While walking the red carpet at CMT's 2018 Artists of the Year ceremony in mid-October, some of country's brightest new stars opened up about their experiences as women in the genre. As the discussion surrounding equality in country music grows louder, younger artists say the motivation to work harder and the inspiration they've found thanks to some of country's pioneers eclipse the frustration they feel.

"It’s very frustrating, and I always want to stay positive, but I want to be empowering," admits Kalie Shorr. "I will say that I’m thankful for the obstacles because they’ve made me work harder and made me be a better artist instead of just phoning it in. It’s really, really hard."

Young female artists continue to struggle when it comes to radio airplay, streaming playlist inclusion and mainstream acceptance. "You look at Spotify playlists," Shorr notes, "and there will be 52 songs on top country, and two of them are women.

"It’s really easy to fix that: Just put in more women," she continues matter-of-factly. "It’s super simple, so I wish that those gatekeepers would look more to CMT. SiriusXM is really great; I really wish mainstream radio would look to them for that."

Maddie Marlow, of country duo Maddie & Tae, says she feels "really empowered" being a woman in country music in 2018. She and duo partner Tae Dye began their career with the 2014 hit "Girl in a Country Song," a commentary on bro country tropes that turned heads ahead of the curve. "I think it was a different story four years ago, when we first came out," adds Marlow, "especially with the single that we chose to come out with."

In 2019, Maddie & Tae will be on the road with Carrie Underwood, on her 2019 Cry Pretty Tour 360. Underwood selected up-and-coming female artists as direct support for her trek, helping to bridge that gap in recognition for rising women, and those reaping benefits are thankful.

"It is so exciting and empowering [because] I think everyone is really just coming around to the idea that we do need more women in country," Marlow says. "We need that voice heard because [there are] so many little girls that need someone to look up to."

Tourmates Runaway June agree that the challenges have paved a new path. "Right now, the genre is so broad, you can be making all kinds of music. We have women doing these pop crossovers, or something really traditional," the trio reflects. "Even though there’s a lot of talk about how hard it is, it’s also the most broad that it’s ever been."

Adds Shorr, summing up "the yin and yang" of the situation: "I’m pissed, but I’m also thankful, but I’m still pissed."

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