Spring and summer time are notorious for the height of country music — new albums are released, people are driving around with their windows down blasting country music and country music festivals are at their peak. As amazing as the headliners of the best festivals are, there are hardly any female headliners.
Female representation in country music is already an issue. Besides Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert, female country artists hardly rise to the top of the charts as quickly as males do. Lambert has never had a no. 1 song without it being a duet with a male artist. It is no surprise that country music festivals focus more on male artists.
Out of arguably the biggest three festivals — Country Thunder, Stagecoach and Tortuga — the headliners are Brett Eldredge, Tim McGraw, Dierks Bentley Chris Stapleton, Jason Aldean twice, Kenny Chesney, Thomas Rhett, Luke Bryan and Sam Hunt. All male. The only high-profile festival with a female headliner is CMA Fest with Carrie Underwood, who finds her name hidden between McGraw, Bryan and Florida Georgia Line.
Country music is often critiqued as slow, traditional and a sign of conservatism. However, two women are making headlines as progressive country artists, bringing in a new era to a very traditional genre of music, and could pull the same amount of attention and money as the repeated male headliners.
Kacey Musgraves, the new Grammy winner for Album of the Year, is the artist pushing all the boundaries and leaving country music traditions in the dust. Before she created “Golden Hour”, the album that put her into the mainstream spotlight, Musgraves made her debut with “Same Trailer, Different Park” where she made her statement automatically. Instead of playing it safe, Musgraves first single to go big was “Merry Go ‘Round” which discusses marijuana, homosexuality and going against the grain while sticking to a traditional country music vibe.
Fast forward five years and “Golden Hour” has transcended country music to a new, progressive era. Musgraves incorporates disco, jazz and other genres into her songs while still speaking to the country faithful with her lyrics. While her Album of the Year Grammy may have come as a shock, including to Musgraves herself, it is not shocking The Academy recognized her influence over the country music genre and her progressive trends.
The other woman bringing female country music stars to the forefront is Maren Morris, who straddles the country and pop line way more gracefully than other country artists turned pop. Morris first landed into the spotlight with her country bops “My Church” and “80’s Mercedes”. She then simultaneously had hits in the country and pop world with “I Could Use a Love Song” and “The Middle” respectively.
While Musgraves is notorious for her love ballads, Morris’s music is mostly about having fun and not taking herself too seriously. Her image is not a matter of importance when it comes to the topics of her songs, as she discusses wanting money and going against traditional values associated with country music and lifestyle.
While some criticisms of country music are fair, Morris and Musgraves are making huge tidal waves in a male-dominated genre by defying the norm and taking on a progressive approach that relates to listeners who may have never considered giving country music a chance. These two women will be taking the country music world by storm and will headline their own festivals, as Lake Shake in Chicago realized. The festival has only women as the headliners, including Morris, Lambert and Lauren Alaina.
Country music fans and those who are finding themselves gravitating to the genre with these younger, progressive artists should support the festivals that support female artists and recognize their impact on country music.
Madeline Purdue can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @madelinepurdue.