Women of the Decade

reba-mcentireCountry Universe contributor and reader Cory DeStein flagged this rundown from Billboard regarding women on the charts this decade:

PERFECT 10: On Country Songs, Carrie Underwood ropes her 10th top 10, as “Cowboy Casanova” climbs 11-8. With the advance, Underwood now stands alone in first-place for most top 10s on the chart among solo women this decade.

Here are the solo females with the most top 10s on Country Songs since 2000:

10, Carrie Underwood
9, Faith Hill
9, Martina McBride
8, Taylor Swift
7, Sara Evans
7, Reba McEntire
6, Jo Dee Messina
5, LeAnn Rimes
5, Gretchen Wilson
4, Shania Twain

Notably, the artist who led the category among women last decade did so with almost three times as many top 10s. Reba McEntire ranked first among solo women in the ’90s with 27 top 10s on Country Songs. Trisha Yearwood placed second with 18 between 1990 and 1999, and Faith Hill, Patty Loveless and Tanya Tucker each posted 14 in that span.

The decline in fortune for women at radio this decade is even more pronounced when you compare the above top ten to the previous decade:

Most Top Ten Singles by a Female Artist – 1990-1999:

  1. Reba McEntire (27)
  2. Trisha Yearwood (18)
  3. Faith Hill (14)
  4. Patty Loveless (14)
  5. Tanya Tucker (14)
  6. Pam Tillis (13)
  7. Lorrie Morgan (12)
  8. Shania Twain (12)
  9. Wynonna (11)
  10. Martina McBride (10)

That’s ten women who matched Underwood’s total for this decade. That Underwood didn’t even hit the top ten for the first time until late 2005 shows how bleak it was at radio for female artists this year.

But this comparison doesn’t even tell the whole story. Take a look at the list of women with the most top ten singles two decades ago:

Most Top Ten Singles by a Female Artist – 1980-1989:

  1. Reba McEntire (23)
  2. Crystal Gayle (22)
  3. Dolly Parton (21)
  4. Janie Fricke (17)
  5. Barbara Mandrell (17)
  6. Rosanne Cash (16)
  7. Emmylou Harris (16)
  8. Anne Murray (14)
  9. Tanya Tucker (12)
  10. Kathy Mattea (10)

Notice the trend? This decade, the top ten women combined for a total of 70 top ten hits. In the 90’s, the top ten women enjoyed a total of 145 top ten hits. In the eighties, a total of 168 top ten hits.  Even the nineties list is dominated by women who were played heavily in the earlier part of the decade.

What’s strange is that it was in the mid-nineties that female artists became the dominant commercial force in country music. Janie Fricke never had a gold album. Shania Twain has sold 48 million albums. Yet Fricke  had more top ten hits in just the eighties than Shania Twain has earned in her entire career.  Record buyers have wholeheartedly embraced Alison Krauss and Miranda Lambert, but despite their strong sales, they’ve each enjoyed only one solo top ten hit.

So what to make of all of this?  Is the recent success of Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood an indication that things are improving for women on the radio dial? Is it worth noting that Sugarland and Jennifer Nettles (11 top ten hits) and the Dixie Chicks (14 top ten hits) have done their part to compensate for this lack of gender parity? Does it even matter that radio is playing women less often each decade, especially if record buyers are finding their music anyway?


  1. Statistically, yes it does matter. I’m sure some artists would like to say that they’ve been able to achieve a certian amount of hits.
    Also, I think it allows the artist to be discovered by more people thus allowing them to be more well known.

    However, money-wise, I guess it wouldnt, since I assume that most/all of the money is made from record sales and concert tickets.

    So, I’m neutral on this….
    Nice… or maybe disapointing (depending on how you look at it) to see Jo Dee Messina’s name on the list.

  2. I might need to explain my Jo Dee Messina comment.

    She’s one of my favorite artists on the list, however, considering the fact that she acheived most of her hits (only 6) in the early part of the decade, yet still managed to be in the top 10 for the decade shows how much radio has started to dis-embrace women…

  3. How many top 10 songs overall were there in the 80’s and in the 90’s? If, for example, songs are charting for a longer period of time, then you would expect to see fewer top 10s for men, women and groups.

    So that’s really my question: how many top 10s do women have now (relative to all top 10s) and how has that decreased since the 80s?

  4. Treacle makes a good point, although I think the most significant question is how much the ratio of top tens by women to top tens by men has changed. Chart lag or no, there’s no getting around that men simply have a much easier time getting played recently.

  5. Here’s a look at some of the male artists with the most top ten singles this decade:

    Kenny Chesney (28)
    Toby Keith (24)
    Tim McGraw (23)
    Brad Paisley (21)
    Keith Urban (20)
    George Strait (19)
    Alan Jackson (17)
    Dierks Bentley (11)
    Trace Adkins (9)
    Gary Allan (8)
    Blake Shelton (8)
    Jason Aldean (7)
    Billy Currington (7)
    Craig Morgan (6)
    Joe Nichols (6)

  6. From 2005 to 2009, Carrie Underwood released 10 country singles. Reba released 15 from 1995 to 1999. Shania released 17 from 1995 to 1999.

    I think part of it is just singles taking much longer to climb the charts.

  7. The slow climb is part of it for the B-list acts. The A-listers still fly up the chart, as evidenced by Underwood and Swift racking up big numbers in recent years.

    What has changed over time is the number of women included on that A-list, along with the B-list not getting nearly as much airplay as it used to.

  8. But Carrie Underwood was an A-lister from the start. And she’s still only released 10 country singles in a period when Reba and Shania released 15 and 17.

