pope with “Wasting All These Tears” (No. 10 as of last week’s report and down to No. 11 this week) and Danielle Bradbery with “The Heart Of Dixie” (perched at No. 16), both which are debut entries.
Perhaps the absence of Lambert, Swift and Underwood will allow radio to break more females for the format in the interim. And maybe, just maybe, when the Big Three splash later this year, the format will continue to support Bradbery and Pope in the long-term.
And maybe not…
But to dub 2014 as “The Year Of The Woman” is as absurd as hearing about her sugar shaker dancing on the tailgate while the moonlight shimmers across her painted-on cut-off jeans for the millionth time by some good-looking hunky country singer.
It’s not gonna happen.