NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - Female musicians in Nashville have long complained about the lack of representation on country radio, but now a collective of female songwriters are singing "Time's Up.''
The Song Suffragettes were formed in 2014 in response to a growing concern that women were being excluded by labels and radio and spurred by comments by a radio consultant that compared women to tomatoes in a salad. Only 18 out of the top 100 country singles of 2017 had a female artist featured, a percentage that has been stagnating in the genre for years.
Kalie Shorr is one of the original members of the collective that plays in a writer's round every Monday night at the Listening Room Cafe, just a couple of miles away from Music Row.
"We had all individually gone into a stuffy Music Row office and had someone say, 'No,' followed by 'because you're a woman,''' said Shorr. "I have even had label executives say, 'I am just really burned out on women right now.'''
But Shorr and her fellow singers said the (hash)MeToo and Time's Up movements that started in Hollywood and spread to other industries is a critical step forward in a conversation that has always been a secret in many industries. Shorr, along with another Suffragette singer Lacy Green, were inspired to write "Time's Up'' after watching the scores of actresses dressed in black at the Golden Globes.
The music video for "Time's Up'' features the 23 singers dressed all in black, linked arm in arm, singing lyrics like "The scales are tipping, the veil is ripping and the clock is ticking 'cause the time's up." Proceeds from the sale of the song will go to the Time's Up organization, which has established a legal defense fund.
It's one of the few signs that more artists in country music are willing to address sexual harassment. Keith Urban played a song "Female'' on the Country Music Association Awards last November that seemed to address the (hash)MeToo movement. The Country Radio Seminar, an annual gathering of the top country radio stations in the country held this week in Nashville, will have a panel on sexual harassment.
But other signs suggest that the genre still has a long way to go. For example, a radio host who was fired after he lost a groping lawsuit to superstar Taylor Swift got a new gig at a Mississippi country station this year. And a country singer named Katie Armiger is in the midst of an ongoing lawsuit with her former label Cold River Records, in which she has alleged sexual harassment by unnamed radio personnel. Cold River Records has denied they were aware of the harassment.
The movement has affected some of the Song Suffragettes personally and directly.
"It's one thing to see artists come out about it, but actually a few weeks ago, one of my family members came out and said that she had been sexually assaulted,'' said Tiera, who goes by her first name as an artist.
Shorr said that those women who have shared their stories about harassment or assault have helped to change the attitude about what was once a very secretive topic.
"I 100 percent understand why no one would want to share their story, but now it's like we're creating this culture where it's OK to speak about it,'' Shorr said. "That's why I really love this movement, because everybody is just sticking together.''
Candi Carpenter, a new artist on the Sony Music Nashville label, said that the national statistics for sexual assault are staggering, but support is available.
"Letting victims of this kind of behavior know that when they come forward, they will be believed and they will be supported by a community,'' Carpenter said. "That's what our community does for each other and that's what we need to do for each other as a country.''
They agreed that the recent Grammy Awards last month missed an opportunity to highlight the work of female musicians. The Recording Academy came under fire for comments made by President Neil Portnow that women needed to "step up'' after only two women won awards during the telecast.
Shorr said while she loved Kesha's performance of "Praying,'' she said the Recording Academy should have given Lorde, the only woman nominated for album of the year, a performance slot.
She said the academy "missed the mark a little bit'' and urged members to "look at the bigger picture'' and ask: How can we help? "Not to anticipate that kind of backlash is a little bit surprising to me.''