Saturday, April 30, 2016

Nashville’s newest female artists are challenging the ‘bro’-dominated country music world

NASHVILLE — Country singer Cam has no regrets after a one-night stand in “My Mistake.” Kelsea Ballerini is not interested in her crush’s mind games in “Love Me Like You Mean It.” Maddie & Tae would prefer a guy just shut up and fish in, well, “Shut Up and Fish.”
Kelsea Ballerini posing with Boot Barn
It’s a perspective you may be surprised to hear these days in the male-dominated country music world, on display for a national audience Sunday on Fox’s American Country Countdown Awards. The genre is inundated with hit songs in which women sit in the passenger seat, swing their long, tan legs off a flatbed truck, dance around in cut-off jeans – sometimes they bring their man an ice-cold beer.
In the past year, however, a wave of young, female artists has been gaining buzz as they try to break in, and many are writing and releasing songs with a notably different theme: They have swagger. And they’re the ones in control.
The topics vary. Sometimes they’re flirtatiously aggressive takes such as Lauren Alaina’s “Next Boyfriend” or Clare Dunn’s “Move On.” Occasionally they’re carefree post-breakup tunes, as in Olivia Lane’s “You Part 2″ or Lindsay Ell’s “By the Way.” Or they have nothing to do with relationships, such as Maren Morris’s “My Church” or Kalie Shorr’s “Fight Like a Girl.”
Country female-empowerment anthems have been around from Dolly Parton’s “Just Because I’m a Woman” in 1968 to Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” in 1997. But these days male artists have cornered the market with smash singles from their very specific point of view. “Bro-country” acts Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia Line have established themselves as party-song hitmakers, and many artists jumped on the bandwagon. Can this influx of female singers cut through the noise?
“These songs have always been out there, but it seems to be a wave right now which I feel like is going to break the door wide open for female artists,” said Leslie Fram, who is Country Music Television’s senior vice president of music strategy and talent and pioneered the network’s Next Women of Country Tour. It’s no longer about “‘He cheated on me’ or ‘This is a revenge song,’ ” she said. “These are songs with a ton of confidence.”
While these singers sing about men and relationships, they’re not responding to what guys do: They’re taking the reins. They don’t use the car-smashing Carrie Underwood or fire-starting Miranda Lambert brand of power. This music is simply about doing whatever they want, whenever they want.
So far, though, these newer artists have had mixed success. After all, it’s a big challenge in general for women to be played on the radio — still the primary way to kick-start a career in Nashville.
Morris is gaining steam with the self-assured hit “My Church,” about the beauty of solitude in your car, though the artist who has scored the most with this formula is Ballerini, who will perform at the American Country Countdown Awards. She has won big in the past year with No. 1 songs in which she establishes the rules in relationships: “Love Me Like You Mean It” (“I don’t have time to waste on the boys that are playing the games and leaving the girls crying out in the rain”) and “Dibs” (“Make everybody jealous when I take you off the market. Get my lipstick on your right cheek, ’cause boy I gotta mark it.”)
Ballerini wrote the former song after one of her co-writers remarked she could pull off the “swag” of Rihanna — one of the queens of the empowerment anthem in pop, a genre in which female solo artists soar. The comment inspired the pop beat behind the tune, which last summer became the first No. 1 song on the Billboard country chart by a female artist in nearly three years.
Black River Entertainment President Gordon Kerr, whose son Josh Kerr co-wrote both songs, signed Ballerini to his label in 2013 after she strolled into his offices, pink guitar case in hand, and effortlessly connected with everyone. “Kelsea knows who she is,” Gordon Kerr said. “She knows what she wants to say. And what makes it so exciting and incredible is that what she’s saying is what many people are thinking.”
Other women in this sub-genre have struggled with the theme. Cam’s debut, the unapologetic “My Mistake” (“He’ll be gone before the morning light, but he’s my mistake to make all night”) barely made a blip. In contrast, her mournful ballad “Burning House,” aided by extra spins from iHeartRadio’s “On the Verge” program — which requires the company’s hundreds of country stations to play a song a certain amount of times — took off.
