Sheryl Crow is among the finalists for Female Vocalist of the Year at the Academy of Country Music Awards on Sunday night. Crow released a country album, "Feels Like Home," last year, but it was only a modest hit. She's still best known as a pop singer.
Kelly Clarkson has been nominated in the same category at the rival Country Music Assn. Awards the past two years. Clarkson has recorded duets with Reba McEntire, Jason Aldean and Vince Gill, but she, too, is still best known as a pop singer.
Country folk are known for their hospitality, but isn't this taking it to extremes?
Actually, the fact that Crow and Clarkson have received these nominations mostly reflects a shortage of viable female nominees in these categories. Female solo artists accounted for just four of the 40 best-selling country albums of 2013, according to Nielsen SoundScan, down from five the year before and eight in both 2010 and 2011.
The four female artists who placed albums among the top 40 country albums of 2013 are Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Kacey Musgraves and Miranda Lambert. (Not coincidentally, these are the other four nominees for the ACM award for Female Vocalist of the Year.)
Among the female artists who were passed over for nomination as Female Vocalist of the Year, despite having a current album in 2013: Cassadee Pope and Danielle Bradbery, who each rose to fame on "The Voice," and such veterans as Kellie Pickler, LeAnn Rimes and Gretchen Wilson.
The number of hit songs by female country albums is also on the decline. Female solo artists accounted for just six of the 40 best-selling country songs of 2013, down from 11 the year before.
Pundits have coined the term "bro country" to characterize what's hot at the moment in country music. Leading the way are Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan, who joined forces for the current #1 country hit, "This Is How We Roll." Their latest albums, "Here's To The Good Times" and "Crash My Party," have spent a combined total of 18 weeks at #1 on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart (10 weeks for Florida Georgia Line, eight for Bryan).
These patterns tend to be cyclical. The outlook for women may well improve this year. Jennifer Nettles' first solo album, "That Girl," spent its first two weeks at #1 on the Top Country Albums chart in January. Lambert's fifth studio album, "Platinum," is due June 3.
Crow and Clarkson were both born in the heartland, where country is king—Crow in Missouri; Clarkson in Texas. Each has cracked the top 40 on Hot Country Songs four times.
Crow first cracked the top 40 on the country chart in 2002 as a guest on Kid Rock's "Picture." She returned to the top 40 with her multi-format hit "The First Cut Is The Deepest," as a featured artist on Brooks & Dunn's "Building Bridges" and with "Easy," a song from "Feels Like Home."
Clarkson first cracked the top 40 on the country chart in 2007 with "Because Of You," her collaboration with Reba McEntire. She scored again as a featured artist on Jason Aldean's "Don't You Wanna Stay," her multi-format hit "Mr. Know It All" and "Don’t Rush" (which featured Vince Gill).
Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert have been the three hottest women in country music for the better part of a decade.
Swift has had the year's best-selling album by a female country artist in each of the last seven years. "Taylor Swift" was on top for 2007, followed by "Fearless" in 2008 and 2009, "Speak Now" in 2010 and 2011 and "Red" in 2012 and 2013. This allowed Swift to establish a new record for the Nielsen SoundScan era. The old record was held by Shania Twain, who had the year's best-selling album by a female country artist in six (non-consecutive) years. (Reba McEntire and Underwood are next in line. They have each had the year's best-selling album by a female country artist twice.)
Swift also had the year's best-selling song by a female country artist five years in a row. ""Love Story" was on top in 2008, followed by "You Belong With Me" in 2009, "Mine" in 2010, "Mean" in 2011 and "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" in 2012. Swift would have seized the title in 2013 as well (and taken the runner-up slot to boot), but her two biggest solo hits of the year, "I Knew You Were Trouble." and "22," were classified as pop by Nielsen SoundScan. With those two songs disallowed, Lambert's "Mama's Broken Heart" took the female solo country crown.