Sorry, Boys: This Year Country Music Belonged to the Ladies

Little Big Town's 'Pain Killer,' their sixth studio LP since 2002, is the pop-country group's strongest album to date.
Little Big Town's 'Pain Killer,' their sixth studio LP since 2002, is the pop-country group's strongest album to date.

Earlier this year, an out-of-touch old country executive infuriated female country artists and fans everywhere by suggesting that if radio stations want to make money, they should keep women on the air to a minimum. Understandably, everyone from Miranda Lambert to Lee Ann Womack was a little peeved at the notion that their music isn’t as worthy of airplay as, say, Sam Hunt.

To be sure, male artists put out great records this year, but every country critic in the world (along with savvy pop critics who understand that good country has cross-genre appeal) will be falling all over themselves to praise Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell and the Brothers Osborne, so there’s no real reason to gush even further. But, if this year’s “best albums” lists look anything like the charts, there aren’t going to be a whole lot of women among the Top 10.

That terrible analogy — that female artists should be just a few “tomatoes” that garnish otherwise male-dominated country radio — becomes infinitely more infuriating when you start thinking about this year’s best country albums. With a few very notable exceptions, it is crystal clear that the majority of the best music that country had to offer in 2015 was, by and large, coming from those tomatoes.


Newcomers Maddie & Tae made waves earlier this year with the release of “Girl In a Country Song,” the first single from their debut Fly. Later, the full album was released, and it was decidedly one of the best country debuts of the year, ranging from twangy Swift-style ballads to the impossibly charming and snarky “Shut Up and Fish.” Maddie & Tae are the real deal.


After parting ways with Pistol Annies, Ashley Monroe came out swinging with her first solo release. The album is raw, masterfully sung, and has racked up positive reviews from just about anyone who’s heard it. In fact, Ashley Monroe is so good that she made a Blake Shelton song listenable, and that’s not something anyone’s been able to say since back when he first released “Austin” and still had a mullet.

KACEY MUSGRAVES, Pageant Material

It didn’t attract the same sort of fawning that Same Trailer, Different Park received from critics across all genres, but Kacey Musgraves’ sophomore effort was no less strong. If anything, Musgraves has settled into her laid-back, outsider country-girl status, evidenced by the album’s title track. It was also nice to see Musgraves show a little more emotional range on Pageant Material. With this album, she proved that she’s not just the girl who sings the quietly snarky motivational tracks.


Just on the strength of “Girl Crush” alone, Pain Killer deserves to be among country's best albums of the year. And yes, there are dudes in the band, but the songs are frequently sung from female perspective (thanks in large part to the fact that a woman is the vocalist, obviously), and that means that Little Big Town totally counts. The album is decidedly Little Big Town’s strongest to date, and they’ve proven that they’re not just another average pop-country act.

LINDI ORTEGA, Faded Gloryville
You might have missed this excellent release, perhaps because it doesn't fit neatly into country music. Still, this is decidedly one of the best country albums of the year, with hints of Lorrie Morgan and Patsy Cline and all things that make lovelorn country music excellent. Ortega doesn't fit squarely into country music in terms of aesthetic or sound, but if an artist this talented wants to call herself country, we'd be idiots to stop her. 

Whether or not you agree that these albums are among the five or ten best country albums of the year is sort of irrelevant. What matters is that these artists are not going to get near the recognition they deserve, even if one or two of them (or hell, maybe these music editors are feeling generous and we'll get three whole women in the top ten!) does show up as the token woman on a year-end list.

It’s a messed-up world we live in, especially if you’re a female country artist. 

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