The music industry has gone Country tonight! The glamour of the 2019 Academy of Country Music Awards (ACMs) took Vegas by storm. However, as the industry’s “crème de la crème” gather to celebrate at country music’s party of the year, one other topic has been echoing in the background: gender disparity.
A new study by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative triggered the brouhaha – for it revealed how underrepresented female country singers are. USC conducted the study after Reba McEntire, country music icon and award show host, called out the Academy of Country Music for only nominating men for the “Entertainer of the Year Award,” for the second year in a row.
In an interview to the PBS News Hour, McEntire said that the “bro tend” continues to be pervasive in country music. The study was designed to test this claim, and it found that unfortunately, the country music industry remains overwhelmingly male-dominated.
Researchers at Annenberg looked at the gender of performers across 500 songs on the Year-End Billboard Hot Country charts, from 2014 to 2018. They also looked at the gender of songwriters across two years of this sample (2014 and 2018).
The study found that only 16% of all artists were female across the 500 top country songs. “The bro culture is still alive and well in country music, and things are not getting better,” researchers said in the report. When it comes to songwriters, only 12% were women across a sample of 200 songs. Interestingly, the report found that female performers are more likely to work with female songwriters.
Another factor analyzed was the mean age for top performing solo artists. For men, the mean age was 42 years old, while for women it was 29.
“Women are not only disadvantaged in the country market, but their age illuminated a sell-by date that their male counterparts do not experience. Career longevity is much shorter for female than male artists — a pattern also found across other entertainment platforms,” concluded the study.
When interviewed by CBS This Morning, McEntire, who has hosted the ACMs for 16 years said: “We’ve got to keep it light. We’ve got to keep it fun. No politics. This is fun. This is entertainment. We are in the entertainment business, and that’s what we are going to be doing”.
It is easy to call out the Academy of Country Music in a separate interview and then say you have got to “keep things light” when the world is watching. Talking about structural inequality should be part of McEntire’s agenda, given that she is a female star herself. Things will only change once executives, performers, advocates, and even consumers act as an industry. This begins with addressing this issue center stage, during Country Music’s biggest night.
After all, women being underrepresented is not fun at all.