A year after "Tomatogate," a handful of new female artists are making inroads at country radio. But Martina McBride says it would be wrong to think that the genre's gender inequality issue has been resolved.
"I feel like it's difficult still," she laments of female artists keeping up with the guys on country radio. "When you look at the chart, you see that in the Top 35 there are two women. There have been a couple of artists who've broken out — Cam, Kelsea [Ballerini] and Maren [Morris] — but it's about the big picture."
The four-time CMA Female Vocalist of the Year adds that it's easy to get lulled back into complacency. "If we're not careful, we get appeased by that little bit of success that you hear about. But when you really start to look at it, we still have a long way to go."
McBride thinks the solution is in the hands of country radio's audience. "If fans truly want to hear more women on the radio, they're going to have to demand it because at the end of the day radio is supposed to play what fans want to hear."
McBride was one of the first celebrities to speak out against "Tomatogate," a nickname given to the controversy sparked by a Country Aircheck interview with radio consultant Keith Hill. In the article, Hill warns radio programmers against playing songs by too many female artists. "They're just not the lettuce in our salad," he said. "The lettuce is Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, Keith Urban and artists like that. The tomatoes of our salad are the females."
McBride soon sported a "Tomato" T-shirt in a photo posted on social media, standing next to husband John McBride wearing a "Tomato Lover" T-shirt. (She sold those shirts, too, with all proceeds going to charity.) And she wrote a passionate post on Facebook, responding to Hill and arguing, "Whether or not a song gets airplay should be based on how good the SONG is...not whether it's sung by a male or female. It's kind of like comparing tall artists to short artists, blondes to brunettes, bald guys to guys with hair....what does it matter?"
McBride's new album, Reckless hit stores last month, with its title track at country radio now.