It was two hours of grownup girl power at City Winery in Nashville yesterday when the third class of CMT’s Next Women of Country initiative was showcased with live music, special guests and big announcements.
The third annual event is part of CMT’s initiative to “increase the exposure of female artists on all platforms,” said Leslie Fram, Senior Vice President of Music Strategy for CMT and the country music industry’s fairy godmother for women trying to get their music heard.
“Female artists have something to say, but it is tougher in in some platforms,” Fram expounded. “Initially we started Next Women of Country (NWOC) as a way to give exposure for female artists on all platforms. There has been a time when terrestrial radio was not on board.”
The concert featured a mix of up-and-comers and more seasoned singers. Kelsea Ballerini, one of last year’s NWOC inductees, co-hosted the event with Fram, having had a big year with the success of “Love Me Like You Mean It” (which made Ballerini the first solo female country artist to score a Number One hit with her debut single since Carrie Underwood and “Jesus, Take the Wheel”).
“I made it my goal to be part of this [NWOC group] when I was just songwriter,” Ballerini said.
American Idol runner up Lauren Alaina kicked off the performances with a medley of hits by female artists — ranging from Reba’s “Fancy” to Britney Spears’ “Baby One More Time” and Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies,” a choice which then set the tone for the day. Across the board, the performers, who also included Cam, Ashley Monroe (with Striking Matches’ Sarah Zimmerman) and Maren Morris — chose songs that embraced women’s strength.
“It is currently tougher for women to break through, but the winds are changing because Leslie made a commitment,” said presenter John Esposito, president and CEO of Warner Music Nashville.
The standing-room crowd applauded the 2016 class of inductees, including Ashley Campbell, Courtney Cole, Sara Haze, Morris, Carly Pearce, Rainey Qualley, Aubrie Sellers and Tara Thompson. But they went wild when surprise guest, Grammy-award winner Jennifer Nettles took the stage and wowed them with what is sure to be her next hit, the working mom’s lament “Drunk in Heels.” The crowd loved the lyrics, which Nettles wrote with Brandy Clark while nursing her son on a tour bus, particularly the refrain: “I ain’t saying it is easier to be a man, but let’s get real. When we get drunk, we do it in heels.”
Nettles was introduced by the head of her new label, Big Machine Records founder Scott Borchetta. Borchetta knows a little something breaking female artists, such as the label’s (and entire industry’s) powerhouse Taylor Swift. “There is not a problem with female artists,” Borchetta told the audience, citing Swift and Adele’s various record-breaking achievements.
“We had a lull in female voices for awhile,” Borchetta told Rolling Stone after the event, “but now there are a lot of important voices out there. What Leslie identified as a need is becoming a movement.”
The crowd was moved when former Sugarland frontwoman Nettles brought Clark on stage to sing what will be the first single off her sophomore album next year, “Girl Next Door,” a cheeky empowerment song .”If you want the girl next door, a cardboard cutout, go next door.” Click here to hear the song in its entirety.
Nettles also announced that the she will headline the second Next Women of Country Tour with Clark, Lindsay Ell and Thompson.
“We did a tour 2015 with just 10 small club dates. We want to more than double that in 2016,” Fram said.
The tour will start in January with 30 dates in the U.S. and Canada. Tickets go on sale December 4th.