Keith Urban Not-So-Quietly Championing Women of Country Music
In September 2017, Taste of Country recognized Keith Urban's overt effort to spotlight rising women in country music. That continues on his new Graffiti U album. This article (originally published on Sept. 1, 2017) has been updated to reflect the progress.
The slow crawl toward gender parity on the radio needs to include support from country's top male artists to reach a walk or slow trot. While singers like Blake Shelton have done their part in the past, Keith Urban is quietly becoming the new champion of country females.
Urban has started spotlighting rising women of country music during performances of his song "We Were Us." Lauren Alaina and RaeLynn are two he's celebrated on stage and social media. Brooke Eden and more recently Lindsay Ell also got the chance to share a stage with the country music headliner.
"We Were Us" is his 2013 duet with Miranda Lambert. In her absence, he used to work with local radio stations to find local, unsigned talent to join him. "Everything Is Texas" singer and #LetTheGirlsPlay artist Kasey Tyndall practically started her career that way when she was chosen for a show in Raleigh, N.C.
As summer 2017 started to wind down, Urban began inviting female artists at festivals he played to join him. One could argue it was just a matter of convenience, except that afterward he takes time to praise them on social media. Exposure to his 4 million Twitter followers is a big deal to someone like Eden, who only has 13,000 of her own.
His recent support of women of country music goes beyond this song, however. Urban went out of his way to say how much he enjoyed the title track from Kelsea Ballerini's album album. He shared country group Delta Rae's cover of "The Fighter." Former labelmate Emily West has a new EP called Symphonies out. Wanna guess who tweeted about it?
Few men have strayed from the top female vocalists of all time in search of a duet partner in recent years. Carrie Underwood and Little Big Town singer Karen Fairchild are popular picks, but with only five women on the current country airplay chart (as of April 6, 2018 there are now nine), one wonders when and how the anger over the lack of women on the radio will turn to action. Perhaps now. The next step for Urban would be to feature a young female newcomer on an album, or even a single.
"Drop Top" with Kassi Ashton and "Horses" with Ell are the important songs for this article's purposes. The "Criminal" singer is currently enjoying her most successful single to date (No. 23 with a bullet), but Ashton is a big ol', "who?" to anyone who mostly lives within the walls of the mainstream.
The "California, Missouri" singer has a lot of buzz and is, like Urban, signed to UMG Nashville. She a tremendously gifted vocalist, a captivating songwriter and a complex, at times dark, personality. There are comparisons to be made to Maren Morris, who Urban also helped us discover two years ago. You may recall he invited her to open his Ripcord Tour before she had a record deal and before "My Church" was on the radio.
Actions speak louder than words, which is good because Urban isn't the type to boast. Has he ever even talked in detail about the dearth of women in country music? Sure, it's tempting to claim he does it for selfish reasons or because his label put him up to it, or it's all coincidence. But as he prepares to start the Graffiti U Tour (with opening act Kelsea Ballerini), the list of women he's championed is growing longer than a CVS receipt.
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