Country Airplay Chart Lacks Any Female Artists in Top 20 For First Time
Carrie Underwood ranks highest, at No. 22, with 'Love Wins.'
On Billboard's latest Country Airplay chart, dated Dec. 8, the top 20 is a boys club, and a historic one at that: for the first time since the radio-based survey launched in January 1990, the top 20 does not feature any female acts.
The highest position held by a woman on Country Airplay this week belongs to Carrie Underwood's "Love Wins," which climbs 25-22 (up 13 percent to 8.2 million audience impressions in the week ending Dec. 2, according to Nielsen Music).
Looking at the entire 60 positions on Country Airplay, seven female acts appear beyond Underwood: Mindy Smith (as featured on Kenny Chesney's "Better Boat," at No. 27); Kelsea Ballerini ("Miss Me More," No. 32); Hillary Lindsey (as featured on Randy Houser's "What Whiskey Does," No. 40); duo Maddie & Tae ("Friends Don't," No. 41); trio Runaway June ("Buy My Own Drinks," No. 44); Lauren Alaina ("Ladies of the '90s," No. 47); and Carly Pearce ("Closer to You," No. 53).
Notably, Alaina's song recalls a bountiful era for women on the charts (country, pop and beyond). "I was raised on radio waves, where the ladies dominated," she sings, as she shouts out "Britney" (Spears) and smashes by Shania Twain, Destiny's Child, Dixie Chicks and more.
How does this week's Country Airplay top 20 compare historically? Let's look back to this time in 1990 and every five years after to see how songs by women fared.
As recently as three years ago, women were far better represented in the chart's upper reaches. (Totals below include women in solo roles, both as leads and featured artists, and duos/groups with female members.)
Dec. 1, 1990: five
No. 1, K.T. Oslin, "Come Next Monday"
No. 11, Holly Dunn, "You Really Had Me Going"
No. 15, Reba McEntire, "You Lie"
No. 16, Highway 101, "Someone Else's Trouble Now"
No. 19, Baillie and the Boys, "Fool Such as I"
Dec. 2, 1995: three
No. 4, Lorrie Morgan, "Back in Your Arms Again"
No. 10, Pam Tillis, "Deep Down"
No. 19, Dolly Parton & Vince Gill, "I Will Always Love You"
Dec. 2, 2000: seven
No. 5, Dixie Chicks, "Without You"
No. 6, Sara Evans, "Born to Fly"
No. 13, Patty Loveless, "That's the Kind of Mood I'm In"
No. 14, Jo Dee Messina, "Burn"
No. 15, Terri Clark, "A Little Gasoline"
No. 17, Lee Ann Womack, "Ashes by Now"
No. 20, Reba McEntire, "We're So Good Together"
Dec. 3, 2005: six
No. 12, Faith Hill, "Like We Never Loved Before"
No. 13, Little Big Town, "Boondocks"
No. 14, Carrie Underwood, "Jesus, Take the Wheel"
No. 18, Martina McBride, "(I Never Promised You) A Rose Garden"
No. 19, Sugarland, "Just Might (Make Me Believe)"
No. 20, Brad Paisley feat. Dolly Parton, "When I Get Where I'm Going"
Dec. 4, 2010: six
No. 3, The Band Perry, "If I Die Young"
No. 6, Reba McEntire, "Turn On the Radio"
No. 8, Sugarland, "Stuck Like Glue"
No. 9, Carrie Underwood, "Mama's Song"
No. 14, Miranda Lambert, "Only Prettier"
No. 19, Lady Antebellum, "Hello World"
Dec. 5, 2015: four
No. 2, Carrie Underwood, "Smoke Break"
No. 8, Cam, "Burning House"
No. 13, Jana Kramer, "I Got the Boy"
No. 16, Kelsea Ballerini, "Dibs"
Threading 2015 to today, four women (Underwood, Maren Morris, Rhiannon Giddens and Alaina) ranked in the top 20 on the Dec. 3, 2016 chart, and three (Pearce, Morris and Ballerini) did on Dec. 2, 2017.
"Unfortunately, I wish I could say I'm shocked by this statistic, but I'm not," says Johnny Chiang, director of operations, Cox Media Group Houston, which includes Country Airplay reporter KKBQ. "It's sad, really. In all other aspects of life, we're seeing women thrive by becoming CEOs, film directors, best-selling authors, etc. In country music, we really don't have the female talent to compete? That's just ridiculous."
"Even if we narrowed the focus to modern music," Chiang muses, "we have the likes of Beyoncé, Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, Camila Cabello, Lady Gaga, Adele and many more dominating the charts. And, in our own country world, we have powerful women like Cindy Mabe [president, UMG Nashville], Kristen Williams [senior vp, radio and streaming, Warner Music Nashville], Lesly Simon [general manager, Pearl Records], Kerri Edwards [owner/president, KP Entertainment], Virginia Davis [president, G-Major Management], Donna Jean Kissauer [vp, radio and tour marketing, Borman Entertainment] and many more shaping our business.
"The disparity on the country charts just doesn't make sense and doesn't reflect the female talent we have in our midst," Chiang says. "I don't know whose fault it is, but everyone needs to look at themselves in the mirror and ask if they're contributing to this issue."