Two Years Post ‘Tomatogate:’ Female Country Artists Band Together To Be Heard

Females are still struggling to get their songs heard, but that's not stopping them from recording great music. 

Written by Lauren Jo Black
Two Years Post ‘Tomatogate:’ Female Country Artists Band Together To Be Heard
Miranda Lambert; Photo by C Flanigan/FilmMagic, Lindsay Ell; Photo by Mike Pont/Getty Images

The topic of women in country music has been a hot-button issue since 2015 when a male radio executive compared women on country radio to the “tomatoes of our salad,” alluding to the fact that men make up the bulk of what was being played on air (à la the lettuce in the metaphorical salad). His comments caused quite the uproar within the format and the situation became widely known as “Tomatogate.”

Very little has changed in the two years since “Tomatogate,” even though the topic of women on country radio has been discussed time and time again. Although male artists have continued to reign over the charts, we have seen a number of female artists, such as Kelsea Ballerini, Lauren Alaina, RaeLynn, and Maren Morris, blaze their own paths at country radio.

Currently, however, there are only two women in the top 40, which proves that even though there has been some progression since 2015, we still have a long way to go for female voices to be heard.

The lack of women on the charts recently prompted superstar Miranda Lambert to speak out about the issue once again.

“It sucks. It makes me mad,” she expressed to Billboard. “You can print out any top chart, and you’ll see maybe a couple females, or not even one.”

Lambert believes the male chart domination “is just a phase” and that the ladies will once again rule as they did in the 1990s when Country queens like Shania Twain, Trisha Yearwood, and Faith Hill were cranking out the hits.

“I think there was a time [for women] before, and there will be again, and that doesn’t stop any of us,” she attests.

While the future of women on country radio is unclear, one thing Lambert is right about is that the lack of radio airplay isn’t stopping the ladies from making great music.

On Friday (Aug. 11), Lindsay Ell released her debut album, The Projectand it quickly shot to the top of the country albums chart on iTunes where it remained for several days. What’s interesting to note about the release of The Project is the outpouring of support the album has gotten from Ell’s female peers. In the days since the album dropped, artists such as RaeLynn, Cassadee Pope, Mickey Guyton, Jamie Lynn Spears, Kelleigh Bannen, and Carly Pearce have taken the time to give Ell and The Project a shout-out on social media, urging their followers to pick up a copy.

At a time when women are battling for every single download, stream, or spin they can get, these ladies are out there fighting for each other’s voices to be heard. While a simple Tweet or Instagram post may not seem like a lot, it speaks volumes about the country music genre and its artists and it meant the world to Ell.

“It is incredible to see women supporting women in Nashville,” the “Worth the Wait” singer tells Sounds Like Nashville. “Seeing my friends and fellow artists post about The Project has been really humbling.”

Ell did her own part to support females in the industry by cutting a handful of songs written by fellow artists/songwriters (Caitlyn Smith “Space,” Carly Pearce “Always Kiss The Girl,” and Kelsea Ballerini “White Noise”).

“I don’t normally record outside songs, but on The Project I cut three songs from three crazy talented female artists in town. I’m happy I can help spotlight some of that talent on the record,” she explains.

Several platforms and movements have been created within the format to shine a light on women in country. In 2013, long before “Tomatogate,” CMT launched its Next Women of Country campaign in an “effort to emphasize undiscovered female artists in the male-dominated format.”

Earlier this year, nationally syndicated radio host Bobby Bones of The Bobby Bones Show deemed every Friday “Female Friday,” encouraging listeners to download tracks from female musicians. The idea of “Female Friday,” Bones tells us, was something he came up with to further his support of women in country music.

“I feel like I was already bringing in a great amount of female artists onto the radio show. I was also doing the same on socials, etc.  I just wanted to create a phrase or hashtag that is bigger than the radio show. So, I created ‘Female Friday’ under the umbrella of download or spread the word about any female artist in country music,” he explained over email. “And it was never about it being ONLY on Friday that you should support female artists, but Friday was more of a place to remind you in case you forgot.  All new albums come out on Friday, that doesn’t mean DON’T BUY ANY NEW MUSIC THE REST OF THE WEEK. It was kind of a launching point each week.”

Supporting female artists is something that’s important to Bones for several reasons, including the future of the format.

“I talked to prominent songwriters who have been told to ‘stop writing for females.’ I’ve seen labels stop developing and pushing as many female artists. I don’t think it’s a ‘let’s hold females back’ as it is, everyone is just trying to keep their job right now and the easy thing to do is to play the same thing that’s working RIGHT NOW,” he shared. “The problem is that ‘right now’ will be over soon and you won’t have nurtured your next crop, your next sound, etc. I saw female artists being left back because of that. I wanted to use my voice to push the others a long. I have been an advocate of this for nearly five years, from doing a week each year dedicated to exposing female artists, to an entire CMA Fest amphitheater show.”

So how can fans help these female voices be heard?

“Organically,” Bones encouraged. “Share what you like…male or female. The thing is, RADIO isn’t for every song. My favorite songs aren’t on the radio, they never have been, never will be. Radio is an escape, a friend, but it’s not indebted to any artist, format, label, or listener. I love radio because I get to create and I get to expose. I hope people search the web for lots of new artists of all genres and of all sexes.”