Maddie & Tae launched their career in 2014 with the brash “Girl in a Country Song” (“We’re lucky if we even get to climb up in your truck, keep our mouth shut and ride along, and be the girl in a country song.”) While their quiet follow-up, “Fly,” was a top-10 hit, their latest bold track, “Shut Up and Fish,” about a guy who won’t stop talking during a fishing trip (“I finally had all of him that I could take, so I gave him a cold shower in the lake”) is the duo’s lowest-charting song yet, in the low 20s.
R.J. Curtis, Nashville editor for All Access Music Group, said although some female artists are making inroads on country radio, it’s too early to say that there’s a unified message of self-confidence that’s breaking through. “It’s kind of all over the place,” he said of the themes that are gaining traction for women.
Katie Arminger
In the past, the female artists most likely to win with upbeat, fiery singles (Underwood, Lambert, Taylor Swift) had an established track record; their songs were guaranteed to do well, no matter the subject. Some newer artists made a slight impact with this kind of song — such as Kelleigh Bannen’s “Famous,” Katie Armiger’s “Better in a Black Dress” and Rachel Farley’s “Ain’t Easy” — but follow-ups didn’t break through.
During the past few years, other female artists have found relative success tackling more low-key themes on life and love, from Sheryl Crow’s “Easy” to Sara Evans’s “Slow Me Down.” Jana Kramer tested out a revenge song, “I Hope It Rains,” yet saw bigger numbers with slower tunes such as “Whiskey” and “I Got the Boy.” Kacey Musgraves has been more of an outlier, earning major accolades outside the mainstream with alt-country songs such as “Follow Your Arrow” and “Merry Go ‘Round.”
Now, country radio likes up-tempo, regardless of theme — which may explain why new female artists are doubling down on these new thumping, self-confident songs.
That’s what Dunn attempted with “Move On,” in which she implores a guy to just kiss her already: “Go ahead, get out of your head. Think you’re overthinking, use your lips instead.” The song couldn’t get out of the high 40s on the charts, so she’s trying again with “Tuxedo,” in which she declares her man looks great in a dirty T-shirt — the flip side to male singers who insist they like their girls in a ponytail with no makeup.
Tara Thompson has a similar take-charge feel in “Someone to Take Your Place,” in which she strolls into a sports bar with a makeover, spiked heels and a mission to make her ex jealous: “I came in here to get a man, and I know the man I want. Do you like the new me I am? ‘Cause that’s the one he’s taking home.” Alaina, a former “American Idol” runner-up, wastes no time with a guy in the coy “Next Boyfriend”: “You look a lot like my next boyfriend; you should probably come over. Tell me your name and I’ll tell you mine.”
The song, which peaked in the low 40s, originated in a conversation between Alaina and songwriter Emily Weisband. “We were talking about how girls don’t usually use pickup lines, but if they did they would be awesome and not cheesy,” Alaina said. “So then we wrote that song, like a pickup line but a flirty, not cheesy, one.”
Others try to improve men’s treatment of women, such as “Sunday Morning” by up-and-coming artist Brooke Eden, who recently explained to a Nashville crowd the message behind the song: “If you’re his Saturday night, you better be his Sunday morning. And if you’re not his Sunday morning, you best kick his ass out.” In another concert video, she explains the song is “not man-bashing but man-teaching.”
That idea can get risky, as former “Voice” winner Danielle Bradbery learned with “Friend Zone,” a strange, rap-infused song about the right way to woo a lady. (“Let me break it down the facts – you will never get a girl like that. You gotta step up to the plate with a bat.”) The song was criticized for its troubling sports metaphors and quickly disappeared from the charts.
Many in the industry say that these kind of songs aren’t necessarily a response specifically to “bro-country” – it’s just a matter of women writing from their perspective as men write from their natural one as well.
By Emily Yahr
"Nashville’s Newest Female Artists Are Challenging the ‘bro’-dominated Country Music
World." Washington Post. The Washington Post. Web. 29 Apr. 2016.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Ten New Songs to Check Out This Week (April 25)

