CMT’s seventh annual Next Women of Country showcase on Tuesday (Nov. 12) was the ultimate personification of the seismic shift in the conversation on women in country music.
The Music Row community broke from its CMA Awards schedule to attend the concert at Nashville’s CMA Theater that welcomed the program’s 2020 class of inductees. They are Abbey Cone, Avenue Beat, Caylee Hammack, Gabby Barrett, Hailey Whitters, Kylie Morgan, Madison Kozak, Renee Blair, Sykamore, Tiera and Walker County. The concert setting was an intimate writers’ round to let the words and music of each act be the stars of the show. Mickey Guyton opened the ceremony with her new single, “Sister,” backed an all-female cast that included fellow Next Women alumnae Clare Dunn, Tenille Townes, Leah Turner and Rachel Wammack.
CMT SVP of Music Strategy & Talent Leslie Fram and Martina McBride emceed the event that also recognized Brandi Carlile as the recipient of the 2019 Next Women of Country Impact Award and announced the 2020 CMT Next Women of Country Tour with Tanya Tucker.
“I think that this is an incredible time to be a woman in country music despite some of the chatter that you hear,” Carlile said when she accepted her award from Brandy Clark and manager Tracy Gershon. “I can feel, and I think you can probably feel the tide changing. There is a huge monumental shift happening in the way that we perceive women’s music and in particular, whether or not women want to hear other women sing women’s music. I think that is down to the women in country music and the men who are all understanding that a platform needs to be given to women to tell the story of the other half of the human race.
“Because if country music is the story of rural America, then what is the story that we’re telling our young girls? I don’t know about you guys, but country music raised me. It was the only music that I was allowed to listen to, and the only music I had access to, and I’m really proud of that. I love it, and I think the people, who are involved in this town, they know that, and they’re already there.
“But we’re hoping and what we’re inviting country radio to do is to catch up with the way we all think. I want to encourage anybody who is at country radio, thank you for listening and ask yourself the question every morning before you go into work, what do I want my job to say to my daughter today? Because she’s an ‘American Girl,’ ‘She’s In Love with the Boy,’ ‘She needs wide open spaces,’ [and] ‘She’s a wild one.’ She’s more than a pair of blue jeans in the cab of a truck.”
It was the only event during CMA Awards week 2019 that united leadership from five record labels in a live setting to address the gender disparity on mainstream country radio and show their commitment to getting women’s voices heard. Warner Music Nashville Chairman/CEO John Esposito, BMG/BBR Music Group EVP Jon Loba, Sony/Nashville Chairman/CEO Randy Goodman, Big Machine Label Group Pres./CEO Scott Borchetta and UMG Nashville Pres. Cindy Mabe each took turns in the spotlight to share what their respective companies are doing to support female artists. However, Mabe arguably had the most meaningful remarks that articulated how revolutions in music take time.
“This platform today from these artists means so much more than a positioning statement that makes it to a press release this afternoon,” she said. “This is about how to give a voice and a perspective to half the world. There is so much said about women not wanting to hear other women’s voices. But I know in raising two little girls of my own, I can only speak for them, and they only want to hear female voices. They are the ones who show them the way.
“You are the ones that will dictate the next generation’s impact. You represent how they are felt and represented in the world, and their feelings, and their thoughts, and their voices, and they show them that they matter.
“I think back to my childhood, and I think about how music spoke to me, and I can say without a doubt, I wouldn’t be here without the voices of Dolly [Parton], The Judds and Reba in my ears because they raised me.
“On the eve of country’s biggest night, I can’t help but think of our sole female entertainer of the year nominee and the fact that Carrie [Underwood] wouldn’t exist without the impact of Martina McBride. The impact that her music made on Carrie as a little girl is what changed a whole generation, and this is how it works. This is how each of you who are sitting in this audience needs to understand your impact of where you need to go from here.
“I would be remiss to say there’s no easy way to get there. I think we’re all going to have a different path, and you’re going to forge your own way, and not all of them are going to look like radio. But we have artists like Kacey Musgraves who are showing there are different ways you can expose new music to the masses. I think that if there’s anything to say today, it’s that the women are what are bringing interesting, state-of-the-art, cutting-edge music. And it doesn’t fit in a box. That’s the truth of the matter.
“So, we will spend the next years on how to get them exposed, one foot in front of the other because great music shall always rise. I’m speaking on behalf of Universal Music Group, we’re committed more than I could say. I get up every day and make a movement towards making women’s voices matter again.”
In the audience were Next Women of Country alumnae seated among major power players, including Premiere Networks’ Julie Talbott and rising artist Jordan Davis, who will have female support acts on his 2020 tour.
Supporting acts and cities for the 2020 CMT Next Women of Country Tour are to be announced. The 2020 tour is sponsored for the second consecutive year by Burlington Coat Factory, which was onsite collecting coats that will be dispersed in the local area through the Nashville Rescue Mission.