Band Of Heroines: Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert & Maren Morris Lift Up Talented Newcomers [Excerpt]

[The story below is an excerpt from a piece included in the recently released 2019 MusicRow Awards print issue. To read the full interview, pick up a copy at musicrow.com or subscribe to MusicRow.]

As Maren Morris held court earlier this year at country music’s Mother Church, the Ryman Auditorium, on her GIRL: The World Tour, the sense of camaraderie between two superstars was as spiritual as it was physical, as Miranda Lambert quietly joined Morris (and hit songwriter Natalie Hemby) at the Ryman’s center stage, both hugging Morris before lifting their intertwined voices in song on “Virginia Bluebell,” a track Hemby co-wrote on Lambert’s 2009 album Revolution. They followed with “I Wish I Was,” from Morris’ 2016 debut album Hero. The fact that the musical selections were both deep album cuts speaks to mutual admiration Lambert and Morris hold for each other, as musicians, as artists with their own singular perspectives, and as women in control of their artistry and businesses. 

“This moment was not planned, but it made my heart explode,” Morris later stated on social media.

As spontaneous as the moment was, it played perfectly within the female-first framework Morris has crafted with her recently-released album GIRL, along with her recent radio single of the same name, and her GIRL: The World Tour, with openers Kassi Ashton, Cassadee Pope, RaeLynn, Tenille Townes, and Hailey Whitters.

And Morris isn’t alone. This year, three of country music’s superstars—Miranda Lambert, Morris and Carrie Underwood—are bringing an all-female slate of talent on their headlining tours. Last month, Underwood launched her Cry Pretty Tour 360, alongside Maddie & Tae and Runaway June. 

“We have to lift each other up because no one is going to do it for us,” Underwood says. “We have to do it ourselves. We’re all just out there trying to work together, work hard and show our fans and the industry what we can do.”

In September, Lambert will reprise her Roadside Bars and Pink Guitars Tour, with acts Morris, Elle King, Pistol Annies cohorts Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley, Ashley McBryde, Tenille Townes, Caylee Hammack, and more. This isn’t Lambert’s first all-female tour lineup; her 2015 iteration of the tour (which she originally conceived in 2009) was also an all-female bill, with openers including RaeLynn, Clare Dunn, Courtney Cole and Ashley Monroe.

“I’ve always supported other women, and other women have always supported me, and I’m in a girl band. When we were talking about the tour, I felt like it should be an all female lineup. Roadside Bars and Pink Guitars has been a running theme throughout my career, and they generally turn out to be the most fun tours,” Lambert muses. “They’re all amazing artists that have something important to say.”

The hope is that if country radio isn’t going to listen to what female artists have to say, that concertgoers and promoters will.

A recent study by Stone Door Media Lab’s Jeff Green found that over the past 44 years (1974-2018), female artists (including solo female artists, duos or groups with a female vocalist and duets that included a female artist) have achieved 27 percent of the Top 15 singles on country radio. The number of female artists notching songs in the Top 15 on country radio fell to an average of 21 percent from 2007-2018. Over the past five years, that number continued to plummet, to a 16 percent average. 

Kelsea Ballerini earned the first No. 1 country single by a solo female artist in more than 15 months when her single “Miss Me More” crowned the Mediabase chart the week of June 10 (the song topped out at No. 2 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart).  Morris’ “GIRL” reached the Top 10 on the Country Airplay chart, and on the Mediabase chart as of June 10. Runaway June’s “Buy My Own Drinks” became the first Top 20 country radio single by an all-female group since 2005.

It’s a bit of welcome news, given that in December 2018, the downward trend in country radio airplay for female artists hit a new low when, for the first time, there were zero female artists in the Top 20 songs on the Country Airplay chart. 

Newcomer artists who can’t claim a hit at country radio are less familiar to country listeners and country music concertgoers, which makes these artists less competitive when it comes to netting slots on major country tours. 

The cycle of rejection doesn’t sit well with Underwood.

“You try to figure out what the issue is and when you get back, ‘The song’s not testing well,’ or ‘She’s not testing well,’ I feel like everybody’s just over it,” Underwood says. “It’s frustrating because I see Maddie & Tae, Runaway June and so many other people who have got the goods, they have incredible songs, they are genuinely talented, and nice people who work their tails off. It’s frustrating to see them work for so long, to make minimal gains. We have to put our money where our mouth is and take women on the road with us and lift each other up.”

Underwood is the most-recent female artist to garner a nomination in the coveted Entertainer of the Year category at either the Country Music Association (in 2016) or the Academy of Country Music Awards (in 2017).

The most recent female artist to take home either honor? Taylor Swift, who was named Entertainer of the Year by both the CMA and ACM back in 2011.

Lambert, Morris and Underwood all are primed to upend the nearly decade-long drought in the EOY categories. However, while awards nominations and wins are deserved, each artist is following a higher purpose: to remind country listeners, programmers and the industry that female artists can—and do—sell out venues and tours and are worthy of being played on country radio.

[Read more in MusicRow‘s 2019 Awards print issue, available at musicrow.com or with MusicRow subscriptions.]

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About the Author

Jessica Nicholson serves as the Managing Editor for MusicRow magazine. Her previous music journalism experience includes work with Country Weekly magazine and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine. She holds a BBA degree in Music Business and Marketing from Belmont University. She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]

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