Angela Poe Russell: Beyoncé’s controversial country hit is glossing over the bigger issue

Feb 28, 2024, 5:00 AM | Updated: Mar 27, 2024, 1:54 pm

Image: Beyoncé performs at a Get Out the Vote concert for Democratic presidential candidate Hillar...

Beyoncé performs at a Get Out the Vote concert for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at the Wolstein Center in Cleveland, Ohio, Nov. 4, 2016. (File photo: Andrew Harnik, AP)

(File photo: Andrew Harnik, AP)

As someone who listens to country music, hearing Beyoncé in this arena was jarring to me at first. But that doesn’t mean she or her songs don’t belong.

When you consider “Texas Hold ‘Em” and “16 Carriages,” the storytelling, the lyrics and the instruments used are consistent with the country music genre and its roots.

Like any other musical genre, it has evolved over time. And in my view, there is still some evolving that needs to happen.

After what I discovered, I feel like rolling out the welcome mat for Beyoncé.

Here’s why. Beyoncé broke a number of records in the last week. She’s the first woman to top both Billboard’s Hot Country Songs and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, and she’s the first black woman to reach No. 1 on the Country Hot 100.

But what caught my attention the most was Beyoncé and Taylor Swift being the only female solo artists to debut a single at No. 1 on the Hot Country Billboard Chart.

And I honestly could not believe it.

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Female country music icons Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, Reba McEntire and Carrie Underwood, had their No. 1’s but they haven’t done what Taylor and Beyoncé did — a No. 1 single on their own.

It just feels like something is off. And, it is.

Consider this. Between 2000 and 2018, there was a 66% decline in the number of country songs by women. And the ones who are there aren’t getting as much air time as men. If the radio doesn’t play their music, it makes it harder for people to get familiar with it, which hurts the song’s ability to climb the charts quickly.

We found in 2015, that this wasn’t by accident thanks to something called Tomato Gate. It’s a true story folks – a radio executive saying that in country music, men are the lettuce in a salad and women are the tomatoes that should be sprinkled on top.

While that comment was made almost 10 years ago, the recent facts show not much has changed.

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According to SongData airplay reports, songs by women on country radio in 2019 received 10% of daily spins. In 2022, that number grew to a whopping 11%.

So, I’m less worried about whether Beyoncé’s song is country enough or debating if an artist should be allowed to cross over and more concerned about making sure the women who are staples in the genre have an equal opportunity to reach the top.

It shouldn’t take two major crossover artists to highlight this issue, but if it helps get some more air time for female country singers, I’ll take it!

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien weekday mornings from 5-9 a.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Angela Poe Russell: Beyoncé’s controversial country hit is glossing over the bigger issue