by Jada E. Watson
In this second instalment of the Marching for Women series, SongData celebrates the anniversary of the Song Suffragettes’ “Time’s Up”. Released one year ago today, on the eve of the 2018 Women’s March, the song addresses the power imbalances faced by women in the country music industry. Thank you Todd Cassetty and Helena Capps for taking time to speak with me in August 2018 about the “Time’s Up” project, and for supporting SongData’s work.
They say good things come to those who wait
But we’ve waited long enough
Our time is here
Our time is now
Our time has come
And your time is up
At midnight on January 18, 2018 – one year ago today, the Nashville-based songwriting collective Song Suffragettes self-released “Time’s Up”. Written by Kalie Shorr and Lacy Green, “Time’s Up” was inspired by the 75th Annual Golden Globes award show in which women and men wore black in support of the Time’s Up movement. The video draws on images of non-violent protest and harnesses the political power of their diverse voices. Featuring 23 Song Suffragettes adorned in black, marching down a long, deserted rural road, the women sing a message of warning to the male-dominated country music industry. No longer willing to be limited, silenced, and pitted against each other, “Time’s Up” marks a critical turning point for female artists in country music by calling out industry practices and advancing a message of unity and friendship amongst women.
As the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements swept through Hollywood following Ronan Farrow’s exposé on Harvey Weinstein, the country music industry was undergoing its own cultural transformation. While issues of gender inequality were well-known in the community and readily discussed in the writing of the genre’s leading journalists (dating back at least to the work of John Rockwell in the mid-1980s), it wasn’t until a May 2015 interview published in Country Aircheck that country format radio’s programming practices were revealed by industry representatives so openly. In this interview, women were referred to as tomatoes of the otherwise all-male country salad and program directors were encouraged to schedule women at no more than 15% of their station playlist to maintain strong ratings. #TomatoGate ensued and in the three and a half years following this statement, a constantly growing community of country music artists, journalists, advocates, and researchers have worked tirelessly to challenge this practice, to call attention to discriminatory practices that women have been made to endure for decades, and to spotlight and create new opportunities for the genre’s budding female talent.
As women in other entertainment industries began speaking out against their abusers, those in the country music industry gained courage to start addressing their own experiences publicly and musically. Many of the industry’s young female artists began speaking openly about being told “no” to recording, publishing, and touring opportunities just because they are women, or the expectation to seem available to those in position of power. In June 2017, Emily Yahr published a piece on the harsh realities of the radio tour, relaying stories about how female artists are made to endure dismissive and offensive comments from radio staffers. Taylor Swift then sued and prevailed in a civil suit against a radio DJ for sexual assault in August 2017, arguing that the trial would “serve as an example to other women who may resist publicly reliving similar outrageous and humiliating acts.” On 16 January 2018, nine days after the 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards, Marissa R. Moss published an exposé in RollingStone Country that called attention to the systems of control, domination, and abuse in the industry. Her story, which contributed to her much-deserved Chet Flippo Award for Excellence in Country Music Journalism, provided space for some of the genre’s young artists to share their frustrations and experiences. The Song Suffragettes’ “Time’s Up” was released two-days after Moss’s story appeared in print.
Song Suffragettes was founded by Todd Cassetty and Helena Capps in March 2014 – just as gender inequality was becoming a common topic around Nashville (see Billy Dukes’ 2013 vlog about the issue). In fact, Country Music Television had already established its Next Women of Country campaign to showcase female artists and to provide a space for their development and exposure in this heavily male-dominated genre. As Cassetty relayed to me in August 2018, there wasn’t a particular moment or event that led to this initiative, so much as it was a career of working with female artists and seeing the inequity and imbalance in industry practices. Cassetty found a venue and started reaching out to singer-songwriters around Nashville that needed a platform to share their work. The plan was to showcase five women performing original material for an audience of enthusiasts every Monday evening. Their inaugural event was held March 10, 2014 at 3rd and Lindsley Backstage in Nashville, TN, but they soon outgrew this space and had to move to the Listening Room Café in December—where they have performed every Monday for the last four years. Working under the motto “Let The Girls Play”, this group has grown from a small group of young ambitious artists to a now 220-member collective that has seen 40 artists obtain publishing deals and 11 land recording contracts.
