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  • Writer's pictureThe Eagle

CMT Music Awards--Do Entertainers Need Equal Play?

Updated: Feb 8, 2023

Commentary By Emma Duncan--Eagle Staff Writer

On Oct. 21, the Country Music Television (CMT) music awards turned one of country music’s biggest nights out into country music’s biggest night in. It was something new, but honestly, should’ve stayed unknown.

Like many other events, the CMT music awards were drastically different due to COVID-19.

With everything that’s happened this year, from the pandemic, to the Black Lives Matter movement, and especially the craziness of this election, CMT decided to use its platform to incorporate one of its beliefs. While the facts were informative, a country music show wasn’t the place to share them.

As awards were being given out, one name was mentioned that hadn’t been heard in a long time: Jennifer Nettles. She was given the Equal Play award, which WFAA says was awarded “in honor of Nettles’ ongoing advocacy for women and diverse voices in the music industry.”

One of Nettles’ greatest acts of advocacy was back in 2019 when she let her clothes do the talking.

According to Rolling Stone, Nettles came to the CMA red carpet “in a Christian Siriano pantsuit and cape, with the words ‘play our...records please and thank you’ written on the inside by artist Alice Mizrachi. ”As seen in the photo above, Mizrachi also drew a woman and wrote “equal play” on the back of the cape.

CMT took inspiration from Nettles' statement by instituting 50/50 play for female artists. They say this change was made effective January 2020.

The CMT Equal Play website lists several statistics about women in country music. One stated that women received an average of only 10% of spins over the past decade. Another said only 16% of artists were female across the top country songs.

Some of these stats were mentioned in a tribute video for Nettles before her acceptance speech. The video was a couple minutes long but seemed to last forever.

“Tanya Tucker, Miranda Lambert, Kelsea Ballerini, Maren Morris, Mickey Guyton, Gabby Barrett, Sheryl Crow and Ashley McBryde highlighted the challenges women artists face when clamoring for equal spins,” said Fox News.

Several of these artists are fairly new, so it makes sense they’re the ones advocating for equal play. However, the songs they’re releasing under the country genre sound more like pop.

In the 80s and 90s, women like Shania Twain, Reba McEntire, and Martina McBride were played a lot more on country radio than more recent female singers are today. That’s mostly because these musical pioneers actually used country sounds, therefore they didn't have to fight for equal play.

On SiriusXM, there are three main country stations: The Highway (recent country), Y2Kountry (early 2000s), and Prime Country (80s and 90s). I listened to each station for ten songs straight and counted how many songs were female to see whether or not modern women get played less than their prime-time role models.

The Highway went up first, and 3 out of their 10 songs were from female artists. Next, Y2Kountry played 5 women’s songs out of 10. Finally, 3 out of 10 consecutive songs spun by Prime Country were sung by women.

As shown, the numbers were pretty close. While I only listened to 30 songs, even a small amount of data makes a difference. It shows that women were played more before the movement, but not by that much.

Something everyone has to realize is that in almost any field, men are the majority. So no matter what, men will be heard from more. Knowing this, the question comes of why these women are fighting for something that’s always been this way? Maybe, it isn’t only the women who are changing, but the men too.

Take rising star and CMT music awards performer Luke Combs for instance. He’s risen to the top of most every music chart known. He just released his newest deluxe album What You See Ain’t Always What You Get, which bettered his achievement record even more.

“All five main country charts were led simultaneously by Luke Combs," according to Billboard. "He ruled Top Country Albums, Hot Country Songs, Country Airplay, Country Streaming Songs and Country Digital Song Sales.”

This was the second time Combs had done so, but it is rarely accomplished once by any other artist in any other genre.

Artists like Combs are hard to find because nowadays, as stated above, country music is becoming more poppy. Sam Hunt is a perfect example of this, as most of his songs are just him talking over a common pop backing track. However, since he adds a couple guitar strums, I guess that makes it country music.

This opinion is shared by music lovers across the country like Senior Columnist Noah Nelson from The Daily Illini.

“Country music has taken a sharp turn toward the pop genre. With artists like Dan and Shay, Thomas Rhett, and Kelsea Ballerini, whose music sounds more pop than country, it’s hard to find artists who follow the traditional country path. When Combs stepped into the constantly growing Nashville industry, he brought back the country sound the genre has been missing,” Nelson said.

He mentioned Kelsea Ballerini, an avid supporter of equal play and member of Nettles’ tribute video discussed in the introduction. Her music has an extreme pop sound, so much that Google describes Ballerini as an “American Country Pop Singer and Songwriter.”

Her newest song, The Other Girl, featuring pop singer Halsey, was another song performed at the CMT music awards this year, and while Ballerini claims it’s a country track, the public doesn’t agree.

In an article, Pop Culture wrote about how viewers didn’t approve of Ballerini and Halsey’s looks, dance moves, song, and overall performance because it wasn’t “country” enough. She fought back by explaining how country music is evolving, and that everyone has a right to make whatever music they want to.

I agree that everyone has the right to produce whatever music their heart desires, and so does most of the world. For that reason, several different genres of music exist that each have a unique sound that shouldn’t be replaced or changed.

The public shouldn’t have to pay extra money for stations like SiriusXM to hear what they call “real” country music. They also shouldn’t have to sit through a feminist movement during an award show if that isn’t what they came for. However, they should be able to listen to and create whatever music they want and call it country, as long as it represents the trailblazers who made this genre possible.

To relate this back to my original question of whether or not entertainers need equal play, I guess it depends on where they’re being played. Discussed artists such as Reba McEntire and especially Luke Combs do deserve equal play, because their music is truly country music.

On the other hand, Kelsea Ballerini and Marren Morris have continuously brought pop tracks and artists into the country music scene, which is why in my opinion, they don’t deserve to be played as much on country stations. This doesn’t mean I don’t like their music, just that I don’t like it as country music.

To many people, including myself, country music is an escape from the drama in this world. Country songs are supposed to be about drinking and heartbreak, trucks and dogs, sometimes love, and especially America. Country music isn’t always a big dance party like what you hear on pop stations. To us, it’s freedom. A freedom that shouldn't be taken away.

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