    Again, I think you have to go back and see how women have done relative to men in the same period. But I bet you’d find men releasing a lot fewer singles and having fewer top 10’s too.

    I’d be surprised if women weren’d doing worse on a relative basis in the 00’s as they did in the 90’s. But I bet a decent amount of the overall drop (as opposed to any relative drop) is that there are simply fewer singles charting in the top 10.

  9. What strikes me the most is how directly after the Carrie boom in late 2005, how vastly the landscape has changed for female country artists.
    All of the former A-list females who released new music after this, could not get a song to number 1 or for the most part, near it.

    Besides Carrie, Taylor, and Sugarland, the last female(s) to top the country singles chart were the Wreckers in 2006. Even after altering their sound to fit what is selling today, and with all the promotion in the world, Reba, and Martina can only peak at 10 or 11. Radio wouldnt even touch Sara Evans’ last single, Faith’s Greatest Hits singles tanked. Trisha and Lee Ann can only get a lead-off single in the low teens. Shania still hasn’t came back.

    I guess it’s sad thinking that all these artists may have peaked commerically, and we’re onto a newer generation to replace them. At the same time, the quality of their music is arguably better when their unleased from the restraints of radio.

  10. I don’t know how much further you have to go into the number than what I’ve already posted. The top ten women in the 2000s combined for 70 top ten hits. The top ten men combined for 180. That’s an enormous gap that can’t be explained away by slower chart movement.

  11. I think you have to have the # of top 10 songs by the top 10 men in each of the sample periods (80s, 90s and 00s) to confirm that women are “declining” – at least relative to the overall market. But the facts that there were fewer top 10 songs by women in the 00s and that men had more hits in one reporting period (the 00s) doesn’t tell us anything about whether women have declined relative to the overall country music market.

    My guess is that women have declined both compared to prior periods and compared to the overall market. But my point is that the decline in decade-over-decade comparisons may be driven by factors other than declining fortunes of women (for example, maybe by the release of fewer singles).

  12. Here’s a non-female example of my point (based on Wikipedia discography summaries):

    In a 9 year period from 1991-1999, Brooks & Dunn released 29 singles.

    In a 10 year period from 2000-2009, Brooks & Dunn released 22 singles.

    You noted George Strait released 19 top 10 singles in the 00s. But between 1990 and 1995, he released 21 top 10 singles.

    Those are significant declines that seem to be affecting all artists.

  13. I don’t think anyone’s arguing about the fact that fewer singles were released this decade. It doesn’t change the gaping disparity between the genders. If the top ten men were able to score 180 top ten singles, why were the top ten women able to score only 70?

    My guess would be that the trend that began in the mid-nineties bottomed out in the mid-00s, and now there are women who really are “immediate adds” – namely, Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift – for the first time in many years. Underwood especially – nine consecutive top two hits(!) – has been remarkably dominant.

    Another factor might be that the nineties featured the rise and peak of several artists like Trisha Yearwood, Pam Tillis, Patty Loveless, Faith Hill, etc. and nearly all of their top ten hits (with the exception of Hill) were in that decade.

    Most of the nineties women ran out of gas at radio this decade, and the ones who nominally replaced them for a while – Jo Dee Messina, Terri Clark, Sara Evans, Lee Ann Womack – didn’t have the endurance of their predecessors.

    Swift, Underwood and Sugarland/Nettles suggest that country radio is open to playing women in heavy, regular rotation again. Perhaps Miranda Lambert will eventually get there as well. Seems like “White Liar” is flying up the chart, at least by her standard.

  14. I think that country has always been a male artist dominated genre. From the days of labels only wanting one “girl singer” to a stretch of over two years without a female artist hitting number one on the charts (between Martina McBride’s 2002 hit “Blessed” and Gretchen Wilson’s 2004 #1 “Redneck Woman”). While I tend to prefer female artists, it seems radio and record labels think the soccer mom demographic they are trying to appeal to doesn’t. A look at the CMA female artist nominations in the 90s reveals something interesting as well. Back then all five artists would have a pretty reasonable shot at the award if it were based on airplay. Patty Loveless, Pam Tillis, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Reba, Tanya Tucker, Lorrie Morgan and Kathy Mattea all regularly hit the Top Ten with three or four singles per album. In this year’s crop, only Taylor and Carrie can be considered successes at radio the way Brad, Keith, Toby and Kenny are. Reba, Martina and Miranda either scored one or no top ten hits in the last year.

  15. Kevin is right, the women from this decade dont really hold a candle to the acheivments of the 90’s Ladies. The CMA Female Vocalist race in the 90’s was always a very tight category, 1998 for example had Faith Hill,Patty Loveless, Martina McBride, Lee Ann Womack and Trisha Yearwood….all who eventually won the award. Now you have Carrie or Taylor who really have met the qualifications.Record labels have their token female act now, and they dont really go beyond that in expanding their ladies roster.

  16. I was curious about the correlation between album sales and singles. Here are the same ten ranked based on album sales. Information from RIAA for albums released since 2000. This was my math so could very well be wrong =)

    Shania Twain – 15 Million
    Faith Hill – 12 Million
    Carrie Underwood – 9 Million
    Taylor Swift – 8 Million
    Reba – 6 Million
    Gretchen Wilson – 6 Million
    Martina McBride – 4.5 Million
    Sara Evams – 4 Million
    LeAnn Rimes – 3 Million

    Compare this with Alison Krauss who has not had any solo top ten hits this decade. Who has over 6 Million, not including the 8.5 Million for O Brother where art thou?
    Jo Dee Messina – 1.5 Million

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