Taylor Swift officially returns to country radio today (Aug. 17) with her new single “betty.” Featured on her eighth studio album folklore released July 23, the descriptive harmonica-driven ballad details a young love triangle written from the perspective of a 17-year-old boy named James who has lost the love of his life.
Ahead of its radio add date, countless country stations around the U.S. began playing the tune with 10 official adds. “betty” is being worked to country radio through Universal Music Group’s MCA Nashville imprint and debuted at No. 6 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart on Aug. 8 and at No. 60 on Country Airplay. A welcomed return to the genre, “betty” marks Swift’s first single shipped to country radio since 2013’s “Red” and the addition of another much needed female voice on airwaves.
While 2020 shows promise for women at country radio, there is still more to be done. Female artists currently rank at 14.3% of the weekly airplay, according to Dr. Jada Watson, a professor at the University of Ottawa who reports on the genre’s gender imbalance.
“While there have been more Top 10 and No. 1 songs by women this calendar year – including the current No. 1 for Maddie & Tae, chart representation is going to enter another period of considerable inequity,” Watson tells Sounds Like Nashville. “There will be just two female acts in the Top 30 (6.7%) and five in the bottom 20 positions (25%), meaning that women will make up just 14% of the 50-position chart [this week].”
With the addition of “betty” to country radio, listeners will be hearing one more female voice on airwaves with the hope that more will follow. Watson stresses that while Swift on her own won’t even out the gender imbalance within the country format, with radio already embracing “betty” it is a start that stations are adding another female into regular rotation.
“While there has been an increase in airplay for songs by female artists over the last six months with three stand-out weeks with about 17.6% of the spins for their songs, the gap is still much too wide for one artist alone to close with one song,” Watson explains.
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In isolation my imagination has run wild and this album is the result, a collection of songs and stories that flowed like a stream of consciousness. Picking up a pen was my way of escaping into fantasy, history, and memory. I’ve told these stories to the best of my ability with all the love, wonder, and whimsy they deserve. Now it’s up to you to pass them down. folklore is out now. 📷: Beth Garrabrant
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2020 has seen the most No. 1 songs by females in the past four years on the Country Airplay chart. Maddie & Tae (“Die From a Broken Heart”), Miranda Lambert (“Bluebird”), Gabby Barrett (“I Hope”), Carly Pearce (“I Hope You’re Happy Now” with Lee Brice), Gwen Stefani (“Nobody But You” with Blake Shelton) and Maren Morris (“The Bones”) all saw chart toppers this year.
Despite pursuing a career in the pop world over the past six years, Swift has remained embedded in the country community. In 2016, she penned “Better Man” for Little Big Town and was also featured as a guest vocalist on Sugarland’s “Babe.” Her 2019 collaboration with The Chicks on “Soon You’ll Get Better” also landed her on the charts.
While the verdict is still out on how Swift’s “betty” will be received at country radio, she remains a familiar voice that has made an indelible impact in breaking down barriers while continuing to introduce her legions of fans to the genre.
“Songs by women are receiving more airplay than in previous months and years and this will be a bumpy ride to correcting the imbalance,” Watson says, while remaining hopeful that Swift’s “betty” will be accepted. “This is all encouraging – not just because it’s a sign of radio getting behind a truly good song, but because it also has the potential to encourage meaningful change for female artists within the genre.”