Dollhouse -Brittany McLamb 
It's Ok -Karianne Jean 
Happy Ending -Tara Favell
Chance At Love -Nat Pearson
Lights Down Low -Jessie James Decker
Chaser -Carrie Underwood
Here And Now -Janelle Loes
Letter -Mary Kate Farmer
Southern Sweetheart -Tiffany Ashton 
You Are What You Love -Kelleigh Bannen

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Next Women Of Country Headliner Jennifer Nettles talks sexism, Solo Career, and 4-H

Jennifer Nettles is on a mission, and it's a mission to empower children all around the country. She wants to encourage kids -- including her own 2-year-old son, Magnus -- to "explore and find and discover a passion," because that's exactly what she did at a young age.

How did she do it? Through 4-H, the country's largest positive youth development and mentoring organization, which she has been involved with since she was a curious little fifth grader in South Georgia. She credits her time as an adolescent in 4-H as having planted the seed for her drive to succeed in the music industry.

As the face of its new Grow True Leaders campaign, Nettles hopes to impart that wisdom to a new generation of children. The campaign is focused on increasing 4-H's presence in urban areas, hoping to continue providing today's youth with the "opportunities to find their voice and develop into leaders."
We chatted exclusively Jennifer Nettles on the phone last week about her involvement in the campaign, empowering young women, sexism in country music and what we can expect from her upcoming solo album, "Playing with Fire" (which you can pre-order here).

Check out the full conversation with Jennifer Nettles below:
How did you first get involved in 4-H?
When I was in the fifth grade, I got involved in 4-H when the local county extension agent came around to all of the elementary schools and told us about 4-H and told us that it was a club for kids that did fun things, and it met once a month, which meant that you'd get 30 minutes out of class, which all sounded good to me. So, I signed up!

In doing so, it changed the course of my life. That is not hyperbole or exaggeration: I would not be doing what I am doing today, at the level that I am doing it, if I hadn't been a part of 4-H.
I participated in a variety of -- for lack of a better term -- competitions, in things that I had an interest in. People think that 4-H is all about agriculture, which is just because, when it originated in this country, agriculture was the only game in town. That's what most people did. But, since then, it has grown and expanded and diversified and into wide-reaching areas: Everything from performing arts to public speaking to robotics and computers. It's amazing.
Also at that time, I became involved, thanks to 4-H, in a performing arts organization called Clovers and Company and that got my little South Georgia country butt up and doing things. I can't sing its praises enough.
What are some of the biggest changes that you saw in yourself as a result of your involvement with 4-H? Were there any particular experiences that you credit with being particularly life-changing?
Absolutely! The biggest thing for me was the Clovers, the performing arts troupe. It traveled around and did performances, and it allowed for me to be around other kids who were just like me, who had brains, who ate and breathed and lived performing arts. They had dreams to continue to do it as a career, just as I did. That was, for me, my first opportunity to be around kids who were just like me, in that way.
How has becoming a mother, to your 2-year-old son Magnus, informed your activism and the things you choose to align yourself with?
It has made me so appreciative of having a passion as a young girl. Going through school, I was so hell-bent on trying my best to succeed at my dreams. I didn't want to mess that up, so I didn't get into drugs or get into trouble. I wanted to be able to do what I wanted to do and having that passion allowed me to avoid those bad decisions.
As a mom, organizations such as 4-H seem so much more important, because I want that same experience for Magnus. I want him to explore and find and discover a passion that will bring him joy and allow him to make good decisions. That's what 4-H allows you to do.
How has being a good role model for and championing young girls, in particular, remained important for you throughout your career?
I've always been a champion of women and young girls. It's important for me to be an example of positivity of what women can do, both within the entertainment industry and in general. Because I'm able to say I was involved in 4-H, it can give [young girls] a touchpoint to really say, "Wow, she was involved in 4-H, and she went on to achieve all of this? Maybe if I get into this, I might be able to achieve some things that I want to do." It's somewhat grassroots, but I think that's the most effective way to do things.
Going off of that, you're currently on the Next Women of Country 2016 Tour, with other female country artists like Brandy Clark, Lindsay Ell and Tara Thompson, which does exactly that. Especially with so much attention being paid to the disparity between male and female artists in country music, was it crucial for you to empower your younger female peers?
Absolutely. We have a long way to go, with the current temperature being where it is. We have a long way to go, and we'd be fooling ourselves if we allow our embarrassment over the -- truth that sexism exists in the music industry -- to cloud our perceptions.
We still have a long way to go, but the interesting part about the music industry is that it's a two-fold problem: There are those parts that are engrained in the good ol' boys network, if you will, that need to change. That's the institutionalized version of sexism. And then there are just the trends. In the '90s, you couldn't sling a cat without hearing a woman on the radio, between the Martinas and the Shanias and the Rebas. Now, you have a lot of the "bro country."
So, right now, there is definitely a lack of female faces, and I do hope that starts to change. But what does make me hopeful is that people are actually talking about it. At the very least, it has started a conversation, which can often lead to change.
Obviously, it's been a couple years since you and Kristian Bush went on hiatus from Sugarland. How has your general experience in going solo been?
For me, it's been super enriching in so many ways. From a writing standpoint, when you're involved in a musical collaboration of any sort, you're going to have a respect and show deference for the people in the room. That being said, as a solo artist, I've been able to show a more intimate and personal side to myself. I've also been able to spread my wings in other areas: I did Broadway last year, I've done some acting this year. I've really been enjoying growing as a storyteller across the board.
Do you and Kristian have any plans to record together in the future?
Right now, we have no specific plans. I have a new album coming out on May 13 called "Playing with Fire" that I'm super excited about. We're both enjoying what we're doing. There's no reason why we shouldn't one day [record together again] -- because I love that music and I know Kristian does too -- but we don't have any specific dates on the calendar.
Do you have any specific collaborations on your upcoming album that you're especially excited about?
Yes! I did a fantastic collaboration with J.Lo, which I don't want to say too much about. She's so lovely and so talented, and it's a song that I think a lot of people will be able to connect to.
By: Gibson Johns

