Music

Country music’s rhinestone ceiling

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Maren Morris, Ashley McBryd and Kacey Musgraves.
Maren Morris, Ashley McBryd and Kacey Musgraves.
Credit: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters, ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy Stock Photo, Harrison McClary/Reuters

Country music was once dominated by women superstars like Dolly Parton and Shania Twain, but these days when you tune into country music radio stations, you mostly hear male artists.

In fact, this past December the top 20 artists on Billboard's Country Airplay chart did not feature any female acts — for the first time ever in the the chart’s history. Nashville-based music writer Jewly Hight wrote about this cultural trend in a recent Slate article, “The women of country have had enough of playing by Nashville’s rules.”

Hight explains to Kurt what happened to country music since the turn of the century that’s made it a less welcoming place for women, and she shares her insight about how some women country artists are forging new paths to success.

Kacey Musgraves – “High Horse”

“This song did not get radio airplay, but that was sort of beside the point,” Hight says. “She’s had all of this success and attention from prime time TV bookings, like ‘Saturday Night Live.’ So I think she has given a lot of artists permission to find alternate routes.”

Ashley McBryde – “Girl Goin’ Nowhere”

McBryde has built her reputation as a singer-songwriter, which is something relatively new for country music. “The mentality in Nashville was that either you were a professional singer or you were a professional songwriter,” Hight says, “but those were two different gigs and that has been a pretty drastic change. There are a lot of rising female voices in Nashville who started with publishing deals as professional songwriters and then had some sort of realization that what would work best for them was to try and do their own stuff.”

Maren Morris – “I Could Use a Love Song”

“What’s interesting here, coming from a young artist in the country world, was her vocal approach,” Hight says. “With Maren Morris you have one of the earliest artists in country to be singing in that low range and making it sound so much more casual. That's a huge change in the way that country artists sing, instead of just belting or singing hard or kind of projecting emphatically.”

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