5 Feminist Country Songs of 2019

Photo by Alysse Gafkjen

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.”

AF 2019 IN REVIEW: A Year in Country Music

With the end of the year comes a time of reflection. Looking back on this year in country music, the firestorm of conversation about the lack of women on country radio spilled into 2019, while new artists like Lil Nas X and Blanco Brown broke down barriers, and names including Billy Ray Cyrus and Tanya Tucker saw a resurgence in their careers.

Renaissance Moment

 In 2019, country fans saw two legends experience an unexpected, but celebrated resurgence in Billy Ray Cyrus and Tanya Tucker.

Though known as ’90s country star with the breakthrough hit “Achy Breaky Heart” and as the father of Miley Cyrus, his name is now synonymous with the global hit that is “Old Town Road.” While the Nine Inch Nails-sampling Lil Nas X penned rap gained traction as a viral favorite on Tik Tok, it was a remix version featuring Billy Ray Cyrus that came to define the newish genre of “country rap.” Kicked off the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart based on the claim that it “does not embrace enough elements of today’s country music to chart in its current version,” “Old Town Road” quickly grew into a smash hit that broke the record as the longest running No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 – and Cyrus was a significant part of this. Though the song was already a jam in its original state, the unlikely pairing of the millennial rapper and baby boomer country star made for an important moment in pop culture. The song feels complete with both on the track, and Cyrus’ affinity for the song and ability to see how it connects to the history of country music is part of what gave him a second life in the genre.

Billy Ray Cyrus and Lil Nas X. Photo by Derrek Kupish/ dkupish productions

Tucker enjoyed her own renaissance moment in 2019; the 61-year-old icon, who had her first hit single at age 13 with “Delta Dawn,” released her first album in 10 years, While I’m Livin,’ produced by Brandi Carlile and Shooter Jennings. Partnering with a new generation of talent gave Tucker an edge and refreshed identity while still delivering a strong body of work, and earned her four 2020 Grammy nominations. It was gratifying to see two iconic stars rise like phoenixes for a new phase in their lives.


 It’s disappointing to think that even in 2019, you can count the number of mainstream African American country artists on one hand. Over the past few years, we’ve seen acts like Kane Brown become rising superstars, while Jimmie Allen reached No. 1 with his debut single “Best Shot” last year. But with Lil Nas X breaking down the walls for artists creating country trap, it feels like the beginning of a tidal wave of diverse artists who we’ll see breaking through in the next few years.

Yola is one of the many artists blazing this path. The elegant British country singer had a banner year with her debut record Walk Through Fire. Her spell-binding voice and awe-inspiring songwriting solidified her as a major breakthrough act this year, so much so that Kacey Musgraves invited her to be one of the opening acts at her first arena headlining show in Nashville and Elton John declared himself a fan after hearing her cover of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” She’ll embark on her own headlining Walk Through Fire Tour in 2020.

Blanco Brown also took country by storm with his original “Cotton Eyed Joe” style dance song, “The Git Up,” which was the longest running No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and spent 13 weeks as the top selling country single in the U.S. Meanwhile, former X Factor contestant Willie Jones spent the year building momentum with songs that range from the sweet (“Down For It”) to playfully observing the influx of bachelorette parties in downtown Nashville with “Bachelorettes on Broadway,” while up-and-coming singer-songwriter Tiera was named to CMT’s Next Women of Country class of 2020.

Jimmie Allen also joined forces with dynamic duo Louis York for a poetic number titled “Teach Me a Song” on the twosome’s American Griots album, and when they all performed on the Grand Ole Opry, it marked the first time three African American artists have appeared on the Opry stage at one time. With Louis York set to make their own Opry debut in February, it feels like we’re at the start of a revolution of multi-racial artists finally becoming a mainstay in a genre that has been sorely lacking in diversity.

Women in country

 The conversation surrounding the lack of women on country radio was a dominant theme in 2018, with the likes of Carrie Underwood, Kacey Musgraves, Maren Morris, Miranda Lambert and countless others speaking out. At 2018’s end, there were no women in the top 20 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart for the first time in the chart’s near 30-year history, and they didn’t fare too much better in 2019, as there are no solo female artists on the year-end list of Billboard Country Airplay songs. With the conversation being so loud, it instilled a false sense of hope that radio would take action and begin to move toward more balanced playlist.

But where radio faltered, women united in the form of all-female tours in 2019. Underwood set this precedent by inviting duo Maddie & Tae and trio Runaway June as her opening acts on the Cry Pretty 360 Tour, proving that a troupe of half a dozen women can sell out arenas across the country. Lambert followed suit, as her Roadside Bars & Pink Guitars Tour featured a massive all-female bill with openers including Maren Morris and CMA New Artist of the Year Ashley McBryde, along with newcomers like Tenille Townes, Kassi Ashton and many more.


Morris also set a standard by joining forces with Carlile, Amanda Shires and Natalie Hemby to form The Highwomen, whose debut album serves as one of the year’s best (and their surprise performance with Dolly Parton at 2019 Newport Folk Festival is arguably one of the highlights of the year in music). Morris continued with her support for women by bringing a mix of five female friends and rising artists in country on her aptly titled Girl: The World Tour named after her CMA Album of the Year. Even legends like Trisha Yearwood stepped up, taking an all-female bill out on the road with her for the Every Girl on Tour.

In addition, several new female artists not only made an impact on fans and the industry alike, but brought a distinct element with them: empathy. It’s the foundation of Townes’ “Somebody’s Daughter,” a compelling narrative inspired by a woman she saw on the side of the road who was homeless that should have been a No. 1 hit, but just barely made the top 30 on the country charts. Meanwhile, Ingrid Andress broke hearts in the best way with her powerful debut single “More Hearts Than Mine” that made her the only female artist to have a debut single reach the top 20 in 2019.

Though the fact that Carrie Underwood lost Entertainer of the Year to seven-time winner Garth Brooks during a year where she put on an impeccable production that led to growth as an artist while supporting deserving young women felt like another major blow to the cause, it was inspiring to see so many women uniting in the face of adversity – there is something truly special about seeing a group of gifted women lifting one another up in a bold way.

But in order to see real change, there needs to be integration, and there seems to be signs of that going into the new year. Dan + Shay, the country duo behind the wildly successful, Grammy winning crossover hit “Tequila,” recently announced that Andress will be joining them as an opening act on their 2020 Arena Tour. Jordan Davis, who has two country hits to his name, is bringing a pair of compelling singer-songwriters, Ashton and Hailey Whitters, as his openers on the 2020 Trouble Town Tour. I hope this is a trend that turns into a movement in 2020.