Carly Pearce and Danielle Bradbery

Carly Pearce, Danielle Bradbery, Kacey Musgraves & More of Today's Country Ladies Share How '90s Female Superstars Inspired Them

Rising country singers have plenty of icons to admire and learn from in their own genre, male for female. But for the women who have been slowly (but surely) answering the call for more females since they were deemed tomatoes in country radio's salad, there's a special group of leaders that come from the same era -- and the same gender.

The late '90s saw Shania Twain, Faith Hill, and the Dixie Chicks break out of the country circle and into the pop realm, landing videos on TRL, crashing pop award shows, and perhaps most importantly, being unapologetically themselves. It wasn't just those three, either: Twain, Hill and The Chicks were joined by several other legendary country females, including Jo Dee Messina, Martina McBride, LeAnn Rimes, Lee Ann Womack and Trisha Yearwood, all of whom had at least one No. 1 hit on the Country Airplay chart from 1997-2000.

"Every time you turned on the radio, these women owned," says Carly Pearce, whose debut single "Every Little Thing" hit No. 1 on the Country Airplay chart in November 2017 (after she initially released the song on SiriusXM The Highway independently). "They were so different, yet represented women who embraced and wrote about what they were going through ... Those women were so good at talking straight to that woman. I think you’re starting to see women do that again now." 

Pearce is part of a resurgence for women in country that's occurred in the last year or two, seeing more and more females on the Country Airplay chart, including Danielle Bradbery, Lindsay Ell, Lauren AlainaRaeLynn and many more. In celebration of the women who ruled country 20 years ago, Billboard chatted with some of the genre's rising stars about the women who paved the way for them in a major way.

Below, 13 of the gals from the new wave of country females shout-out Twain, Hill, the Dixie Chicks, McBride and more with their earliest memories of the superstars, their favorite No. 1 hits, and what they learned from the greats to get them where they are today.

Harper Smith
Carly Pearce


What They Meant to Me

As a child, all I knew was I wanted to be Shania or Faith. Now I’m understanding why, and I’m understanding just how much they had an impact on the artist I am now when I didn’t understand anything at eight years old, except for that I liked their music.

I think Shania did it visually, and in the way that she wrote her songs and in her production. Nobody will ever sound like Shania or write the way Shania did. Faith, I think, has influenced me in the texture and tone of her voice. A lot of people compare my voice to hers in that smoky rich tone. I think a lot of that is [because] I was obsessed with her voice, and I listened to it over and over -- it was my favorite country voice on the radio for so long. I think overall, they were so different, yet they were women who embraced what they were going through, and they wrote about what they were going through.

Meeting My Idol

June of last year, on a radio tour, I was able to meet Faith. I wore her old concert T-shirt that had her face on it, when she probably was my age -- I’m an artist with a Top 20 single out at this point, and I don’t even care because I’m just a total fan. I went up and they introduced me as a new artist, and she looked down at my shirt and goes, “Well that’s a throwback.” In that moment I unapologetically turned right back into a country music fan.

My Favorite No. 1s

Faith Hill, “Let Me Let Go”

Hands down my favorite country female song ever. That’s just a true example of a true singer singing an absolutely beautiful melody, having Vince Gill sing behind her. She does things with her voice in that song that I feel like I’ve carried on into my music because of that song. Just the way she sings words, and the way she flips from her head voice to her chest voice. It’s an incredible, relatable, simple song.

Shania Twain, “Honey I’m Home”

I sang that at every karaoke contest I can remember. That song, the way it starts with that kind of weird drum loop thing -- she had such an iconic production sound that I feel like you knew immediately when it was a Shania song. There are so many lyrics in that song that are so funny, but they just were the Shania way of writing songs. In a lot of ways, you see that with Maren [Morris], or you see that with Kacey [Musgraves], and hopefully you see that with me. There’s just a style of writing where you’re like, “I know exactly who that is.”

