Yes, I know you’re tired of hearing about Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Backroad.” But until the public gets tired of hearing it, and the song stops breaking records, we’re faced with no other choice but to face its success head on and speak about what the possible ramifications of that success could be. Just last week the song broke a 55-year-old record held by Leroy Van Dyke’s “Walk On By” as the longest-charting #1 song by a solo artist in Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart history. Cresting the chart once again this week for a 21st straight time, it’s now only 3 weeks from tying the all-time record for a country song held by Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise.”
And the momentum for “Body Like a Backroad” hasn’t eased up at all. Though many expected the song to be done at radio by now, it just logged its 8th consecutive week in the country radio Top 5 after reaching #1. Usually songs see a precipitous fall off after hitting #1 on the country charts, but the song has now broken the record for weeks in the Top 5 after hitting #1, previously held by Rascal Flatts’ “My Wish” from 2016 that spent 7 weeks in the Top 5 after hitting #1.
And consumer sentiment is even stronger believe it or not. “Body Like a Backroad” once again tops the Streaming Songs chart, and is up 3% in its totals, and also continues to lead the Digital Songs chart, with an upward gain on the week of 4%. The song just won’t be stopped.
Similar to the historic run of Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” in 2012 and 2013, we spent so much time paying attention to the song breaking records and the overall rise of “Bro-Country” that we initially overlooked the fact that one of the results of the phenomenon was the virtual evisceration of women on country playlists. Just as the experience with “Body Like a Backroad” feels like deja vu all over again, so does it’s parallel with a lack of female representation in mainstream country music.
At the moment there are exactly zero women in country radio’s Top 20, and a whopping total of 4 in the entire Top 50 for an abysmal 8% representation. In fact this 4 out of 50 ratio has been pretty consistent now for the entirety of the “Body Like A Backroad” reign at #1.
Meanwhile who are some of the men sitting in the Top 50 at country radio? Have you ever heard of Morgan Wallen? Well his song “The Way I Talk” sits ahead of Miranda Lambert’s stalled single “Tin Man” in the charts at #35. How about Adam Craig, or Todd O’Neill, or High Valley, or Walker McGuire? Does anyone outside of country radio recognize these names? Well they’re all in the Top 50 at the moment in the gaggle of nameless, faceless male country stars who simply have to roll out of bed and are added to country playlists. Dylan Scott’s “My Girl” was the greatest gainer on country radio this week, and will likely hit #1 soon. Heretofore his biggest claim to fame was inviting Chewbacca Mom onto the Grand Ole Opry.
Make no mistake that the dominance of objectifying male singles on country radio parallels the fall of female voices on the format. For the last couple of years the country music industry has been trying to tell us that inroads have been made into the gender diversity issue on playlists. And it was partially true. “My Church” by Maren Morris and other big singles helped turn the tide, at least to some extent, while healthier songs from female writers, like Lori McKenna’s solo-written “Humble and Kind” performed by Tim McGraw, gave everyone hope for the future of the mainstream format.
But once again we’re back to counting female singles in the Top 50 like the numbers of an endangered species, even though the industry would lead you to believe everything is fine.
Tom Roland writing in this week’s Billboard Country Update paints a rosy picture of the future. “The Bro-Country movement is officially dead, and R&B-leaning material already seems to be on a downward trend,” he says. “What’s around the corner? It appears that labels are betting on a more traditional brand of country, a healthy dose of duos and groups, and killing the moratorium on female acts.”
But the success of “Body Like a Backroad” would seem to foretell an entirely different story. It is one of the few songs that can swear allegiance to both the Bro-Country, and R&B-influenced “country” trends. And as we have seen so many times before, Music Row is the worst of copycat campuses in the entire entertainment industry, and when something works, everyone tries to follow suit. That’s why we’re seeing a massive push behind folks like Dylan Scott, and the garbage new single from Walker Hayes, “You Broke Up with Me.”
Yes, there are some success stories and outliers, like Midland’s “Drinkin’ Problem,” though that’s a very wool-pulled situation when it comes to how Big Machine is selling their authenticity. Carly Pearce’s “Every Little Thing” is surely to pop the Top 20 bubble here soon, but only thanks to iHeartMedia’s “On The Verge” program. These are small outliers in a much larger reversing trend from quality and female representation we saw attempt to take hold over the last couple of years. Yes, major labels are stocking their talent rosters with more Americana-style acts, but it seems partially motivated to cut off the air supply from the emerging Americana industry that continues to encroach on the mainstream’s market share as opposed to a true effort to bolster the mainstream trends started by the success of Chris Stapleton and others in 2015-2016.
You also just can’t put female names in playlists just to even out the odds when the music isn’t quality or even slightly country, and call it a success like we’ve seen with Kelsea Ballerini over the last couple of years.
The monopolization of mainstream country music by “Body Like a Backroad” proves that it’s a misogynistic, male-dominated perspective on life permeating the mainstream that is holding women back in the industry, and not just a numbers game where the ratios are bit skewed at the moment, but are sure to even out over the long run. If country truly wants to solve the female problem instead of just talking about it, then they would take a long hard look not just who is dominating the charts and what their gender happens to be, but what is being said in the songs.
I hope that Tom Roland of Billboard Country Update is right, and the future will be brighter. But until the industry and the public show the guts to reject “Body Like a Backroad” as a country song, it’s hard to see any true change taking hold.