ACM Awards: New Study Examines Country Music’s Gender Disparity

If Sunday’s (April 7) 54th annual ACM Awards has an underlying theme, it’s the ongoing conversation regarding the state of inclusion in country music.

For most of the current decade, CMT has been a leader in this conversation with the 2013 launch of the CMT Next Women of Country program and the 2018 CMT Artists of the Year, which honored seven female artists and CMT Artist of a Lifetime, Loretta Lynn last fall. That night, Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman and Hillary Scott were among the honorees marking the first time a major country awards show recognized female leads in country bands.

John Shearer

Cassadee Pope, an inaugural member of the CMT Next Women of Country program, will headline the initiative’s 2019 tour starting April 11, and for the first time in the tour’s history, Pope will take it for an overseas run with five UK concerts scheduled in May.

When the 2019 ACM nominees were announced, host Reba McEntire expressed her disappointment in the lack of females nominated for the night’s top honor of entertainer of the year. Weeks later, the ACM announced the development of the Diversity & Inclusiveness Task Force that will examine the barriers and biases affecting women and underrepresented groups in country music. The Task Force’s specific goals include evaluating voting criteria and Awards processes, increasing diversity in all ACM decision-making spaces and increasing representation on the show and more.

Three organizations led by the ACM joined Dr. Stacy L. Smith and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative to unveil new research examining inclusion among male and female artists in country music. Published Friday (April 5), the new brief investigates the age and gender of artists across the year-end Billboard Hot Country charts from 2014 to 2018. Nominations for the last five years in four categories at the Academy of Country Music Awards were also evaluated.

“The ACM Awards reflect the current state of the country music industry, and our nationally-televised show amplifies that reflection.” ACM CEO Pete Fisher said a release announcing the findings. “The Academy exists to grow and strengthen the genre, and a diverse and inclusive organization and industry will inevitably further those objectives. We are all in this together.”

“The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative is calling on other labels and industry partners — especially those in radio — to undertake similar analyses in their own businesses,” Dr. Smith added. “With a rigorous investigation of what data tell us about audience preferences and behaviors, it is possible to confront antiquated beliefs about what consumers want to create an environment where great music by male and female artists thrives.”

The USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative is the same organization behind a Recording Academy study that showed 2% of music producers are women.

For women who work in country music, some of the numbers in the new research for the ACM are dismaying.

  • The number of women artists across 500 top country songs from 2014 to 2018.

  • The number of women songwriters across the two years studied (One positive finding emerging from this report is that female artists were more likely to work with female songwriters than male artists were across that period.)

  • Finally, only 15% of ACM nominees in four major categories from 2015 to 2019 were female — in several years, not one woman was nominated in the Entertainer and Songwriter of the Year categories.

YouTube Music and Women Nation, Live Nation’s division focused on advancing women in the live music business, join the ACM and CMT in finding solutions to this important issue.

YouTube Music has committed to working with the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative to examine the digital popularity of country artists by gender. By doing this work, YouTube can demonstrate the role of artist gender in audience preferences within this genre.

Women Nation has committed to examining audience demographics for country music festivals and concerts. This will provide new insights into how audiences seek out performers in country music and whether any differences exist by gender.

McEntire, who is one of eight women who have won ACM’s entertainer award, will host the 54th annual ACM Awards live from Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Garden Arena tomorrow (April 7) at 8 p.m. ET.

Lauren Tingle is a Tennessean and storyteller who eats music for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When she’s not writing or rocking out, she enjoys yoga and getting lost in the great outdoors.