Cameron Powell
Danielle Bradbery


What They Meant to Me

Shania Twain was a big inspiration, and that can kind of go with her music, her voice, her style. I grew up around different genres of music, and she kind of did that worldwide sound. She wasn’t strictly country, which a lot of people were like, “Oh, what is this?” It was kind of shocking for a lot of people, but she did it really good. She was powerful as a person and a singer at the same time. Her style was really cool and rubbed off on a lot of people.

My Favorite Memory

I did a cover series and recorded a bunch of songs, and one of was “Breathe” by Faith Hill. I chimed into how she sang the song -- I kind of wanted to sing it like her. I definitely took a lot of tips from her and her voice with that specific song, hitting the notes she could. She would draw out notes for a long time, and that’s a lot of breathing control.

A lot of people are like, “You can ad-lib or do whatever you want with the song, add your own flair.” But honestly, all I could think of was just to copy her. I wanted to keep it traditional like she did, and I thought it was so beautiful -- how powerful and how emotional her voice is.

My Favorite No. 1s

Dixie Chicks, “Wide Open Spaces”

I always sang that song, and I still put it on when I’m on a road trip, or just listening on the plane. It kind of reminds me of Texas, where I’m from, because it is so wide open and there’s a lot of land everywhere.

Martina McBride, “A Broken Wing”

One of those songs I used to sing all the time in my room. Obviously, that song is very emotional and has a very strong message. The video makes me cry. It’s so sad! But at the same time, it’s such a powerful song. The lyrics are really real and the big, long notes that she hits also kind of helped me gain a little bit of those powerful notes that she does all the time. It was very inspiring.

Courtesy of Warner Music Nashville


What They Meant to Me

The Dixie Chicks and Shania are big examples of artists that have influenced me. I might have only been four years old in 1998, but those songs lived on for so much longer than that. So when I was at the age where I comprehended music and was loving country music, those songs were still hits and were still relevant to me -- all the melodies, all the concepts, they still influenced me. That’s why it was such a special time, because those songs lived on. They still are living on.

Shania’s stuff [still] sounds so relevant now. You could put out one of her singles now, like “Forever and Always” or “Any Man of Mine" -- any of those songs you could put on right now, and put on country radio.

There’s something about having timeless music, and that’s one thing that I learned. When I put out music, I want the song that I’m putting out to be relevant for years, I want it to be timeless. And that’s one thing that I always kinda think about when I pick out songs to release -- “Is this going to go out of style?” Or “Is this lyric or this melody something that could live on for a while?” I think of my song “Love Triangle.” That song is so much beyond me, because of the subject matter and the way it sounds, and I think that’s one thing they did so well.

My Earliest Memory

I have a lot of brothers and sisters -- my two sisters, we’d always sing The Dixie Chicks’ three-part harmony and make our own music videos to “Goodbye Earl” and talk about how we were gonna kill Earl! [Laughs]. We were obsessed with it.

There was some outfit of Shania’s where she was wearing a crop top, but it was kinda scandalous at the time, ‘cause nobody wore crop tops back then. So I took my shirt and twisted it up -- I was the front-girl with my sisters, so I was Shania, dancing like her and singing, “I’m Gonna Getcha Good.” My brothers would be like, “Put your shirt down!”

My Favorite No. 1

Dixie Chicks, “Wide Open Spaces”

I remember hearing that song a couple years ago when I was moving to Nashville, driving my truck and listening to that Dixie Chicks record. That song was so relevant to me then, because I was moving to a bigger city from Baytown [Texas] and I knew I wasn’t gonna come home after that -- I knew that Nashville was my home. I remember crying when I heard “Wide Open Spaces” because I knew life was always gonna be different and I knew that I was embarking on an adventure. It was so cool, but kinda heartbreaking at the same time, ‘cause I was leaving Texas. That’s why I love that song so much.

 John Shearer
Lindsay Ell


What They Meant to Me

Shania was my idol growing up. She was a fellow Canadian, so I knew every word to every song. When I started singing, when I was a little girl, mom bought me a plastic microphone, so I’d run around the house singing Shania Twain songs. I knew every word on The Woman and Me.

