I’m from a rural county in Virginia. There are a lot of things that are difficult to access in my hometown…affordable housing, internet access, cell signal and decent water, to name a few. One thing there will never be a shortage of is country music stations. With the exception of one “positive hits” station every preset on my mother’s car radio was country.
Let me be clear from the beginning, this piece WILL NOT trash on country music. I love country music. I grew up on it and will always scream sing any song I know at the top of my lungs. The genre lends itself to storytelling like no other. However, as I got older, I started to notice some disturbing trends in country music that angered me to the point where I refuse to listen to certain stations anymore.
If I was to ask people to name country artists they know, I can almost guarantee you that over half of them would be male. Average airtime on country radio stations reflects that. In fact, a study done in 2018 found that airplay of women’s songs on country radio was only 11.3%.
LeAnn Rimes, Dolly Parton, Jennifer Nettles, Reba McEntire, Kacey Musgraves, Sara Evans, Martina McBride, Faith Hill, Tanya Tucker, Carrie Underwood, The Chicks, Miranda Lambert, and Shania Twain may be familiar names to most, but can people name more than one or two of their songs? Nope.
We don’t associate women with country music because for the most part, we don’t hear it.
It is important to acknowledge the fact that these are all white, considerably wealthy women. Their race is an advantage in the genre of country music. Women of color in the country music are far and few between. According to a 2021 study, women of color only account for 2.7% of yearly airplay on country music stations. This number is only slightly higher for men of color. Not only does country music have a sexism problem, it has a race problem. It’s undeniable. The proof is in the numbers.
Many ask me, “You always bring up your issues with country music, why still listen to it?” My answer is that times are changing. A great example of this is Mickey Guyton, a black female country artist from Texas.
Her song catalog consists of title such as “Love My Hair”, “Black Like Me”, and “All American”. All of which tell stories and experiences of being a black woman in America. With lyrics like: “It’s a hard life on easy street. Just white painted picket fences far as you can see. And if you think we live in the land of the free. Then you should try to be, oh, black like me.” You’d guess correctly, they aren’t played on most radio stations.
Mickey and her songs are gaining recognition elsewhere. In 2020, she performed “Black Like Me” at the Grammys. Additionally, she has performed her songs at Country Music Awards (CMA’s) events and the American Music Awards (AMA’s).
I can only imagine the courage it must take to take on an industry like Mickey Guyton is doing in country music, but I am thankful for it. Artists like her are what keep me coming back, they give me hope, and give me perspective. With each song, I learn a little more about the struggles that people unlike me face. It is a long overdue change in this genre, and I cannot wait to see where it goes.
**Take this as a friendly reminder to support emerging artists across all genres, especially those who face additional barriers in achieving their goals. Your support, even through streaming services such as Spotify, could be the reason they get to pursue their passions. Happy listening!**