Country singer Sara Evans has enjoyed plenty of radio success in her career, but the current gender imbalance in country music is something she directly blames for hindering her chances at airplay and stalling her 2017 single “Marquee Sign.”
That gender inequity was the talk of the night at CMT’s Artists of the Year special Oct. 17, where the cable channel honored an all-female lineup. On the red carpet at Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center, a candid Evans spoke with Billboard about her disappointment with radio, particularly since leaving the major-label system and starting her own imprint, Born to Fly Records, last year.
During her nearly two-decade-long run on the RCA Records roster, which launched her career in 1997, Evans enjoyed numerous hits, including the No. 1 singles “No Place That Far,” “Born to Fly,” “Suds in the Bucket,” “A Real Fine Place to Start” and “A Little Bit Stronger.” Her last appearance on the Country Airplay chart came in 2014.
While her eighth studio album (and first independent project), Words, debuted at No. 4 on Top Country Albums in 2017, lead single “Marquee Sign” failed to chart — an occurrence that is likely as much about country radio’s reluctance to play singles without a full-scale promotional push behind them as it is attributable to the format gatekeepers’ hesitation to play more than a handful of songs by women.
But it’s the latter challenge that occupies Evans’ mind. Gesturing toward her two teenage daughters, who accompanied her to the event, Evans said, “The girls are just as frustrated as I am because they’ve seen how this ridiculous change in country radio has affected my career. It’s been sad. I grew up on country music and I made my whole, entire career on country radio and contributed what I believe is a lot of great music to the country genre. So for my family to watch me sobbing at home because [radio] refused to play the single I released when I’ve worked my ass off and gone to visit every country programmer in America and I feel like I deserve a spot … they’ve grown up with it, watching it, and it’s devastated all of us.
“Now I just want to see it either change or find another genre for females, because it’s just absolutely ridiculous,” she added. In June, “Marquee Sign” was remixed by engineer/producer Simon Reed in EDM, hot AC and pop/funk versions, which were made available on the singer’s website.
While Evans had hoped being entrepreneurial with her own label might benefit her career, she said on the red carpet, “The sad thing is we still need mainstream radio and mainstream TV to really hit it big. When I had hits at country radio, that’s what got my career off the ground and made my career. So a night like tonight is awesome because it gets the word out so much and people are talking about it so much. But until these programmers decide that they’re going to get back in their normal thinking minds and listen to the songs, and actually play great songs, it’s never going to change.”
Evans will hit the road Nov. 24 for her nine-city At Christmas Tour.