She was just such a role model to me. I mean, here’s a strong woman who is not afraid to be sexy, but at the same time be classy -- and at the same time, say something in her songs. That’s a fine line for women to walk, but Shania did it so effortlessly, and yet she wasn’t afraid to still be cutting edge and walk out on a limb.

The Chicks, they were musicians, and of course that was a soft spot in my heart. Yet they just had something to say, and they weren’t afraid to say it, and I just think that’s so inspiring, as a young girl listening to female artists who just have something to say.

I remember buying Faith, and that thing was ripped to the seams ‘cause I would just flip through the pictures and learn all the lyrics, bring it with me everywhere.

The Woman in Me, Faith and Wide Open Spaces were three of my favorite records growing up. I’d just started songwriting then, so I was just so inspired -- Like, “Ok, here are women who are saying what they believe in and they’re not afraid to write it in their songs.” As a young songwriter, that was exactly the motivation I needed.

My mother got my brother and I taking piano lessons, and then it was a lot cooler playing Shania Twain songs on the guitar, and my dad played, so I picked it up and I didn’t put it down. I mean, if Shania and all the Chicks could play instruments, then why couldn’t I? I think I could have been distracted in different ways, but I had posters of Shania on my wall, and I wanted to be like her, which is why it’s one of the coolest things, if a fan or a little girl comes up to me today and is like, "Lindsay, you’ve inspired me to start playing guitar." 'Cause Shania did that to me when I was a little girl.

My Favorite No. 1

Dixie Chicks, “There’s Your Trouble”

There’s an example of a [perfect] female song. It’s a very strong lyric, it’s basically calling out someone’s boyfriend for whatever they did, and yet they sing it in a way that it doesn’t sound bitchy or come off too strong -- it’s just a woman proving her point and speaking her mind, and yet it’s such a catchy song, I mean, gosh, if I had to sing karaoke, that’s what I’d choose!

Courtesy Photo
Runaway June


What They Meant to Us

Cooke: Shania was really the person that I really listened to when I started listening to country. I felt like I identified with Shania Twain a lot, because she and I kind of had a similar childhood, so to speak. She came from a very poor family, and there was a lot of diversity and struggle in her life. I identified with that, as my life is a lot of the same. But she also didn't lead interviews with, "Oh, I grew up with a troubled childhood." You know, she really let her art, her artistry, her personality come first. It was like, "I'm strong because of these things," and I just really admired that.

I think what really caught me what Shania was there was a simplistic beauty and this richness to her voice, and the way that she sang. She was a great vocalist, and that was obvious, that she was a great vocalist. But she didn't do all the music stream powerhouse things, and even in that same time there was Celine Dion -- it was kind of an era of these powerhouse vocalists, and [Shania] stood out in that way where she was singing songs that everyone kind of sang along to, but she had her own beauty on it.

Wayne: In high school, all of my girlfriends and I, Dixie Chicks were our thing. We would listen to them after school and go to the concerts. They were kind of the first harmony-driven female band that I listened to. They got me into a whole different kind of music. I’d never heard bluegrass things from Californians. But I started listening to bluegrass, I started listening to Patty Griffin, who wrote a lot of the Dixie Chicks songs, and she became my idol. They kind of opened my eyes up to a whole new world of music that I had never heard before.

"Cowboy Take me Away" is one of my favorite songs of all time. It's so cool, because Marcus Hummon, who was one of the co-writers on that song, when I first moved to Nashville, I got to write with him -- and it came full circle because Dixie Chicks were my idols growing up, and that song changed my life.

Our band happened organically, but after watching the Dixie Chicks growing up, I definitely thought, "Wow, that would be so cool to be a part of a female group.” I think if it wasn't for them, I probably would never be in the trio. They definitely had a big impact on what I wanted to do, and my dream.

My Earliest Memory

Cooke: I was living in Arizona with my family, we were going through a pretty hard time, and I heard “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?” I just remember the melody being infectious, and I was so young I didn't even know what that meant -- I didn't know what she was singing about, I just knew it was a song that my mom did not want me listening to [Laughs].

