Carly Pearce earns her first top 10 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart (dated Sept. 23) as her debut hit, “Every Little Thing,” climbs 12-9 (24.2 million in audience, up 10 percent, in the week ending Sept. 10, according to Nielsen Music). This achievement encouraged us to take a look at how many solo women have reached the region this year and how the results compare historically, as the topic of women populating radio playlists (or the lack of) has initiated much chatter in recent years.
In the first 38 chart weeks of 2017, one solo woman has topped Country Airplay, with three others (including Pearce), hitting the top 10. Lauren Alaina led the April 22 list when “Road Less Traveled” became her first No. 1. Kelsea Ballerini’s “Yeah Boy” peaked at No. 3 (May 13), and Carrie Underwood’s “Dirty Laundry” hit No. 2 (Jan. 21).
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How does that stack up to a year ago? In the first 38 weeks of 2016, seven songs by solo women reached the top 10, including four No. 1s by two artists: Ballerini’s “Dibs” and “Peter Pan,” and Underwood’s “Heartbeat” and “Church Bells.” The other three top 10s: “Burning House” by Cam (No. 2), “I Got the Boy” by Jana Kramer (No. 6) and “My Church” by Maren Morris (No. 9).
Five years ago, in the first 38 frames of 2012, six songs by solo women achieved Country Airplay top 10 success, three of which hit No. 1. And a decade ago, six songs by solo females also reached that region, including Taylor Swift‘s first two top 10s: “Tim McGraw” (No. 6) and “Teardrops on My Guitar” (No. 2).
When comparing those years, not much variance is evident. KKBQ Houston PD Johnny Chiang says that a song’s potential, not an artist’s gender, is what should determine initial airplay. “Male, female, group — it just doesn’t matter. It’s about how good the song is. If any programmers are actually favoring male acts over females, it’s just dumb.”
WWQM Madison, Wis., PD Fletcher Keyes notes, “Morris’ ‘My Church’ did not reach No. 1 on the chart, but we just tested 400 songs and ‘Church’ ranked 15th. That means she’s reaching critical mass.”
As for Pearce, Chiang feels strongly about her chances for further success. “We’ve been on ‘Every Little Thing’ since day one, and it’s stronger than ever,” he says. “I’m a believer. The song is a hit.”
SPEAKING OF SWIFT: With Taylor Swift back with arguably her most pop single yet, “Look What You Made Me Do,” at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for a second week, Chiang adds that her segue from country has impacted women’s totals at her former radio base.
“Let’s face it: When Taylor Swift left the format, it was a huge blow for the genre,” he says. “She has a giant, loyal legion of fans; a lot of them are now listening to pop stations. With Swift’s new song being the event that it is, I put some of her country tracks back in rotation. We’re playing ‘Tim McGraw,’ ‘Red,’ ‘Love Story’ and a few others again.”
Swift is also nominated for her first CMA Award since 2014, as the writer of Little Big Town’s “Better Man,” which is up for song and single of the year. “Better Man” topped Hot Country Songs and Country Airplay for two weeks each earlier in 2017. Before transitioning to pop with 2014’s 1989, Swift scored seven No. 1s on Country Airplay, among 18 top 10s. She last appeared on the chart when her pop smash “Shake It Off,” 1989’s lead single, spent a week at No. 58.
But not all programmers are reviving Swift’s country catalog. “It’s really about how well songs research for us, not how popular someone like Swift is. Honestly, she never tested that well here,” notes Fletcher Keyes.
AS FOR THE GUYS … Dustin Lynch’s “Small Town Boy” leads the Country Airplay chart for a second week, increasing 5 percent to 48.8 million audience impressions, Plus, Luke Combs lands his second top 10 as “When It Rains It Pours” jumps 15-10 (23.8 million, up 20 percent). His breakthrough hit, “Hurricane,” led for two weeks beginning May 27.