The subject of women on country radio has been dissected in recent years, with good reason.
For instance, on the Country Airplay chart dated Dec. 8, 2018, the top 20 lacked any female acts for the first time since the survey launched in January 1990.
Plus, in August 2019, Maren Morris’ “Girl” topped Country Airplay, marking the first time that a solo female artist had topped the chart without any accompanying artists in nearly a year-and-a-half, since Kelsea Ballerini’s “Legends” in February 2018.
Female duo Maddie & Tae even skewered the lack of women on the format’s airwaves, and hit No. 1 on Country Airplay in 2014, with “Girl in a Country Song,” singing, “We used to get a little respect, now we’re lucky if we even get … to be the girl in a country song.”
This year, however, marks an upturn as compared to recent history. Let’s recap the Country Airplay No. 1s by women so far in 2020:
Feb. 15, Maren Morris, “The Bones” (two weeks)
April 25, Gabby Barrett, “I Hope”
May 2, Blake Shelton duet with Gwen Stefani, “Nobody but You” (two weeks)
June 20, Lee Brice & Carly Pearce, “I Hope You’re Happy Now”
Aug. 1, Miranda Lambert, “Bluebird”
2020’s five leaders beat all of 2019, when just two women reigned: Morris, with “Girl,” and Lindsay Ell, with “What Happens in a Small Town,” with Brantley Gilbert.
In both 2017 and 2018, women earned three Country Airplay No. 1s.
The last time before 2020 that women scored as many No. 1s was 2016, when five such songs took control by the first chart week in August and eight led overall:
Feb. 13, Luke Bryan feat. Karen Fairchild, “Home Alone Tonight” (two weeks)
March 5, Kelsea Ballerini, “Dibs”
March 26, Carrie Underwood, “Heartbeat”
May 14, Chris Young & Cassadee Pope, “Think of You”
July 30, Carrie Underwood, “Church Bells”
Sept. 24, Kelsea Ballerini, “Peter Pan”
Oct. 1, Dierks Bentley feat. Elle King, “Different for Girls”
Nov. 5, Kenny Chesney feat. P!nk, “Setting the World on Fire”
Per the graphic above, women (encompassing soloists and all-female duos or groups, in lead and featured roles) earned 21% of all the Country Airplay No. 1s in 2020 through the chart dated Aug. 1. That’s the highest share since 2006, when women claimed 23% of all the leaders that year. (As of the Aug. 8-dated tally, the percentage dips a point to 20%, still on par with 2016 and 2008 for the best share since 2006.)
Meanwhile, this year’s 21% share of No. 1s for women through Aug. 1 is slightly ahead of the chart’s 17% average throughout its history. The format hit a 52% high in 1998, the only year that women outpaced men; among the 13 No. 1s by all-female acts in ’98, Dixie Chicks, Faith Hill, Jo Dee Messina and Shania Twain led with two each. Plus, in 1996-2001, the percentage for women either met or exceeded 23% every year, a run that, not surprisingly, coincided with the chart heydays of those acts, among others.
Conversely, in three distinct years, women have totaled just a 6% take of all Country Airplay No. 1s: 2003, 2014 and 2019.
Thus, this year’s jump marks a stark year-over-year upswing.
Meanwhile, the haul of Country Airplay No. 1s for women so far in 2020 follows a notable recent high on the airplay-, streaming- and sales-based Hot Country Songs chart: On the tallies dated April 18 and 25, the top three was populated by female acts (Morris, Barrett and Stefani) for two consecutive weeks for the first time since 2000.
“It’s changing. I don’t think it’s as gloomy as it once was,” Morris’ manager, Janet Weir, told Billboard earlier this year, as she attributed some of the shift to country radio paying more attention to streaming numbers. “Country has been slower to adapt to streaming than other formats, but streaming has forced [country] radio to look at the top songs and pay attention. That could be partially why there are more females [succeeding on Country Airplay], because their songs are reacting.”