Don’t get me wrong: I think Kacey Musgraves is really great. I have purchased both of her albums and listen to her stuff regularly. I also fully and truly believe that Kacey has made herself an important figure in country music in a very short time. I don’t doubt her passion for true country music.
Everything about Kacey is country: her small town roots (Golden, Texas, population 400), her throwback stage style of cute dresses and a band in glitzy Porter Wagoner suits, her love of storytelling in a song. Her debut, “Merry Go Round,” was a sock-in-the-gut song about small town life but it was also the breath of fresh air country music needed. She’s bringing milennials and people who “don’t like country” into the fold by embracing drag queens, gay culture and weed. She went on tour with Katy Perry. Kacey’s country, and she’s cool.
This is why we’re seeing Kacey on the cover of hip magazines like The Fader, claiming she’s saving country music. And this is the problem. You can’t save country music when country music doesn’t play women.
Have you listened to Top 40 country radio lately? I’d like you to try, and I’d like you to count how often you hear Kacey played in a day. It’s not a whole lot, if at all. I live in Minneapolis, and our two country stations never, ever play her single “Biscuits.” Mainstream country radio pretty much only plays male artists, leaving no room for the women and definitely no room for Kacey between more established artists like Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert. The people who are spreading the gospel of Kacey are the people who don’t actually listen to country radio.
Say what you want about bro country – and I will and do say a lot of things – but it’s taken over the airwaves and shows very little sign of stopping. In the Golden Age of Country, radio was far less masculine; for every George Jones you had a Tammy Wynette, and for every Conway Twitty there was a Loretta. The ‘90s resurgence gave us Shania Twain, Faith Hill, Lee Ann Womack, Deana Carter and Pam Tillis, as well as the Dixie Chicks.
But now, you can listen to the radio all day and hear only a few female-driven songs on the radio. You hear plenty of songs about women, of course – women in their Daisy Dukes, women barefoot in bikinis, women sipping Moonshine – but you definitely don’t often hear their stories from them directly.
It would be wonderful to hear Kacey’s voice more often on the radio, although the issue with her latest single is that it’s more of the same. We’ve heard the story of “Biscuits” already in “Follow Your Arrow.” It would have been nice to hear something new from her, and I have no doubt that we’ll get some gems from the forthcoming “Pageant Material.” I’m just hoping to hear them on the airwaves, not Spotify.
It’s Miranda Lambert who I believe needs a little more attention. Miranda has five great albums under her belt now. She’s established herself as the new Queen of Country Music, and her music always sounds country. She doesn’t do the pop thing. She doesn’t add hip-hop elements. Miranda is country, and her advantage is that she does get played on mainstream radio. Of course, Miranda makes mistakes with singles too – “Little Red Wagon” and “Somethin’ Bad” are relatively terrible compared to her catalog – but she does get played, and she has a tremendous influence in the industry. Plus, she’s married to Blake Shelton, who has deep country roots despite crossing over to the mainstream both on “The Voice” and with his medicore radio cuts. Everyone knows who Miranda is now, even my mother.
Miranda is versatile. I think she’s best when she’s willing to let down that tough-chick bravado act and get vulnerable, but some of her “bad girl” songs are just what you need when you’re speeding down the road in a bad mood. She’s a killer live performer. She has her side act, the Pistol Annies, which gave us down-home Angaleena Presley and Ashley Monroe, who reminds me of Lee Ann Womack and Tammy Wynette. All three of these women have important stories to tell just like Kacey. Why don’t we hear them on the radio?
It’s hard to create change on the radio and to demand more music from female artists. (I tried, Tweeting constantly at my local station, but it got me nowhere.) The best we can do is to purchase their albums instead of streaming them or buy tickets to see them when they roll into town.