Over the weekend, opinion website the Tylt tweeted out a seemingly innocuous poll: “Most iconic @AmericanIdol winner: @Kelly_Clarkson or @CarrieUnderwood? Tweet #TeamKellyClarkson or #TeamCarrieUnderwood to vote.”
Clarkson, who will perform at Sunday night’s Academy of Country Music Awards, quoted the tweet in a response. “I think we’re both winning in life and pretty blessed!” she wrote. “Singers, mamas, CEO’s.”
Underwood, also an ACM awards performer, took it a step further. “Whatever, girl, I voted for you!” she replied to Clarkson. “But seriously, I do wish more publications would just celebrate women’s success without pitting them against each other…Just my thoughts…”
It was a notable tweet from Underwood, one of country music’s biggest stars and not necessarily a celebrity to share her thoughts about a hot-button topic. And it happened just before two more of Nashville’s top artists spoke out about the same issue in the past several days.
On Monday, Kelsea Ballerini noticed another Twitter poll that tagged her and asked a similar question: “Which female artist are you most looking forward to seeing perform at this year’s #ACMAwards?”
Ballerini wrote a long Instagram caption in response. “This made me really bummed today,” she wrote, including an image of the poll. “Since I put out my first single over 4 years ago, every interview includes some form of question about the females in country music…or the current lack thereof. So we swim upstream and wear ourselves out trying to be heard and finally see the charts start to mention a few more of our names, the categories recognize a few more of our songs, and even start to cheer each other on. But then there’s something as simple and seemingly harmless as this, that sets us back.”
Indeed, it’s a question nearly constantly asked of women in Nashville in recent years, given that there are so few of them on the charts. (On the Top 50 Mediabase chart, there are nine female acts, a higher figure than usual.) Multiple organizations in Nashville aim to address this disparity, including Song Suffragettes, an all-women concert series, and Change the Conversation, a coalition that helps “level the playing field” for female artists. In 2015, the subject went viral when a radio consultant advised country stations to “take the females out” to get higher ratings.
Ballerini continued by conveying that pitting women against each other, even in Twitter poll form, takes a toll: “It takes the dozens of talented, determined, hard working, kind women that want to continue the incredible marks on the genre the woman before us have made, and it makes us feel like there’s only one spot available. So then there’s tension. And insecurity. And this magical bond that females have when we truly, actually want each other to win…it gets compromised,” she wrote.
Also on Monday, Maren Morris noticed a tweet from a fan that read, “I can never choose between @KelseaBallerini and @MarenMorris. Like they’re both my girls.”
Morris, who has been openly critical about country music’s treatment of women, sent a quick but pointed tweet back: “You don’t have to choose,” she wrote, along with some emoji.
All of four of these singers will perform at the ACM awards on Sunday, and all except Clarkson (who is singing a duet with her mother-in-law, Reba McEntire) are nominated for awards. So if they wind up on stage with the microphone, it will be telling to see if this timely subject comes up.