The lack of female representation on the country charts hasn’t gone unnoticed. There have been a total of nine solo female artists who’ve topped the charts in the past ten years; with three of those nine, Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert and Taylor Swift, accounting for more than half of those number ones. To make matters worse, the explosion of bro-country further pushed women off the charts, even our beloved Queen-Bees.
However, bro-country appears to be in a decline. Most recently, Taylor Swift has officially gone pop with her new album due out late October. Let’s assume that the powers that be in country music accept Taylor’s departure and don’t play any of her new songs on country radio. Though with “Burnin’ It Down” on top and everything with Sam Hunt’s name climbing the charts, it’s possible Swift’s new single, “Shake It Off”, could find its way onto country radio. But I’m getting away from myself.
The point is with Taylor’s departure to the pop world, this leaves a gaping hole for country music female representation. For years now, it seemed the awards category for Female Vocalist of the Year, at any country award show, would consist of Taylor, Carrie, Miranda and a random assortment of other women who had a mildly successful hit or two in order to round out the nominations at five. Then Kacey Musgraves came in and rightfully earned a spot on the list next to those three, and we were only down to one random name. With the CMA award nominees to be announced in a few short weeks, we can guarantee to see Miranda, Carrie and Kacey on the list. But who else? The category has been weak for a while, and may even be the weakest category this year.
Now is as good a time as ever for Music Row and country radio to bring many fantastic female solo artists to the spotlight they all deserve. Each one of these women is more than capable of filling the void left by Swift.
- Kellie Pickler – An American Idol alumna who hasn’t found as much success as her Idol counterpart, Carrie Underwood. Kellie had early award show success with “I Wonder” and “Red High Heels” and cracked the top 10 on radio charts with “Best Days of Your Life.” But Kellie kept a strong classic country sound and didn’t let the pop-country wave become an influence in her music on future albums. It’s a shame Kellie isn’t a radio staple. Her last two albums, The Woman I Am and 100 Proof were raved by critics. Her sound is pure, her voice is strong, and she records and writes great lyrics. Kellie has certainly done more than enough to earn a spot at the table.
- Sunny Sweeney – Sunny’s recent release, Provoked, is a fantastic listen from start to finish; arguably the best country album of 2014. Her single, “Bad Girl Phase,” is slowly creeping up the charts and is the perfect female anthem to battle bro-country. Sharp songwriting, a truly unique voice, and a brilliant sound that’s traditional, yet surprisingly fitting in the contemporary country world. Sunny has all the makings to be one of, if not the, top country female artist.
- Brandy Clark – Brandy Clark has a few hits on her resume as a songwriter including “Better Dig Two” and the award-winning “Mama’s Broken Heart”. Not to mention other hits recorded by Reba and LeAnn Rimes. Last year, her album 12 Stories was met with critical acclaim and widely considered one of the top country albums from last year. She fits right in the mold freshly carved by Kacey Musgraves. Her writing has a hint of darkness, and she tackles tough subjects in her songs that go against the grain of feel-good partying, but Brandy’s talent is not one that should be ignored or hidden in the shadows.
- Keeley Valentino – Who? This San Francisco singer-songwriter is fairly unknown, but has a true talent as an Americana, roots musician. She recently debuted “Little Things”, her lead single off an upcoming EP. “Little Things” features the instrumentation of Zac Brown Band’s Clay Cook. Her EP will also feature more musical and production assistance from the ZBB camp including John Driskell Hopkins and newly added Matt Mangano. While Keeley is still too unknown to be a quick replacement, “Little Things” proves that Keeley Valentino has the potential to be a female leader in country music. And if she has members of the Zac Brown Band on her side, I’m sold.
- Holly Williams – Hank Sr.’s granddaughter. Her 2013 album, The Highway, was another critically acclaimed record alongside Brandy’s 12 Stories. She’s a smooth singer-songwriter who evokes a great amount of emotion into each of her songs. While Holly has a great classic sound to her, she doesn’t have many upbeat tracks on her albums compared to the first two entries on the list, but her music is pure, raw and emotionally true. Everything country music should be.
These women have a more traditional country sound; a sound I think should be reintroduced to radio. However, there are many women who have a pop country sound that could also fit nicely at the top of the pecking order. Lindsay Ell, Leah Turner, Danielle Bradbery and Gwen Sebastian all show promise as successful solo female country artists. Yes, a more traditional sound of country music would be the best option, hands down, but solo female artists evoking a more contemporary sound, a sound that harkens back to even five years ago, would be a satisfactory, temporary solution. The fact of the matter is, now is the time for country music to open its doors back up to women and bring back a healthy, diverse radio sound to its fans.