But also, [Shania] was singing in a register that Faith Hill didn't do. Faith is this powerhouse vocalist, and as a nine- or ten-year-old girl, you might not be able to match her. You could sing every Shania song -- it stayed in this kind of range. Then when I got older, my vocals started to develop and I would push myself and I could start singing some Faith Hill stuff.

Our Favorite No. 1s

Martina McBride, "A Broken Wing"

Cooke: I think [I was] this age where I was you're really starting to see life in a different way -- when you see someone experiencing tragedy, you actually feel it. It's not so kind of like, carefree anymore. When I heard that song, that really hit me on an emotional level. I'd heard songs like that before, but it didn't register what it was talking about. I remember feeling like I wanted to cry when I heard “Broken Wing.”

When I started singing, I remember how I felt when I sang, and then I remember how people would kind of react to me when I would sing, and it just kind of grew. I just started to love living in that space. I've always done that -- I just know how I feel when I sing, then people will watch it and they feel the same way.

Wayne: That song is so special, ‘cause it was the first time that my mom started listening to country music, so that was like our thing together -- we would listen to Martina McBride, and that was one of our favorite songs. I was already super into country music, and then when my mom heard Martina, she was like, "Wow, what is that?" So we bought her CD and listened to it over and over again -- that was really special to me.

John Shearer/Getty Images for CMT
Lauren Alaina poses in the portrait studio at the 2017 CMT Next Women Of Country Celebration at City Winery Nashville on Nov. 7, 2017 in Nashville, Tenn.  


What They Meant to Me

I grew up in a time that women on the radio were fearless and proud to be themselves. I think growing up in that time really shaped the artist I am and the way I write songs. My goal as an artist is to be a voice for women to celebrate who they are. Artists like Shania Twain, the Dixie Chicks, Faith Hill, and so many more were perfect examples of how to do that. 

The first song my mom ever heard me sing was a Dixie Chicks song in my car seat at three years old. She tells the story so much better than I do, but she says we were riding around listening to the Dixie Chicks, and when she turned off the car, I kept singing. I haven’t stopped ever since. I fell in love with music thanks to artists like the Dixie Chicks. 'Cause Earl had to die.  

Kelly Christine Sutton
Kacey Musgraves


What They Meant to Me

I heard The Dixie Chicks around the house all the time as a kid. Their songs were so catchy and I loved the unique way they blended pop and traditional sounds of country music. Their style aesthetically made country “cool” again, and they came along at a time when organic songs were needed in the genre so badly.

Growing up in East Texas, some of my other all-time favorites were Shania Twain, Lee Ann Womack, and Jo Dee Messina -- women who nailed that late 90’s/early 2000’s pop-country sound and giantly helped shape my musical sensibilities.

My Favorite No. 1

Dixie Chicks, “There’s Your Trouble”

One of my go-to songs to sing back then. To this day it’s a karaoke fave.

Courtesy of WME


What They Meant to Me

The only reason I ever thought I could be a country artist was because I saw these women not only succeed, but succeed the best of the best at that time. I thought it was incredible and probably really difficult, but at least possible.

Dixie Chicks were strong women with real stories. Shania was so hooky and catchy. Faith could sing the hell out of anything.

My Earliest Memories

On my Discman at summer swim meets -- I basically lived at the pool. Or over the PA in the quad at lunch during high school, or riding around sophomore year in the middle of a bench seat between my boyfriend and our friend that had his license and could drive us. Also in the Practical Magic soundtrack.

My Favorite No. 1

Dixie Chicks’ “There’s Your Trouble”

The most iconic country song of the bunch -- I think I’ve tried to write something in this vein like 8 million times and can never get it right. It’s my white whale [Laughs].

