Country music is not an industry to shy away from controversy and the last few weeks have continued that trend. And it has nothing to do with a former Olympian. It has to do with lettuce and tomatoes.
What’s become known as “saladgate” was triggered by an interview radio consultant Keith Hill did with Country Aircheck, the Nashville-based industry journal. In it, he said, “If you want to make ratings in country radio, take females out.” Yikes.
According to Hill, country radio is “a principally male format” and female fans would rather hear men. If they hear too many women in a row, they’ll change the channel. He went on to refer to it all as a big ol’ bowl of greens, “Trust me, I play great female records, and we’ve got some right now; they’re just not the lettuce in our salad. The lettuce is Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, Keith Urban and artists like that. The tomatoes of our salad are the females.”
Well, as you can imagine, “tomatoes” such as Miranda Lambert, Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland and Martina McBride immediately made their opinions heard. Miranda called “b-s” and we’re not referring to her husband Blake Shelton’s initials. Martina took a more philosophical approach, asking women directly on Facebook, “Do you not like to hear other women singing about what you are going through as women? … Because to me, country music is about relating … what you are really going through on a day to day basis in your life.”
As someone who not only works on a country music station but also as a major fan myself, I never really thought about the male/female ratio. If it’s a great song and makes me turn up the radio and sing along, who cares if it’s a guy or girl sending the message? There’s no question, a jamming tune from Florida Georgia Line or Luke Bryan will get you going, but doesn’t a female anthem from Miranda or Carrie Underwood or Little Big Town lead vocalist Karen Fairchild get you pumped up?
Hill’s point was that there aren’t that many female artists on the air these days. And it has been male dominated until recently. But with newer artists such as Maddie & Tae, Kelsea Ballerini, Kacey Musgraves, Mickey Guyton and Cam making an impact, you know how it works with tomatoes: You plant just one and they take over.
What would country be without female artists? The list of women who’ve not only shaped country music but given us a voice is endless: Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Barbara Mandrell, Emmylou Harris, the Judds, Lorrie Morgan, Shania Twain, Faith Hill, Trisha Yearwood, Taylor Swift, to name just a very few. At one time or another, we’ve all gone through what these women have sung about. They are speaking for us.
Referring to women in country music as tomatoes is obviously not a flattering or accurate description for most of us female fans. Since I don’t like tomatoes, I wouldn’t even have them on my salad. And what does that leave? A big ol’ pile of boring lettuce, right?
So maybe female artists are more like ranch dressing, giving lettuce its flavor, completing the salad and tasting great with everything.
Nancy Wilson is a morning radio personality for K99.1-FM.
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