Country Radio's "Girl Crush" Problem

Country Radio's "Girl Crush" Problem or what happens when country radio doesn't play the kinds of songs they say they want to play.

Lets be honest, here. Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” is struggling at country radio for more reasons than the perceived “gay agenda” that some low-hanging fruit think the song is “promoting.” It’s actually a song about envy and jealousy but it’s also more than that. It’s a ‘torch ballad’ performed by a female vocalist.

And “ballad” and “female vocalist” are the real problems country radio has right now. If you take a look at today’s Top 40 chart, there are few female vocalists on the chart. In fact, from #40 to #18, there are 8 songs which feature female vocalists as the lead (or solo) singer. Of those, only Carrie Underwood’s “Little Toy Guns” and maybe Kelsea Ballerini’s “Love Me Like You Mean It” seem destined to hit the Top 10. Not even reigning CMA and ACM Female Vocalist of the Year Miranda Lambert will likely see her song “Little Red Wagon” hit the Top 10 (despite it selling very well, like Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush.”)

For a myriad of reasons, radio will not play many female artists, the biggest reason cited in the past is that many of those in the format believe that women “don’t want to hear many songs with women singing about women issues” (songs like “Girl Crush” if you will) because the female fans want to listen to artists they’re sexually attracted to, male artists, or those men who sing songs “about them.”

It’s so bad that even the female vocalists that do get success, they’re usually in bands, not solo artists. Bands like Little Big Town who have 4 attractive members, two males and two females. So they’re deemed ‘safe’ for radio. How an auditory medium got so wrapped up in visuals is beyond me but they also don’t want to play ballads that often.

“Girl Crush” is a powerful torch ballad about envy and it’s likely to fail to hit the Top 20 because of everything mentioned above and it’s why even the male artists talking about various stages of envy (Jake Owen “What We Ain’t Got” and Eric Paslay’s “She Don’t Love You”) failed to get further than inside the Top 20 with their ballads (which also were selling decently).

Therein lies the problem with radio. It says it wants stuff that’s not the latest song about parties or having a good time in the country but when it is presented with them, radio decides not to play them, especially if they’re songs that are from a female point of view. The last song with a female lead singer hitting #1 was Maddie & Tae with “Girl In A Country Song,” a song that hit a zeitgeist moment where it was everything radio wanted (listen to the melody, it is very uptempo), it lampooned all the ‘bro’ songs and it allowed radio to say “See, we play songs about women by women.” But they’re not. Not, really.

They just don’t care to play female artists among their biggest hits. There haven’t been many Top 10 hits from non-superstar female artists or female/male groups. Maddie & Tae are among the only ones not named Miranda, Carrie, The Band Perry, Lady Antebellum, etc. And even Miranda, The Band Perry and Lady Antebellum have had their most-recent singles struggle to get up the charts. It’s a maddening development that’s going on about five or six years. There hasn’t been a solo female #1 on the Billboard BDS Airplay chart in over two years. Not Miranda, Not Taylor and Not Carrie (who used to be a given to go #1 with a string that is unparalleled amongst female artists. This could be a huge reason why Taylor Swift moved to the pop world, where she would get superstar airplay and hit #1 (she’s had three-consecutive chart-toppers there from the 1989 album).

If Country radio really wants to put their money where their mouths are, they’ll continue to play “Girl Crush” even through the “controversy” is attached to it. In fact, that controversy makes it even more worthy of radio airplay. It’s the kind of song all parties should want. But, the stations that stop playing it will stop playing it because they’ll bow out to the loudest of voices, a voice who is claiming something about the song that actually doesn’t exist.

These complaints just give these stations an excuse to ignore female-centered songs and to “keep playing the party songs, bro.”


  • Brian Cole

    I checked again today. "Girl Crush" is the fourth biggest gainer on Mediabase's All Stations Country Chart. Radio is finally responding after being exposed. The song also now looks like its estimated to sell around 60,000 downloads for the week by tomorrow night at midnight, and it's gaining rapidly on streaming too.

    • Matt Bjorke

      Of course. None of the corporations wanna seem like they're missing out on a great song (regardless of perceived lyrical problems) but some smaller stations in smaller markets (the ones linked to original Girl Crush not getting played stories as "sources") simply will refuse to play it, for the content and/or tempo of the song. Radio's job is to keep listeners listening to the draw, the music, so that they'll stay for the commercials. They really don't care about what sells or doesn't sell or what streams or doesn't stream.

  • Brian Cole

    I think the TV spots Little Big Town got the last couple of days may have gotten Country Radio's attention. On the Mediabase All Stations Country Chart, "Girl Crush" had the third-largest impressions gain on Friday morning's chart, with an audience gain of 842,000. "Girl Crush" finished fifth among spin gainers with +166 on the same chart. I will look a little later today to see if the same trend is taking place. Carrie Underwood's "Something In The Water" reached number three in airplay earlier this year, but that still didn't match to the song's sales and streaming. If you think about it, Sam Hunt's "Take Your Time" has suffered a similar disconnect that radio is just now catching up to. He has led Country Digital Songs and Country Streaming Songs for weeks, giving him the Number One spot on the Billboard Hybrid Country Songs Chart for seven weeks now. However, Hunt has still only made it to number five in airplay (though Hot AC is giving the song some airplay now too). Darius Rucker's "Wagon Wheel" suffered a sales/streaming/airplay disconnect in 2013, when the song needed more than two months to top the Country Airplay Chart after reaching Number One on the Hybrid Chart. "Wagon Wheel" was at number two by then, and ranked in the Top 20 of the Hot 100, bulleted behind the massive smash "Cruise." I'm afraid right now Country Radio is so intent on moving songs up the chart so slowly they pay no attention to what the fans are buying and streaming, even if the numbers are through the roof. Active Rock isn't much better, and Alternative isn't a lot better than that. As much as I hate Top 40, at least the stations pay attention to what their listeners buy and stream to help them determine what to play. Country, Active Rock, and Alternative Rock need to do the same.

  • Sherrie

    If radio "bows to the LOUD voices", will they do that when I get people together and constantly call them complaining about the God awful FGL or Sam Hunt? It shouldn't matter if they make money b/c both LBT and Miranda's singles are making $ but both are having issues. Radio is ridiculous! Men constantly have #1 w/o sales. Blake Shelton few years back would get #1s w/ little sales and Miranda would get sales and no #1s. Just sexists, period.

    • Matt Bjorke

      Even though I like Sam Hunt's music and many of FGL's songs, I definitely agree that there's a disconnect with male/females on radio. I know country's never gonna be like it was in the 1990s when it was nearly 50/50 but many of the women are making great records that need to be heard.