Courtesy of BIG LOUD
Jillian Jacqueline


My Earliest Memory

I vividly remember the first time I saw Shania's video for "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?" on CMT when I was about 8 years old. It just captivated me — her presence on screen and her confidence, her very distinct sound that I hadn't heard before. Faith's version of "Piece of My Heart" was one of those songs that made me belt along in the backseat whenever it came on the radio. I loved her conviction and her effortless, clear voice. The way she phrased her words resonated and definitely impacted the way I sang.  

What They Meant to Me

My sisters and I formed a four-sister family band when I was 9 years old, which was when the chemistry- and harmony-driven sound of the Dixie Chicks really became important to me as a singer and a performer. My sisters and I studied their live show and obsessed over their records to learn what they did and how they translated their individual strengths as musicians into a cohesive “sound." I don't think any girl group has ever had a greater impact on me, musically.

My Favorite No. 1s

Martina McBride’s "A Broken Wing"

That story just stopped me dead in my tracks. It was the song I sang at every open mic night as a kid, and then to bigger audiences when I would go out on the road with Kenny Rogers. To this day it gives me chills to listen to Martina sing it. Timeless, for sure.

Dixie Chicks, "Wide Open Spaces"

A close second. I don't know anyone that can't relate to the bittersweet ache of growing up that that song represents.

Matthew Berinato
Tenille Townes


What They Meant to Me

I grew up watching [Shania, Faith and the Dixie Chicks] pave their own path, fearlessly making music that was authentic to their story. I believed them and I believed in them. Seeing them living out their dream made it seem completely possible to chase my own. Listening to their music made me brave. Thinking about the mark that their music has made on our industry, makes me feel honored as a new female artist to have the opportunity to aspire to add to that legacy.  

I think it was their voices and their spirit. So identifiable, confident and honest. You could feel the way they believed in what they were singing and you fell in love with their artistic delivery. I also think it was the stories they sang about that made people feel understood and empowered.

My Earliest Memory

I listened to Shania my entire life. I was such a fan of her music, of her path and how different it felt from everything else around it with the character of her voice. When her Up! tour came up to Edmonton, Alberta, my family surprised me with tickets to see her when I was 9 years old. I begged my mom to make me a costume, and the glue gun marks dried on the yellow, red and orange ribbons -- imitating her Miami show outfit -- on our five hour drive from my hometown to the concert. I had made a sign that said "Shania, can I please sing with you?" and after seeing it, the security guard let me stand right up by the stage for most of her show.

Towards the end of it, she came around the circle stage and reached her hand out and brought me on stage. I took her hand and followed her, skipping all around the three tiers of her stage. I will never forget that moment standing next to my hero at the end of the song, looking out into this black curtain of lights with the whole arena cheering. That was the moment for me when I knew music was all I wanted to do. I can't wait to pack that arena someday and bring up some nine-year-old kid to pay forward the same spark she gave to me.

My Favorite No. 1

Dixie Chicks, “Wide Open Spaces”

This will always be a song that gives me goosebumps when it comes on. The feeling of freedom is a timeless statement. It feels like the world is calling to you when you hear that story. When I moved away from home after high school, that song brought me so much comfort knowing it was OK to make mistakes, to lose and find yourself chasing a dream and I still play it over and over. Even by the first line, it states the truth that you aren't alone in that experience.

David McClister
Delta Rae


Our Earliest Memories

Holljes: In 1998, I had just moved from the South to California, but brought a lot of my Southern influence with me. I'll never forget my parents having the Dixie Chicks album Fly.

My parents were the type of people who would put on music in the living room and have it blast as loud as it could throughout the whole house every Saturday while we did our chores. I feel like the Dixie Chicks were some of the earliest harmonies I learned to do.

Hopkins: I [also] grew up in California, and The Dixie Chicks were actually the first country music that I ever heard and just fell in love with. Their harmonies are unbelievable.

When we were in the beginning days of Delta Rae, we went down to Atlanta to play some gig in a smoky bar and I remember the band that went on after us, I think they ran out of material and they kind of side-eye looked over at us like, "Do you guys know any other songs?" Brittany and I went up there and sang "Cowboy Take Me Away" and "Wide Open Spaces," and we both knew all of the words. Honestly -- not to toot our horn too much -- but we kind of killed it. [Laughs.]

