Next week, the CMA Awards will make an attempt to change the deep gender imbalance in country music by devoting their entire show to women. Hosted by Carrie Underwood, Reba McEntire, and Dolly Parton, the night will “celebrate the legacy of women” within the genre, according to CMA Chief Executive Officer Sarah Trahern. It’s the culmination of a year that saw female artists pushing harder than ever to support each other and be heard, from the Highwomen’s “pirate ship” to Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves, Brandi Carlile, and Maren Morris’ all-women tours, to Chicago’s Country LakeShake Festival hosting an all-women day this past July.
The industry’s male artists, however, with a few exceptions (Eric Church, Dierks Bentley often, Keith Urban on occasion, Kenny Chesney back in the day) have mostly focused on polite lip service than action. But Jordan Davis is one artist looking to do more than just talk about the problem. For his upcoming Trouble Town Tour, kicking off in January, Davis purposefully chose women he admires — Hailey Whitters and Kassi Ashton — to open for him on the road. Last year, he also brought Jillian Jacqueline out on his White Wine and Whiskey Tour, all with the goal of changing the familiarity factor of country’s female artists.
“I know for a fact that when people hear these songs, they are going to say they’re amazing,” says Davis. “That’s the thought, and letting the music speak after that.”
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He’s also intentionally collaborating with women: his new song “Cool Anymore” features Julia Michaels, who was invited to co-write the song with Nicolle Galyon, Ross Copperman, and Emily Weisband. We spoke to Davis, who is currently working on the follow-up to his debut LP, Home State, about why it was so important for him to bring women on the road, and what further the men of country could be doing to work toward more equitable representation.
The conversation about women in country music has reached a fever pitch and beyond: but it often feels like women are the ones expected to fix the problem for themselves, and to be the only ones advocating for themselves. So few men seem to be using their sizable power and influence in the industry when it comes to this particular issue. Why was it important to you to be different?
First and foremost, it’s the music that grabs me. Even going back to the White Wine and Whiskey Tour, I had played rounds with Jillian [Jacqueline] before and was just blown away by how talented she is. So when it came time to put that tour together, that’s just who I was listening to, and I saw the connection she was making. I really see [gender imbalance] as a problem in Nashville, and it’s better, rather than me just talking or giving a quote about it, to actually do something. If I am going out and touring with them, people will start to hear them because they’re awesome. So that’s exactly what we did. This is who I like, who I am listening to and it tackles a broader problem. I can’t stop listening to Hailey Whitters’ stuff, and I just want the rest of the world to hear it. I don’t have a massive audience, but they need to hear her and Kassi [Ashton] because they are making incredible music.
How was the audience reaction to Jillian Jacqueline on the White Wine and Whiskey Tour? She’s terrific live, yet hasn’t been able to break through at radio.
Amazing. The audience was showing up early for her. With Trouble Town, we’ll also bring Hailey and Kassi out again during my set to do a song — another way to get them out and show how talented they are. Not everyone comes early to a show, so it’s a way when even if you don’t catch their opening set, you can see them halfway through mine.
Taking women on tour is an actionable step toward change. What else can be done?
I hope it’s more stuff like this. With radio, I don’t really have an answer, because it’s out of my control. But the thing I can control is having women out with us. They make amazing music, so let people hear it and that might start swaying some other things. In my opinion, this is the first step a lot of other artists can do. Maren [Morris’] tour is amazing; she did it. My tour is not nearly on that level, but hopefully we can kick-start other people to do the same. Do the little things, and the things we can control. I hope other people will follow suit.
If all the men currently dominating the radio took more women on tour, it could really continue to flip the balance, too. [Luke Bryan, Thomas Rhett, Florida Georgia Line, and Rascal Flatts are just some of the male artists who took zero women on the road this summer and/or fall.] When Luke Bryan took Carly Pearce on tour in 2018, it was a big boost to her career.
Absolutely. It was so huge for me on my early tours. Chase Rice took me out and it was huge in jumpstarting my career. I think a lot of other artists should think that way: “How do I pay it forward and help somebody else out?” I really hope I am doing that. It’s not like women aren’t making amazing music: the music is unreal. All you have to do is listen.
Andy Grammer recently wrote a piece for Pollstar about how important it is to acknowledge the different circumstances on the road for women — from hygienic needs to handling unwanted advances.
It’s so easy for guys to hop in a van and go slum it. I want the women on my tour to be comfortable and I told this to my management — I said, you can put my band and me in a closet, and we’ll make due. But we can’t do that to the women. I have been to some of these venues, and I know sometimes the dressing area is tight or there is one big room where everyone, men and women, are supposed to change. I want the women to be comfortable from load-in to sound check to getting dressed.
You seem to be making an effort to write and record with women, too.
Well, they’re doing amazing stuff, so that makes it easy. I remember writing with Julia Michaels around four years ago, and she was so dialed into what she was doing. Fast forward to this song: we sent it to Julia and said, “Hey, do you want to be a part of this? I think it’s who you are, and it would be killer.” When she sent it back, she had completely rewritten the second verse and made it totally unreal. It’s 100% a Julia Michaels lyric, and it’s awesome. That was how Julia got on the song in the coolest rock-star move ever.