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Country music has an equal play issue, which is why this announcement is so important

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Jessica Rapana
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Country Music Television has heeded a call by female artists for equal play, announcing it will now give women and men equal airplay, effective immediately.

Country music has an equal play issue. You know it, I know it, Kacey Musgraves knows it.

The industry’s glaring gender gap was recently thrust under the microscope when Michigan radio station 98 FM KCQ tweeted a now-deleted statement, claiming it “cannot play two females back to back”, much to the outrage of several country music singers, and women everywhere.

Musgraves retweeted the original statement, writing: “Smells like white male bullshit and why LONG ago I decided they cannot stop me.” In a later tweet, the Grammy Award-winning artist added: “And yet, they can play 18 dudes who sound exactly the same back to back. Makes total sense.”

Meanwhile, country music star Kelsea Ballerini shared the tweet on Instagram. “To all the ladies that bust their asses to have half the opportunities that men do, I’m really sorry that in 2020, after YEARS of conversation of equal play, there are still some companies that make their stations play by these rules. It’s unfair and it’s incredibly disappointing,” she wrote.

In the Instagram post, Bellrini also called out the “inequality in airplay for women” in country music across the board. “And tweets like this prove it. And it’s my job to say it out loud and post about it, because of the girls moving to Nashville (or wherever) that are ready to outrun and outwork and outplay everyone. They deserve to know that they have the same shot as the guys moving here to do the same,” she continued. “Country music – we have to fix this. For us and for them.”

At the last Country Music Awards in November, Sugarland front woman Jennifer Nettles made her statement on this issue via the red carpet in the form a long pink cape. On the back, the cape had a drawing of a woman’s face with the female gender symbol and the words “equal play”. On the front were emblazoned the words: “Play our f*@#!g records please & thank you”.

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The statistics speak for themselves. A 2019 study from Dr Stacy L Smith and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative reports that only 16% of the top 500 country songs from 2014 to 2018 were sung by female artists.

What’s more, further research suggests the problem is getting worse, not better. A study conducted between 2000 to 2018 has found that women are getting increasingly less airtime than men on country radio, with the number of top country songs by women dropping by 66% over that period.

Kacey Musgraves has called out the industry’s gender gap

Fortunately, it appears the choir is finally being heard. 

Country Music Television (CMT) has pledged to play an equal ratio of videos by men and women artists for the first time ever.

CMT said it previously had a 40/60 ratio but would be redistributing to 50/50, effective immediately.

Nettles responded to the announcement via Instagram, writing: “So beautiful and empowering to watch sparks unite and start turning into flames. Brave @CMT for heeding the call.” She added: ‘This will mean so much to all the ‘Baby Girls’ out there with a dream to make country music.”

While there is certainly still a long way to go – it’s a start. Let’s hope other stations follow suit because we can think of nothing better than hearing female country singers back-to-back.

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Jessica Rapana

Jessica Rapana is a journalist based in London, and enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content. She is especially fond of news, health, entertainment and travel content, and drinks coffee like a Gilmore Girl.

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