Top 40 music seems to be undergoing a sea change lately. Cher has a feminist song on the radio and in the club. Neko Case is Top 40 music seems to be undergoing a sea change lately. Cher has a feminist song on the radio and in the club. Neko Case is taking gender identity straight to task. Frank Ocean and Macklemore are topping the charts with songs that carve space for queer-friendly voices in the machismo-drenched worlds of R&B and hip-hop. Ann Powers at NPR declared 2013 "Country Music's Year of the Woman," and Jewly Hight at the Nashville Scene pointed out a similar trend last year, of female artists whose sounds still fit the country genre, but whose lyrics and personae push the boundaries of country femininity.
All of this points to something big: It's been a good year for not only women in music, but feminism in music.
A couple of commenters have raised questions about progressiveness in country music. Today, I want to suggest that there are progressive voices, at least in Americana, roots, and alt country music, but those voices are limited. They are almost always white, and usually populist and male. There are a few women in country who arguably identify as feminists. None of these artists are evangelical Christians like some major label country musicians, but faith imagery permeates much of their songwriting. It is often used in visions of a Utopian future, or it takes on a perverse meaning.
I am not sure what this says about me, but I love the dark themes that infuse Southern Gothic narratives. Alt country is one of my favorite genres, at least in part because it explores the most frightening vestiges of the human soul (I also like the pedal steel). In my defense, "Deep Red Bells" was my favorite Neko Case song before I learned that it was about the Green River murders* (lyrics):
In that way that some people (read: me) obsessively decide which three wishes they'd choose if they had three wishes, I have considered carefully whose voice I would want if some fairy godmother appeared and granted me the power to actually not sound like a squawking turkey when I sing. The choice gets tougher, though, between the top two.