Trisha Yearwood: 'Country music has to change'

By Cody Godwin
BBC News, San Francisco

  • Published
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Trisha Yearwood: 'There's a disconnect in country music'

Trisha Yearwood says the country music establishment is out of step with fans when it comes to female artists.

Industry leaders are "following a set of rules that don't really exist any more", she told the BBC.

Those rules were made public in 2015, when a prominent radio consultant admitted he cautioned stations against playing too many songs by women, or playing female artists back-to-back.

"Well, that's not OK. It doesn't have to be that way," said Yearwood.

"I think the disconnect is between the fans, who want to hear men and women on the radio, and whoever is making these decisions."

She added: "Those rules are being challenged and I think you're going to see a change."

The controversy over female representation on country radio was labelled "tomato-gate", after radio consultant Keith Hill employed a salad-based metaphor to explain why male artists should get preferential treatment.

"I play great female records, and we've got some right now; they're just not the lettuce in our salad," he told trade publication Country Aircheck.

"The lettuce is Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, Keith Urban and artists like that. The tomatoes of our salad are the females."

Hill said he based his observations on "music tests from over the years" and responses from "more than 300 client radio stations".

Yearwood queried whether he had data to back up his claims, asking if people really "change the channels" when they hear female voices.

Image source, Getty Images
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Yearwood's husband Garth Brooks says she has to work "a thousand times harder" than he does

The practice likely dates back to the 1960s when fewer women were signed to labels and pushed to radio, says musicologist Jada Watson. Back then, stations didn't play female artists back to back so they could have diversity throughout the day.

"I think it has become this self-fulfilling nature," Ms Watson said.

"You look at charts and you say, 'Oh, well, women aren't charting well, so obviously we shouldn't play them any more. We should put them in our playlist, but not play them back to back.'"

It becomes very difficult for a song to enter the charts if it isn't getting played on the radio.

A recent study by Ms Watson found over the course of 17 years - or 883 weeks - female artists spent just 98 weeks at number one on the airplay charts.

When Kelsea Ballerini hit the top spot with her single Miss Me More last month, it ended a 15-month streak by male artists - but Watson is optimistic it won't take another 15 months for a female artist to match her achievement.

"I think Maren Morris's 'Girl' is poised to go number one within the next few weeks," she said.

Pivot and change

Last month the BBC spoke with Trisha Yearwood's husband, fellow country singer Garth Brooks, who said his wife "works a thousand times harder than I do to get a tenth as much as I do out of this business".

However, with more artists - both female and male - speaking about the issue, Yearwood is confident the landscape will change.

"What's wonderful about Garth and Luke [Bryan] and other really prominent male artists in our industry who're speaking out is that that's how change does happen.

"I think it's just about the deal you can make, and women have always kind of gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to that," she told the BBC.

"And you're certainly not going to make any change by not talking about it or by just going 'that's the way it is.'"

Watson says she can already see the tables turning.

"Following Kasey Musgrave's win of album of the year at the Grammys, the conversation really has started to pivot and change," she said.

"So I'm thinking that I'll probably see more female artists. Not as many as I want to see, but I think we'll see more for sure."

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