Friday, September 11, 2009


For years now, I've held my tongue regarding a curious trend that's been developing in country music. But today while perusing Billboard's Top 30, I decided that it's time to speak up. Where are all the female stars? Of all the Top 30 singles, only three of the acts are female or feature at least one woman. This is especially puzzling, considering country's biggest star of the moment, Taylor Swift, is a woman.

Music -- both in and out of Nashville -- has always been a man's man's man's world, dominated by male voices. In the 1960s and early '70s, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn paved the dirt road for several waves of female country hitmakers in the '80s and '90s. In the latter decade, Reba McEntire, Shania Twain, Faith Hill, Wynonna Judd, LeAnn Rimes, Trisha Yearwood, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Dixie Chicks were selling as many -- or nearly as many -- records as their male counterparts.

But a few years into the '00s, everything had changed. Neither Wynonna nor Mary have scored a Top 10 single since the mid '90s, and Trisha last went there in 2001. Dixie Chicks's 2003 George W. Bush dis cost them much of their country support. Shania has sat out most of this millennium (and her split with producer -- and svengali? -- Robert John "Mutt" Lange leaves a huge question mark hanging over her commercial future). Reba may be back from Hollywood, but her recent comeback solo single, "Strange," petered out at No. 11. Faith is missing in action, and LeAnn is too busy selling tabloids because of her extramarital affair with Eddie Cibrian to sell music. Meanwhile, after promising starts, Gretchen Wilson and Jo Dee Messina quietly -- and apparently, permanently -- slipped off the charts.

That leaves Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Martina McBride and Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles, the latter three of whom, incidentally, are the only women featured in this week's country Top 30. I'm not sure who's to blame for this dire situation. It's probably a combination of sexism at country radio (which drives the genre's sales more than anything else), sexism among country music fans and also country's female singers themselves, who have always more successfully courted crossover success, sometimes alienating their core audience in the process. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work the same way in reverse (rampant sexism in country?). Recent Nashville bows by Jewel and Jessica Simpson flopped, while three consecutive No. 1 singles has made Hootie In The Blowfish's Darius Rucker country's first black star since Charley Pride.

Sorry, but I'll pass. For me, country without major female voices is like a world without love. Wake me when it's over -- or when Shania finally gets her butt back where she belongs.
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