With women fighting for equal airtime and respect in the country music industry it was no surprise that eventually a community of female artists would rise to face the challenges in todays entertainment world. On Wednesday, November 5th, industry personnel, media, and fans converge on the newly opened City Winery in Nashville for CMT’s 2nd Annual Next Women of Country, inducting new members into a showcase of the best up and coming singed and unsigned females ready to dominate country airwaves and fans hearts.
A surprise introduction to the event came from New York based rock artist Gavin DeGraw, whom was in town to partake in the CMA week activities. “I couldn’t help but be a part of this, I wanted to be a part of this” he stated before cutting a few jokes and introducing country powerhouse LeeAnn Womack and CMT senior vice president of music strategy Leslie Fram, the creators of the female initiative. Both ladies thanked everyone for attending and stressed the need for more female influence in todays country music market. Not only were attendees treating to beautiful music during this 2 hour showcase – when the ladies held the mic, they expressed their opinions and insight on the extremely hard and demanding business.
First on stage was Natalie Stovall, accompanied by two male band members of The Drive performing their single “We Are” – “I don’t care how hard it is to make, it’s not going to stop us” Stovall remarked on their growing success. Former Pistol Annies “Holler Annie” Angaleena Presley was up next, performing her new single “Pain Pills”, shortly followed by Kelsea Ballerini performing “Stilettos”. “My inspiration for this song came from a simple truth – “on Pinterest there was a quote that said something like ‘Girls wear heels. It doesn’t matter how much your feet hurt, as long as you look pretty”. It resonated enough with Ballerini, with the chorus of the song stating she wears her pain like stilletos – no one will know how bad it hurts.
Kelleigh Bannen was next in the showcase and the most vocal of the performers on insight she learned as a woman in the music industry. “She said kind of jokingly, ‘Well, it was when I stopped writing female songs and started writing guy songs,” Bannen says of advice from friend and fellow songwriter Jessi Alexander, whose credits include Lee Brice‘s CMA 2013 Song of the Year ‘I Drive Your Truck’ and Blake Shelton‘s 2014 CMA nominated single ‘Mine Would Be You’. “Y’all, that’s really sad when an outstanding songwriter knows” Bannen added before performing her single “Church Clothes”. “She knew the marketplace. There’s just not a voice for her songs for the most part, right now, in this moment. And I think that’s a really serious statement.”
Next up to the mic was newcomer Mickey Guyton, a young lady from Texas who is generating a lot of buzz on Music Row. Performing her introductory song, “Better Than You Left Me”, Guyton became overwhelmed with the audiences response – everyone was captivated by the songstress. With cheers finally erupting towards the end of the number, Guyton became emotional, tears whelling in her eyes and pressing her hands to her chest in gratitude. Familiar faces RaeLynn and Maddie and Tae followed, performing their girl power singles “God Made Girls” and “Girl in A Country Song”, respectively.
A big announcement followed the latter performance – iconic singer/songwriter Jewel was joining the franchise as a mentor the following year. Having stretched across multiple markets over the past 20 years, Jewel gave critical insight into the business for the women performing and the women in attendance – most poignantly she stated
“I treat my music like my son, like I treat my baby. Why? Because the music industry is a business run by business people. They might not necessarily want what you want for your career or your best interest but rather what is profitable. So you need to ask yourself: Do you want to be an artist or do you want to be famous? You need to know the business – take a business class, take a management class, get to know the industry. There is so much that comes with it, it’s not just about making records anymore.”
Lindsay Ell and Jana Kramer rounded off the showcase of female performers, and ACM Songwriter of the Year Shane McAnally ascended the stage – initially he had been there to introduce newcomer Brandy Clark but due to an illness she could not attend. Instead of an introduction, McAnally praised Clark for her initiative, drive, and spectacular songwriting and musical abilities before Fram asked him to perform. Humbly he agreed and performed “Follow Your Arrow”, written by Clark, McAnally and Kacey Musgraves and featured on her album “Same Trailer, Different Park” and won CMA Single of the Year later that night.
Overall it was an empowering experience for all performing and in attendance (including previous inductees Kristen Kelly, Lauren Alaina, Danielle Bradbery and Cassadee Pope) – Nashville has a strong gild of women pushing the barriers and bringing country music into a new generation while keeping old influences close. Women have Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood and Kacey Musgraves paving the way on the public front but for women to receive more recognition and exposure, it is going to take a lot of force and drive to continue the battle for equal exposure. CMT’s Next Women of Country shows that the talent making their way into the ears of country music fans and execs is fully possible of breaking the barriers women in country still face.
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