Sara Evans has been outspoken ever since radio consultant Keith Hill called women in country music the tomatoes to their male lettuce counterparts in the salad that is country radio, and backstage at the CMT Awards last week she certainly wasn’t biting her lip about that inflammatory comment, the night’s performances or the genre in general.
“I miss the days where you can go to a show like this and there would be some moments where there are serious songs and brilliantly written songs,” she told Rolling Stone Country, minutes after expertly offering a rendition of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song for a Mashable challenge. “I was wanting that a little more tonight.”
There weren’t many ballads on Wednesday’s CMT Awards, something Evans has become known for as a vocalist with hits like “A Little Bit Stronger” — which was one of five Number One songs she’s had in her career to date. Lyrically, those chart-topping moments were built on themes of empowerment, love and loss — which is why some of the current storylines dominating the airwaves leave her not only wanting a stronger female presence but a few more mature narratives, too. Call it #bracountry, maybe, as she’s been hash-tagging on social media.
“I’m excited to hear any song that’s not about drinking, or beer, or trucks, or partying, or jeans. . . or beer,” she says, hinting that a new project she’s starting this year will be anything but.
Rising to prominence in the wake of the chart-dominating powerhouse females of the Nineties like Reba, Trisha Yearwood and Faith Hill, Evans isn’t sure where it all went wrong in the radio climate, which looked particularly dismal until Maddie & Tae broke through a nearly two-year drought for female country acts in the top slot with “Girl in a Country Song.” But she’ll point a finger at both sides of the coin.
“What would we do if Hollywood said they were only putting out movies with all men?” she asks. “Or only movies with car racing? I don’t know which came first, the fans wanting this or the fans only getting this. Either way, it needs to go back to more females and broader song topics.”
Evans herself promises her next LP will follow suit, and “is something I’ve never done before.”
If there’s a silver lining in the salad bowl, the Missouri native explains, it’s that the “Tomatogate” comments ignited a fire, and a conversation, that desperately needed to be addressed. “Now that all of this is being discussed, I think it’s very positive,” she says, noting that the best thing her fellow female artists can do is to speak up on the topic — and not be silent because they think it’s safer. “I don’t think Patsy Cline would be ok with that. I don’t think Loretta Lynn would be ok with that. I grew up on a farm; I grew up in country music. For me to now feel like they’re not allowing me to be a part of this genre? What do you do?”
Well, you keep making music. Take Kelsea Ballerini, who scored a Top Five hit with “Love Me Like You Mean It” and already has her next single selected and queued to go, who says it’s all about fighting to the top.
“I wouldn’t have even been an artist if it wasn’t for Faith Hill and Shania Twain,” says the 21-year-old singer-songwriter. “Women have always been important. But call it what you want. I’m happy to be a tomato. I think it’s a challenge.”