CMT’s Next Women of Country celebrates 10 years and reveals biggest class yet

As CMT‘s Next Women of Country Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the franchise welcomes its largest class to date.

Revealed Tuesday night (Jan. 17) at Nashville’s City Winery, the 16 rising female artists in the Class of 2023 are Sony Music Nashville/Columbia artist Alana Springsteen, Angie K, Big Loud’s Ashley Cooke, Warner Music Nashville’s Avery Anna, Carter Faith , Catie Offerman, Sony’s Georgia Webster, Julie Williams, Kasey Tyndall, Kimberly Kelly, Mackenzie Carpenter, Black River’s MaRynn Taylor, Sony Music Nashville/Columbia’s Megan Moroney, ONE The Duo, Pillbox Patti and Roberta Lea.

Over the next year, the new CMT Next Women of Country class will receive cross-brand support for their music and videos on CMT, CMT Music, PlutoTV’s CMT Equal Play Channel, CMT Hot 20 Countdown, CMT.com and CMT’s social channels , as well as cross-promotion opportunities for Paramount Media’s MTV Entertainment Group brands via live events, the Paramount Times Square billboard in New York City and more.

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“So many women broke through this year and had success stories, whether it was signing a publishing deal or breaking through on TikTok, that we couldn’t make it a big class. It just happened to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the franchise,” says Leslie Fram, CMT senior VP of music strategy. Billboard. “You have women who are amazing songwriters, women who have been working for years and some who are just breaking into streaming. Each one has an incredible story.”

Cody Alan and CMT Next Women of Country alum Rissi Palmer will host the event with show alums including Maddie & Tae (2015), Ingrid Andress (2019), Kelsea Ballerini (2015), Brittney Spencer (2021), Caitlyn Smith (2017 ), Brooke Eden (2015), Chapel Hart (2021) and Mickey Guyton (2015), as well as singer-songwriter-producer Nicolle Galyon, among those present.

“We remember when Next Women of Country started and we really had the opportunity to see the sisterhood work,” the trio Chapel Hart, members of the CMT Next Women of Country Class of 2021, shares. Billboard via a statement. “Social media was just starting and we saw the ladies sharing each other’s music and art on each other’s platforms because radio just wasn’t playing many women, but they found a way to innovate…We admire angels like Leslie Fram and the staff at CMT , because it’s one thing to talk the talk, but they actually put in the work and walk the walk! The NWOC is without a doubt one of the greatest achievements of our career.”

Including the Class of 2023, 111 female acts have been supported through the program over the past decade, among them Ashley McBryde, Brandy Clark, Brooke Eden, Carly Pearce, Gabby Barrett, Kacey Musgraves, Margo Price, Runaway June, Lainey Wilson, Lauren Alaina , Maren Morris and Morgan Wade.

“CMT’s Next Women of Country is an incredible beacon in this city, shining a light on emerging female talent,” said Spencer, who was part of CMT’s Next Women of Country’s Class of 2021. Billboard via a statement. “Whether it’s providing touring opportunities, promotional support by showing new female artists’ music videos on Viacom’s billboard in Times Square, or ensuring male and female artists’ music videos get equal playing time on its platform through its Equal Access to Games initiative, CMT is leading the way to provide tangible, useful support to an often overlooked group of Nashville artists.”

In addition to launching its CMT Equal Play Initiative to help amplify underrepresented voices in country music, as well as promote music and content from female artists across its range of platforms, CMT has also partnered with social impact firm The Change Agent-cy for the third consecutive year. to offer Next Women of Country members access to individual advice, media training and planning for specific social impact and advocacy campaigns.

Celebrating 10 years of changing the narrative

Fram launched the program a decade ago after seeing the need to amplify women’s voices.

“I came into this genre from the rock world, and during the first year on CMT and seeing a lot of women start to disappear from playlists in general, the percentage of women who were supported by terrestrial radio was way before we had started talking about playlisting on DSPs,” she says. “It was troubling because we’ve seen this in every genre, the myths of ‘You can’t play two women back-to-back’ or ‘Women don’t want to hear women.’ , and there is no research to back any of it up. We thought, ‘How can we as a network—knowing that we play videos and we have content and the Hot 20 and all these platforms—support female artists?’

Talent was the defining criteria for inclusion. “We started seeing a lot of these artists who were not getting any support but had these amazing voices and talents, like Ashley Monroe and Brandy Clark,” says Fram. “Brandy was one of my early inspirations because I was such a fan of Brandy’s and I wanted to support her. I knew it would be hard to get exposure if she wasn’t signed to a label. It was another reason to start this program because they didn’t need a publishing deal or a record deal – it was just great music and great artistry.

In 2013, the inaugural CMT Next Women of Country class, which included Clark, Monroe and Musgraves, effectively alerted the industry to the lack of female voices being heard on country radio, two years before what would become the “Tomato Gate” in 2015. when radio consultant Keith Hill was outraged after calling female artists the “tomatoes” of a male artist-filled “salad”.

“If you want to make ratings in country radio, take women out,” Hill told country radio trade publication Country Aircheck. “Believe me, I play great female records and we have some right now; they’re just not the lettuce in our salad. The salad is Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, Keith Urban and artists like that. The tomatoes in our salad are the females.”

