Martina McBride, Cassadee Pope and Raelynn Celebrate Women in Country Music at Pandora Event: Live Review
Earlier this year, a country radio consultant named Keith Hill made a provocative declaration: “If you want to make ratings in country radio, take females out.” He also famously likened female country singers to tomatoes. His comments earned swift rebukes from Jennifer Nettles, Martina McBride, Miranda Lambert, Sara Evans and others; Lambert’s response was a thing of beauty, pithy and pointed: “This is the biggest bunch of BULLSHIT I have ever heard,” she wrote on Facebook.
The founder of Pandora, Tim Westergren, chimed in Wednesday night in support of the women of country music: “[Hill] doesn’t know what the fuck he’s talking about.” The all-female lineup at New York's Altman Building featured RaeLynn, a newcomer with a radio-friendly sound, Cassadee Pope, who’s looking to release a sophomore album and regain the success of her 2013 single “Wasting All These Tears,” and McBride, a veteran who thrived in country music during the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, when women’s involvement in the genre was at its peak. (All three singers are signed to Big Machine, which co-sponsored the event along with the T.J. Martell Foundation.)
RaeLynn hit the stage first. Her debut single, “God Made Girls,” was overly saccharine, but the other tracks on Me -- even the EP’s casually declarative title is bold -- are punchy and luminous and full of independence: “I don't need a mister/ tryin’ to fit that perfect slipper on my foot/ there's always time for that.”
The singer unveiled a number of songs that will presumably appear on her debut album. “Boss” adopted language common in the top 40 (by way of hip-hop) and celebrated the “baddest chick[s] in the U.S.A.” Even more compelling was “Love Triangle,” a bruised, gorgeous number she said was inspired by her parents’ divorce. RaeLynn co-writes all her material, and she favors compact, melodic tunes with roots in late ‘90s pop-country. She doesn’t make overt nods to her genre’s current hip-hop craze, and she doesn’t need to.
In theory, Pope also has an album coming out soon, but she didn’t tip her hand by revealing new material: she mostly pulled from her 2013 album, Frame By Frame, and mixed in a pair of classic rock covers. The Eaglesand Tom Petty elicited cheers and sing-alongs, which later prompted Pope to wonder, “Is this the open bar or do you actually really like me?” (The open bar and the Pandora affiliation attracted a different crowd than your average New York country show; half the room chit-chatted through the first two sets.)
Pope has spoken about the difficulties faced by women in country before. Her latest single, “Invincible,” is an overly literal power-ballad about conquering whatever stands in her way. Pope is still searching for the proper follow-up to “Wasting All These Tears,” a scrappy post-breakup song that channeled early Kelly Clarkson.
Pope was roughly three when McBride put out her first album in 1992, and RaeLynn wasn’t even born. Unlike both her opening acts, she didn’t gain exposure on The Voice, and she took the stage with a massive band more than twice the size of anyone else’s.
Her set involved a mix of old hits and songs from her most recent album, 2014’s Everlasting. That record pays tribute to classic soul -- she showcased renditions of Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds,” The Supremes’ “Come See About Me,” Van Morrison’s “Wild Night,” and Etta James’ “In The Basement.” The tunes from McBride’s back catalog also started to resemble the R&B standards: economical, succinct, and groove-based.
To help achieve her blue-eyed soul, McBride recruited a four-piece horn section and three backup singers – who happened to be the only female band members on stage the entire night. Though this event was a step in the right direction, getting more women on country radio is just the beginning.