The 90s Were Nice But We've Moved On
Or have we? That’s really the whole problem, right? We haven’t moved on.
In fact, we’ve regressed. Country radio is entering yet another decade and has somehow managed to play drastically less women than it was playing when mullets were unironically the hairstyle of choice. We like to imagine that our coifs have improved since the mid-1990s. Likewise, we are desperate to believe that we’ve evolved as people enough to know that men and women are equal, discrimination and prejudice are bad, and opportunities and outcomes should be based on merit not sex- both speaking in terms of gender and, since we’re here, physical action.
For country music, or at least country radio specifically, the 90s are often referred to as somewhat of the “glory days” for women which is frankly ridiculous. Women, at their best level of representation, have only ever been given enough airplay to reach about 30% inclusion. That’s not 50% and it’s certainly not the ebb-and-flow reality you’d expect if spins really were based on the “best song winning”.
The 1990s look alright now only because women’s airplay percentages are awful today. Women seemed to have been steadily increasing in representation through the 80s and 90s. Just the way women were increasing throughout many areas of life like earning college degrees or participating in the overall workforce. Back then, it appeared like the industry was all finally getting “hip” to the whole 9-to-5 situation that Dolly had already been making famous for over a decade.
Twenty years into the new millennia, it is utterly embarrassing that we haven’t progressed beyond where we were “back in the day”. The current outrage is understandable as women are receiving approximately 85-90% less airplay than their male peers.
Occasionally, we hear people say that country music always goes through “trends” and women are bound to come back around. No. Sorry. Snap tracks are a trend. Gender isn’t. We know that because if you were to change the word “women” to any other base identifier (race, religion, orientation, etc), and say publicly that your company wasn’t going to play that kind of person right now, you’d rightfully wind up in some real hot water.
Bottom line, the 90s were better for women’s airplay than the 2000s and 2010s. But we’re doing what we can to make sure 2020 and beyond positively changes the inclusion game for good.