It was a stark contrast given the proliferation of female country artists heard on country radio—and winning awards—in previous decades, including Country Music Hall of Fame member Loretta Lynn (the first woman to win CMA’s entertainer of the year honor, in 1972) and Barbara Mandrell (the first artist – male or female – to win two consecutive CMA entertainer of the year awards), to Dolly Parton, The Judds, Reba McEntire, Tanya Tucker and a host of female artists who stormed the country radio charts in the 1990s, from Shania Twain, Trisha Yearwood and Faith Hill to LeAnn Rimes, The (then-Dixie) Chicks, Terri Clark and more.

Since 2013, just over 50 songs featuring female voices (including female solo artists, duos and groups including female artists, and female artists featured on songs released by male artists) reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart. Several alumni of CMT’s Next Women of Country have achieved radio chart hits, including McBryde, Lindsay Ell, MacKenzie Porter, Ballerini, Barrett, Morris, Maddie & Tae, Lauren Alaina and Pearce. Barrett, who previously earned two No. 1 hits with “I Hope” and “The Good Ones,” is currently in the top 10 on Billboard’s January Country Airplay chart. 21 with “Pick Me Up”, while Wilson has two songs in the top 15 (“Heart Like a Truck” and “Wait in the Truck”, a collaboration with HARDY). Pearce is at No. 15 with “What He Didn’t Do.” Other past and present NWOC entrants on the chart include Hailey Whitters (“Everything She Ain’t”), Moroney (“Tennessee Orange”) and Ballerini (“If You Go Down, I’m Going Down Too”).

“We’re seeing more women getting signed, and when artists like Lainey and Megan are successful, it opens the door for so many more,” says Fram. “We see those success stories and the gatekeepers start saying, ‘Ok, we have to pay attention to this.’ I’d love to see the percentages go up on terrestrial radio, but we’re seeing more women coming on tour. A lot of our male superstars are taking women on tour with them, too. It helps the crazy cycle that we’re trying to break. You see women be signed, like Ashley Cooke to Big Loud.”

Many members of CMT’s Next Women of Country have received awards and nominations in recent years. At the 2019 Grammys, Musgraves earned the night’s most coveted trophy, when her Golden hour the project won the award for album of the year in all genres, in addition to country album of the year. In 2020, Mickey Guyton earned a Grammy nomination for Best Country Solo Performance for “Black Like Me,” and followed it up with a 2021 CMA New Artist of the Year nomination and Grammy nominations for Best Country Solo Performance, Best Country Song, and Best Country Album (all for the single and album “Remember Her Name”). Pearce and McBryde have won accolades from the Grammys, CMAs and ACMs for their No. 1 Country Airplay hit “Never Wanted to Be That Girl,” while Pearce won the CMA’s Female Vocalist of the Year in 2021. Ballerini received Grammy nominations for Best New Artist (2016), Best Country Album (2019 for Unapologetically) and returns to the Grammys nominations again this year, earning a Best Country Solo Performance nomination for “Heartfirst.” In 2021, Ballerini picked up her first two CMA Awards wins, picking up Music Event and Video of the Year for her song “Half of My Hometown” (a No. 1 Billboard Country Airplay hit, written by Ballerini, who flips the script on have female artists guest a male artist’s song by welcoming her East Tennessee native Kenny Chesney). In 2022, Wilson earned six CMA Awards nominations and won two, including Female Vocalist of the Year and New Artist of the Year. Morris and McBryde are each up for Best Country Album at the upcoming Grammy Awards.

Road warriors

CMT’s Next Women of Country has done more than dispel myths about who women want to hear on the radio—they’ve worked to revise the idea that female artists can’t sell concert tickets. The program has included seven CMT Next Women of Country tours, with all-female lineups headlined by artists including Jennifer Nettles, Martina McBride, Sara Evans, Tanya Tucker and Maddie & Tae.

“There was this weird cycle—if you didn’t have a song on the radio, you couldn’t get on a tour,” says Fram. “So many of them couldn’t come on tour, so we wanted to create a platform where they had a stage to play on. I talked to many [promoters] in town, like AEG and Live Nation, and they were all about it. The first tour was Kelsea Ballerini and Jana Kramer in these clubs, but it worked out. Women and men came to see them and we proved that women sell tickets. The other myth was that women don’t sell beer, but I’ll tell you what, they sell a lot of alcohol. Then we started talking to headliners about anchoring the tour.”

As CMA Fest returned to downtown Nashville in 2022, CMT’s Next Women of Country showcase did the same at Nashville’s City Winery.

“It’s great because it’s not a big ask of the artists, they can do a couple of songs and it gives them a stage to play on. We’re starting to have a bit of a following, of people coming to everybody because they would like to support women,’ says Fram about the shop windows.

Since the inaugural CMT Next Women of Country tour in 2015, the country music touring industry has also seen a string of successful all-female country tours from Lambert, Carrie Underwood and Maren Morris, selling out arenas across the country, as well as more recent all-female lineups including Reba McEntire’s Live in Concert tour with Terri Clark (in 2023 the tour adds The Isaacs) and The Judds: The Final Tour, where Wynonna welcomes McBryde, Little Big Town, Ballerini and more. Twain will launch this year with a primarily female lineup of openers, while Ballerini will also bring newcomer Georgia Webster on her own tour.

“It’s exciting for all of us, honestly, when you see artists like this, like Miranda, Maren, Kelsea and Shania do this and put their money where their mouth is and bring women on tour with them,” says Fram. “It’s a celebration of women.”

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