Monday, April 11, 2016

Why Women Will Save Country Music

I saw Martina McBride live in concert.
Her show was pretty small with only a couple thousand people outside. While its settings were small, the music was not, nor McBride’s voice. And frankly, the former is something current country music could use more of.

Martina McBride is one of few country music singers I can appreciate in today’s market of increasing bro country.
Bro country, a sub genre of country music highlighting stereotypical themes of recreation for rural, young, adult males, is a narrow and unimaginative style of music.
There can only be so many songs about drinking beer, driving pickup trucks and womanizing. And there already are.
This is why women will save country music.
Women are quite underrepresented on the country charts today. As of April 4, two women were in the top 20 Hot Country Songs tracked by Billboard: Carrie Underwood and Maren Morris.
Now how will women save country music? Easy. They sing about things of substance.
McBride, for instance, has a catalog of wide ranging themes in her music, which extends to social issues.
Her songs have covered topics of child abuse, domestic violence, cancer and alcoholism, for example. Her 25-year career in music has had social relevance and positive messages in parts of all her albums.
Maddie & Tae, a more recent artist, also offer a breath of fresh air. The duo has a definite mainstream sound but not mainstream content.
In fact, their 2014 song “Girl In A Country Song” took a dig at bro country with a music video objectifying young men in skimpy outfits and lyrics jabbing bro country artists:
“Being the girl in a country song, how in the world did it go so wrong? / Like all we’re good for is looking good for you and your friends on the weekend, nothing more. / We used to get a little respect, now we’re lucky if we even get to climb up in your truck, keep our mouth shut and ride along / and be the girl in a country song.”
Frankly, Maddie & Tae are right. Nameless, passive, young women are objectified in countless country songs of today’s music.
Take these lyrics from Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kind of Night,” for example:
“You’ve got that sun tan, skirt and boots / Waiting on you to look my way and scoot / Get your little hot stuff over here / girl, hand me another beer.”
Bryan, however, takes “offense” to being labeled as bro country artist, as he said in an online interview.
“I feel the initial term ‘bro-country’ was created to be kind of a little degrading to what’s popular, to what country artists are doing right now,” he said. “It’s frustrating because whichever artists may or may not get labeled as that, they’re well beyond that. For people to call me the father of it, well, whatever. It just seems like a term that was invented to cheapen me as an artist.”
OK, well, whatever, Luke.
Country singer Merle Haggard, who died Wednesday, had a career spending decades and told The Forum last year today’s country artists “sound like a bunch of (crap) to me.”
“They’re talking about screwing on a pickup tailgate and things of that nature. I don’t find no substance. I don’t find anything you can whistle and nobody even attempts to write a melody,” he said to The Forum.
We need a little variety in country music themes. We need subject matter beyond trucks and girls and beer.
We also need more women on country radio.
That’s why we need Maren Morris to sing about her church.
We need Maddie & Tae to sing about fishing.
We need Kacey Musgraves to sing about following your arrow.
And we need Martina McBride. Good Lord, does country music need her.
By Jack Dura

