Let’s face it: country music isn’t known for being the most welcoming genre to women. Since its inception circa 1920, women have long been embroiled in a battle of equal airplay and representation, a battle that still rages on today. But the female artists who are the fabric of the genre’s history have been vocal about equality and social awareness, particularly through song.
From Loretta Lynn to Margo Price and many others along the way, women have delivered a variety of feminist anthems that show country music exactly where they stand. This theme is still relevant today, with new artists and burgeoning superstars alike stepping into the forefront with songs that speak directly to women – here are some who did just that with power and eloquence in 2019.
The Highwomen – “The Highwomen”
When Maren Morris, Brandi Carlile, Amanda Shires and Natalie Hemby united to form The Highwomen, they told the world that women’s voices are even more powerful when they come together. The namesake song that opens their revered self-titled album puts a spin on the Jimmy Webb classic made famous by Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson with new verses – penned by Carlile and Shires – that finally give a voice to feminine archetypes. Each verse sees one of the members taking on a fictional character who sacrificed her life during a distinct era of history, from a woman wrongly accused during the Salem Witch Trials to a Freedom Rider during the Civil Rights Movement, the latter of which is made even more compelling with a guest vocal from up-and-comer Yola. “The Highwomen” is one of the best jewels country music has to offer in 2019.
Best lyric: “We are the daughters of the silent generations/You sent our hearts to die alone in foreign nations/It may return to us as tiny drops of rain/But we will still remain.”
Maren Morris – “Flavor”
While her chart-topping single “Girl” gets plenty of attention for its female empowerment theme (and rightly so), “Flavor” is the hidden gem on Morris’ acclaimed 2019 album, Girl. Throughout her young career, Morris has been building a reputation for supporting women, whether by publicly speaking out about inequality on country radio or hopping on the trend of taking an all-female lineup on tour with her. She demonstrates her sharp tongue with the song’s opening lyrics “ain’t gonna water down my words or sugar up my spice/sometimes the truth don’t always come out nice.” What follows is an anthem about originality and celebrating those who challenge the norm, all delivered with confidence and conviction that comes through in her voice. It’s a shining moment on the project that earned her an Album of the Year distinction at the CMAs – and one that defines her as an unflinching creator.
Best lyric: “Yeah I’m a lady/I make my dough/Won’t play the victim/Don’t fit that mold/I speak my peace/Don’t do what I’m told/Shut up and sing?/Well hell no I wont.”
Runaway June – “Buy My Own Drinks”
The trio of Naomi Cooke, Jennifer Wayne and Hannah Mulholland released a direct female empowerment anthem to country radio this year in the form of “Buy My Own Drinks.” The song chronicles a young woman’s solo night on the town, not needing a lover or even her friends to keep her company. Between paying her own tab and spinning herself around on the dance floor, the upbeat track raises a glass to those who are perfectly content enjoying their own company. The empowering message also made Runaway June the first female group to reach the top 10 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart in 14 years since SHeDAISY.
Best lyric: “I can walk my own self to the front door/I can take my own self to bed/I can medicate my own headache/I can be my own boyfriend.”
Ingrid Andress – “Lady Like”
Ingrid Andress released several new songs this year that proved her to be a sharp songwriter with lyrics that reject all the traditional country norms. But no song does that better than “Lady Like,” her ode to the “untamable,” “unframeable” women who drink tequila straight, don’t own a dress and kiss on a first date. The lyrics are pure defiance against all the double standards and stereotypes placed on women, and in a genre that’s dominated by straight white males singing about trucks, beer and life in God’s country, a voice like Andress’ cuts through in a potent way.
Best lyric: ““Sometimes I forget/Not to talk ’bout politics/When I’m in the middle of me gettin’ hit on.”
Katie Pruitt – “Loving Her”
Pruitt may be a new voice in country, but the truths she delivers are ones the genre desperately needs to hear. Take “Loving Her,” the gentle, lullaby-like ode to her girlfriend. Raised Catholic in the suburbs of Atlanta, Pruitt is honest about her previous fears of her sexuality being revealed. But “Loving Her” is a beautiful response to that suppression. Using clips from the 2019 Nashville Pride parade to tell the story in the video, the lyrics paint a striking picture of someone stepping out of the closet and into the light, relying on clever wordplay and poetry to convey the profound love they’re no longer ashamed to express.
Best lyric: “But if loving her is wrong/And it’s not right to write this song/Then I’m still not gonna stop/And you can turn the damn thing off.”