What They Meant to Us

Holljes: As a young woman looking up to them, I always thought that they were beautiful and cool, but it never really overflowed into this line where they were overly sexualized. I felt like they were so friendly to young women in terms of creating an image and an idol to look up to who had the best kind of female power.

Just listening to those women join together, and seeing how badass they were playing instruments, dancing -- I feel like they were ahead of their time, in a way. So empowered and showed a sisterhood, which Liz and I really strive to emulate. We're up on stage holding hands, singing songs about our friendship. That's entirely because we got to see examples of it working and we knew we could do it too.

I think that because we started a band, it's just cool to see a band fronted by women. It's pretty rare. And not just one woman, you know? We love sharing the stage. We love sharing the songs. I think just being able to see that tangibly play out and they've been through hell. Their career has had so many highs and lows and they're still together. That's huge.

Hopkins: In "The Long Way Around," I was always so touched when Natalie sings "Six strong hands on the steering wheel." It's all of them writing songs together and it's all of them together on that stage.

These women are strong and independent and such amazing role models for women, but on top of their immaculate three-part harmony, those two sisters [Martie Maguire and Emily Robison] are virtuosic players. What they do with the dobro, with the violin, the guitar, the banjo -- they're incredible.

Holljes: And then on top of that, the lyrical content of those songs? When you listen to that as a young girl, when you hear "Ready to Run," just those sort of -- you don't have to get married, you don't have to settle down; the way they talked about heartbreak, it didn't feel so much about the man who broke their heart. It was more about the feeling; it felt so progressive as opposed to being wrapped up in the men. It was sort of about, "I need a boy like you like I need a hole in my head."

Hopkins: The women were always the center of the narrative.

Holljes: And the men were kind of, take ‘em or leave ‘em -- it didn't feel too hung up. Especially like "[Goodbye] Earl," I love singing that song. In Delta Rae, we sing a lot of murder ballads and that's such a tongue-in-cheek, funny one. But it was also badass! Like, damn right. And again, a song about friendship; a friendship so deep. So those type of things really were influential, especially for kids who wanted to be singers, who paid attention to lyrics, who wanted to learn how to harmonize; the Dixie Chicks were like a bootcamp.

Hopkins: A cowboy bootcamp.

Our Favorite No. 1s

Hopkins: Dixie Chicks, “Wide Open Spaces”

I love the storytelling of that; that verse just the way it opens up, "Who doesn't know what I'm talking about?" It's very accessible, I always have felt like the girl next door in it. It just feels like anyone could have lived that, and then when it soars into the "she needs wide open spaces, room to make a big mistake," it's heartbreakingly beautiful and freeing, coming-of-age.

I remember when I first heard that, I was a freshman in high school, I didn't even have a car yet or a driver's license, but I understood it and I wanted it so much. "Wow I need that. I need wide open spaces. I hope I can get a car soon."

But even now in my 30s, I still feel that. Sometimes, you just feel cooped up. I love my job, I love what we do. But sometimes, you feel cooped up in the green room or in the van and you can't wait to get outside and get fresh air and go swim in a river or the ocean and just realize how small you are in comparison to the rest of this universe.

Seeing Our Idols Live

Hopkins: We went to go see the Dixie Chicks live last July, and I think we had sort of out-of-body experiences.

Holljes: It was the first time for me seeing them live. We saw them together and they covered Beyoncé. I think it's the best show Liz and I have ever seen together. It got right to our hearts.

Hopkins: Seeing them play and sing that way live, we couldn't believe their bluegrass harmonies -- couldn't believe their instrumental skills. Natalie's presence on stage, she's just as brassy as person as she is vocally.

Holljes: The fact that we got to go see them all these years later and see how many people still love them and admire them, despite the fact that they were told to give up -- it was inspiring.

Hopkins: And the fact that now they're managing to do it with nine kids between the three of them is honestly inspiring -- just as a woman to know, you can have it all, if you want it all.