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Erica Bryan Kicks Down The Doors Of Country Music

Erica Bryan has had her sights on music from the day she was born in Frankfurt Germany, the place her parents were currently stationed at at the time of Erica’s birth. Erica moved to the states six months later, where her father attempted to enroll Erica into golf and t-ball camps. Never finding a place in the world of sports, Erica looked to her mother for singing, dancing, and acting advice. Erica attended Stamford University majoring in musical theatre, before flying off to The Big Apple to give professional musical theatre a shot.

Though always in love with music and singing, it wasn’t until her early 20’s when Erica choose to continue down the path of music. This passion for writing and producing her own music was widely influenced by The Nocturnals and artist Grace Potter. A girl who sees the quality of the instrumental aspect of a song as well as the lyrics, Erica’s “life was forever changed” by the collaboration of rock and roll, soul, and electric guitar found in the songs of artist Grace Potter. Though compelled by Potter’s music, Erica’s musical heros also include Adele and women of country’s Kelly Clarkson.

With riveting lyrics that share moments of personal experience, you are taking a ride on an emotional rollercoaster while listening to Erica’s music. Her most recent hit “Immune To You” tells of a tanking friendship. Though a tough time for Erica, she felt ease in the creation of a new song and looks at the experience with a strong head declaring “I got my favorite song off my EP from it!” Erica takes her time during the songwriting process, carefully choosing each word in anticipation that others will be able to relate their own personal experiences and find a sense of empowerment in the presence of her music.

With the help of drummer and Lost Hollow band member, Tommy Harden, Erica’s new EP ‘Jericho’ was created. For the future Erica just simply wants to see her music go. Go to radio stations, go to live shows, and foreign countries, go to awards shows or county fairs, as long as Erica’s music keeps on going and impacting those around her she’ll just keep making music and having fun doing it.

I think the bar is set differently for women in Country and the only way for women to succeed in this genre is if they make undeniably amazing music. So that’s what I plan to do.”

Similarly to many country music fans, Erica sees the tides changing for women of country music. She believes that if women keep fighting through the creation of powerful music and we continue to promote all female artists in the genre, that a community will be formed to kick down the doors of Bro-Country and let the girls take over.

Now you know her story, let’s listen to some music! Erica’s songs can be found via iTunes, Apple Music, and Spotify. Then make sure to check out Erica’s new song ‘Jericho’ and her feature on my Instagram page via @nextwomenofcountry.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Ten New Songs To Check Out

Slow Motion -McKenna Faith
Invincible Me -Christie Lamb 
Don't Bring Me Flowers -Colleen Heauser 
One Of The Guys -Lacey Caroline 
Chaser -Carrie Underwood 
Suds In the Bucket -Sara Evans
Getaway Car -Alyssa Micaela
Girls -Miranda Lambert 
Call My Name -Mandy McMillan 
Dizzy -Rhea Francani

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Ladies of country music light up Strip at ACM Party for a Cause

