It’s certainly no secret that female country artists aren’t given the same opportunity as male artists on country radio. Navigating an industry rife with sexism, sexual harassment and a whole set of rules that apply only to them is a task that any woman seeking a career in country music is all too familiar with. And as evidenced during Sunday’s male-dominated 2018 Grammy Awards and Recording Academy president Neil Portnow’s tone deaf remarks that female artists need to “step up,” the problem is much bigger than country music.
If you thought you could look toward streaming services as a respite from the sexism plaguing radio and industry award ceremonies, well, we have some bad news. Spotify’s curated country playlists almost make country radio look like a Utopian paradise.
The Power of the Playlist
If you’re a Spotify user who wants to stream country music, you might type “country” into Spotify’s search bar. The first playlist that pops up is Spotify’s own Country Nights playlist, which features only one solo female country artist. A casual country fan browsing that list might think that modern female country artists only exist to duet with their male counterparts.
The Country Gold playlist is equally dismal, featuring just one song by a female artist out of 51 songs (Miranda Lambert’s “Automatic.”) It’s the same story with Hot Country, which, again, features only one song by a solo female artist.
Country Coffeehouse, Spotify’s answer to singer-songwriter country, is significantly better. But women still only make up about 34 percent of the playlist. Male artists seem to be the default. Female country artists are merely sprinkled in, like tomatoes in a salad, some might say.
It’s true that many Spotify users already know where to find their favorite artists and may only use the platform to build their own playlists. But other users look to the streaming service to discover new artists. It’s a way to hear new music before purchasing. It allows you to browse an artist’s catalog to see if you’d like to buy a ticket to one of their shows. Streaming services have changed the way we listen to and discover music, giving them massive power over what songs and artists get heard.
Spotify also appeals to less genre-bound music fans who listen to country music along with rock, pop and hip-hop. Artists like Maren Morris, whose pop and R&B-infused country appeals to a broad spectrum of music listeners, could get a major boost from being featured in one of Spotify’s curated country playlists. And as one of the most successful modern female artists in the industry, she deserves equal representation alongside chart-toppers like Luke Bryan and Thomas Rhett.
A coveted spot on Hot Country or Country Nights would hugely benefit female artists who don’t receive mainstream radio play, such as Brandy Clark, Ashley Monroe, Angaleena Presley and Sunny Sweeney.
If you’re not yet convinced of the power of streaming, a 2017 report by Wired found that a spot on Spotify’s Weekly Buzz and Pop Rising playlists almost singlehandedly helped make pop artist Starley’s song “Call on Me” a hit. The song rose through the Spotify playlist ranks, ending up on Today’s Top Hits, which has 14.4 million followers. It became a smash in Europe and even cracked the top 10 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Dance/Electronic chart.
A spot on one of Spotify’s curated country music playlists would have a huge impact on the career of any country artist. So why are they predominantly male?
If Spotify’s playlist editors are as unfamiliar with female country artists as they seem, here are a few helpful guides. They shouldn’t have any problem searching their massive database of music to create a playlist representative of true Country Gold.