Maddie & Tae Earn 1st Woman-Led True Country #1 in 8 Years

Women have been making a long-overdue and deserved return to the #1 spot on country radio in 2020, led both by a push from many people to make sure women are equally represented on the radio dial, and from a new injection of talent that is clearly resonating with listeners. This is a positive development, and one country radio should be proud of, even if there is still some more work to do to make sure woman have equal footing in the format.

But it’s not enough just to have women topping country radio. If it’s going to have a meaningful and lasting effect, those women also have to actually be country. Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini can notch as many #1’s as they want, but unless there’s at least some semblance of country music in the mix, the win for women is simply symbolic, and it’s more a symptom of another problem plaguing country radio, which is the incursion of songs that aren’t just mostly, but in many cases, exclusively pop.

This week, Maddie & Tae’s “Die From A Broken Heart” finally made it to #1 on the country radio charts. It is a major accomplishment, and a long-fought battle for a song that was originally revealed to fans all the way back in the fall of 2018, and not released as a proper single to radio until May 6th, 2019. It has been a winding road for the song that features a strong, traditional sound with prominent steel guitar, and excellent songwriting from the duo. But it ended up right where it deserves to be.

And this #1 is not just due to gerrymandering to put another woman-led song at #1. Since being revealed, “Die From A Broken Heart” has resonated deeply with fans, going Gold in February, and then Platinum in July, despite not yet hitting #1. It was also at #2 on the more consumption-based Billboard Hot Country Songs chart last week, meaning after two years of being in the wild, the song is still resonating. However you want to measure it, “Die From a Broken Heart” is a massive hit, and has been for a while.

So with “Die From A Broken Heart” officially hitting #1, it lends to the question, when was the last time a woman-led, truly traditional country song hit #1 in country music?

Miranda Lambert’s “Bluebird” hit #1 a few weeks ago, which was also a big accomplishment since it’s the first time she’s done so in a surprising six year year interval (thanks to country radio). But if we’re being honest, “Bluebird”—though still good—is more contemporary country than traditional. Other woman-led radio #1’s in 2020 like Maren Morris “The Bones” and Gabby Barrett’s “I Hope” don’t come close to true country music, no matter how you may feel about the songs themselves.

Miranda’s duet with Jason Aldean back in 2018 on “Drowns The Whiskey” also could come close to qualifying, if it wasn’t for the dreadful electronic drum line and other lame production. And that’s also the problem with Carly Pearce’s “Every Little Thing” in 2017, though it’s also a pretty good song.

Carrie Underwood’s “Something in the Water” from 2014 is also an interesting specimen, and certainly has a Gospel heart, but still isn’t exactly “traditional” in any universal sense of the word. “Better Dig Two” from The Band Perry in 2013 is another interesting candidate, but is disqualified from the click tracks and rock guitar.

About the closest we can get in the last six years to a true country song sitting at #1 is Maddie & Tae’s “Girl In A Country” song that hit #1 in late 2014. Now granted, it also includes some contemporary production, but that was to lampoon the Bro-Country dominating country radio at that time. It also includes banjo and steel guitar, and a pretty pointed message that resonated with many true country music fans. This also underscores just how important Maddie & Tae have been to re-integrating true and traditional country music back into the mainstream.

But “Girl In A Country Song” still doesn’t fit the profile perfectly. You have to go all the way back to The Band Perry’s “All Your Life,” which spent two weeks at #1 in February of 2012 to find a truly comparable traditional country song sung by a woman that hit #1 on radio. That’s well over 8 years ago.

Miranda Lambert’s “Over You” written with Blake Shelton which went #1 in 2012 on May 19th also might deserve honorable mention. If you’re looking for a song from a solo or solely female duo or group, you’d land on Miranda Lambert’s “Heart Like Mine,” which hit #1 on May 28th in 2011.

Some of this underscores one of the systemic problems facing getting women to #1 over the last decade, which is simply a lack of inventory. The Band Perry was a big force on country radio and were releasing quality country songs when they went off the deep end and started making pop (and then who knows what), and exited stage left out of country. That’s why the band’s loss was so unfortunate, and impactful. That also happened right about the same time Taylor Swift announced her departure the genre. At this same time Carrie Underwood took some extended time off as well, leaving few established women in country to launch big singles on country radio.

This also underscores why the country industry should be leery of putting their stock behind women who will just leave for pop at their first opportunity, creating gaping holes in rosters and squandered resources from touring slots and awards that were expended on their development, as opposed to doubling down on the women who will show loyalty to the genre and stick around for their careers, even if they release more pop-oriented material upon occasion, kind of like Maddie & Tae have done.

Of course none of this explains why Miranda Lambert fell out of favor with radio (for reasons we still don’t have a good explanation for), or why they ignored major label singles from Mickey Guyton, Kacey Musgraves, and others that could have not only upped women’s representation on radio, but also the quality, and country-ness of the cuts being played over the airwaves.

But once again, Just like they did with “Girl In A Country Song” back in 2014, it’s the little duo Maddie & Tae turning the tables on the insular environment of country radio, giving us hope for its future, and landing at #1.

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