“Country ain’t never been pretty,” declared Cam, the burgeoning mononymously monikered country star behind the hit single “Burning House,” the tune that burned up the country charts last year. “It’s about working hard, having fun and not giving a s—- what you look like.”
Cam, of course, couldn’t have been more correct in her assertion. Although the song itself pokes fun at fellow country performers on the red carpet dressed to the nines, “She may be singing ‘bout the country/And putting out the hits/But those boots sure never stepped in horses—-,” the sentiment is spot on when it comes to country fans.
If there’s a reason that country music continues to be perennially popular, it’s because the music appeals to everyday people, speaking to the mundane moments of their lives with the same sincerity as the more poignant periods, and that’s in a way that’s personal yet universal.
And while granted, those folks probably prefer pedal guitars more than straight up pop fans, clearly they appreciate pop and pop culture just as much, as evidenced by the raucous reception Maddie and Tae received for their take on “Umbrella” by Rhianna during their set and a little later when Kelly Pickler’s guitarist snuck in the solo for “Purple Rain” during her set.
The most notable thing about the ACM Party for a Cause crowd was that aside from a higher concentration of cowboy boots and hats, this just as easily could’ve been any assorted crowd at any other festival.
What’s more, with much of the Strip obscured by buildings and only the SLS Las Vegas in plain site of the Las Vegas Festival Grounds, which sits on 33 acres on the corner of Sahara Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard on the north end of the Strip, you’d never really know you were even in Vegas.
The fans on hand for Cam’s set, which started just after the earlier sets wrapped on the other stage around 5:30 p.m., were from every walk of life and all ages. Those that were on hand early were excited to see her set. And she rewarded the early arrivals with a standout set at a time when many fans hadn’t even punched out of work. With the sun in her face and plenty of daylight still in front of her, Cam performed with the prowess of a seasoned pro. Cam commented how folks probably didn’t even know who she was last year. What a difference a year makes.
While her peers were admittedly presented with what were more probably much more favorable time slots, Cam played like she had been born onstage. She was so engaging, in fact, that there’s little doubt she left all those assembled with a lasting impression. “I see you’re taking pictures out there. Please tag me in every one,” she pleaded, adding, “use a good filter. Make me look good.”
Not too tall of an order. Cam, who played at the soft opening of T-Mobile Arena last night with fellow ACM Party for a Cause performer Martina McBride, due later in the evening, is as stunning in person as she is in pictures. More importantly, she’s incredibly personal without even a hint of pretense. It’s not hard to see why she’s taken the country world by storm. On the festival stage, she had everybody in the crowd singing along and raising their beverages at her request.
Cam’s compelling set was followed by a string of stirring performances on the mainstage from a series of country’s hottest emerging acts, including Maddie &Tae, who themselves came off every bit as engaging and earnest as they rolled through their songs, including “Girl In a Country Song.”
That tune in particular, which takes aim and shoots down stereotypes in celebrated country songs that objectify the fairer sex, was well received and entirely apropos, as the first night of the festival featured a lineup showcasing the ladies of country music, all of whom effortlessly commanded the stage on this night, making any sort of gender consideration completely irrelevant and erroneous.
By the time, Kelsea Ballerini kicked off her set just after 7 p.m., the sun started making its way behind the mountains to the west, and the festival grounds were getting more and more festive with people continuing to stream in. The crowd got thicker and thicker as the evening wore on with fans dancing joyously with each other amid a legion of lawn chairs spread out in front of the stage.
After serving up a stellar set heavy on her hits like “Dibs,” Ballerini, who made mention of the fact that she attended the ACMs last year just to spectate, was surprised onstage with a trophy for Best New Female Artist. Naturally Ballerini was taken by surprise by the gesture, which she wasn’t expecting.
While there’s been plenty of purists who have made it a point to poke holes in the popularity of contemporary country music, quick to draw a divide between the modern practitioners and those who came before them, fact is, there’s commonality to be found. All you had to do was open your eyes and look at the smiling faces that surrounded you at the Las Vegas Festival Grounds on Friday night.
Needless to say, the ladies lit up the Strip and kicked things off with an absolute bang on Friday night. ACM Party for a Cause, which serves as a lead up to the Academy of Country Music Awards on Sunday at the MGM Grand Garden, continues all weekend at the Las Vegas Festival Grounds with a laudable lineup of country’s heaviest hitters, including Kenny Chesney, Dierks Bentley, Chris Stapleton, Lee Bice, Chris Young, Chase Rice, Sam Hunt, Granger Smith and a whole lot more.
Herrera, Dave. "Ladies of Country Music Light up Strip at ACM Party for a Cause - PHOTOS." Las Vegas Review-Journal. 02 Apr. 2016. Web. 03 Apr. 2016.