“We wanted to write a song that … tackles the issue like in a protest song and have it be positive and not just talking about the pain and sadness behind it. Our goal was to talk about what tomorrow’s going to look like.’ – Kalie Shorr
Shorr – known for feisty debut single “Fight Like a Girl” – has been a member of the Song Suffragettes since the beginning. A fierce advocate for gender equality, she has continually championed, covered, and collaborated with her fellow female singer-songwriters. Short and Green attended a viewing party at fellow Suffragette Kim Paige’s for the 75th Golden Globes on January 7, 2018 alongside women that represented all realms of the Nashville-based country music industry. As Shorr reflects, every woman present that night had either experienced “workplace misconduct or counseled others who had endured it.” Inspired by the strong messages in the speeches of the female winners that night, Shorr and Green co-wrote the song as a way to continue this public discussion and bring it forward into the country music industry: “We wanted to write a song that … tackles the issue like in a protest song and have it be positive and not just talking about the pain and sadness behind it. Our goal was to talk about what tomorrow’s going to look like.” While the song calls out the perpetrators of harassment and misconduct, the emerging narrative is one of change: change in rhetoric, change in practice, and change in the genre’s culture.
Singing along with Shorr, you’ll hear the voices of Tasji Bachman, Chloe Gilligan, Savannah Keyes, Mignon, Gracie Schram, Tiera, Jenna Paulette, Emma White, Jordyn Mallory, Emma Lynn White, Regan Stewart, Kim Paige, Jenna McDaniel, Madison Kozak, Jenny Ray, Tenille Arts, Tristan McIntosh, Tia Scola, Alexis Gomez, Candi Carpenter, Trannie Stevens, and Lena Stone.
In addition to calling out the industry and these offenses, the song takes a strong stance on female unity and comradery. The industry’s practices have historically created a culture in which women are made to compete for access to limited resources. As Tracy Gershon admits, female artists have been “pitted against each other and made to feel competitive because they’re repeatedly told there is just one spot at a time for women artists.” Research has yet to fully address the social impact of these practices, but we can see two forms of competition that emerge in this male-dominated environment. First, women are made to feel threatened that another woman may have access to already quite limited resources, including spots on a radio playlist, label/publishing roster, or tour/festival lineup. Second, women are made to feel threatened that the performance of another woman will lead others to generalize the performance to all women. Research has shown that women have historically been punished for the poor charting performance of a new female artist, for politically motivated rhetoric, or for seeking cross-over airplay.
“[S]omething that you’re taught from a really young age is they’re all your competition and [that] you can’t all succeed at once. But the 23 of us succeeded at once.’ – Kalie Shorr
The Song Suffragettes address this issue head-on in a just-released video sharing behind the scenes footage of the video shoot. Jenna Paulette admitted that it would ordinarily be intimidating to be in such “close quarters with people who are usually considered your competition.” Shorr expands on this, stating “something that you’re taught from a really young age is they’re all your competition and [that] you can’t all succeed at once. But the 23 of us succeeded at once.” This video, then, served as a bonding experience on creative, personal, and professional levels for these women.
The video features Shorr leading the Song Suffragettes as they march down this abandoned rural road. Until the bridge, the women sing and march individually, each taking her turn to sing this bold message of resistance. The women march at a variety of paces – some with the tempo of the song, others slightly slower or at a fairly quick pace. The changing pace of their march is rhythmically striking, suggesting not musical rhythm but agentic rhythm as they march with individual senses of purpose toward their unifying goal. The moment of unity arrives in the final line of the second chorus, where American Idol alum Tristan McIntosh makes the first direct declaration that “your” time is up. As she sings this message of warning, the Song Suffragettes begin to take formation. Through the Bridge, Shorr is joined by her colleagues, one by one, until the group of 23 women marches down the road together. But they are not just visually in formation, they are musically in formation through the Bridge – lending their voices to a combined message of protest against the sexual misconduct and discriminatory practices that have kept these women at the margins of the genre. This message is solidified in the final 4 second shot of the 23-women standing arm-in-arm. No longer willing to wait for their turn, no longer willing to endure discriminatory practices, and no longer willing to be divided, these women are standing up to the hegemonic masculine norm in country music practices.
Beyond their musical contributions to reshaping the genre’s culture, the Song Suffragettes earmarked proceeds from digital sales and streaming for the Time’s Up organization. On August 28, 2018, the Song Suffragettes announced a $10,000 donation to the organization’s Legal Defence Fund. Dubbed the “little song that could” by Savannah Keyes, “Time’s Up” has become an important platform for uniting women through a communal narrative structured around shared experiences and comradery.
*This research is part of a larger project that will be presented at the annual conference of the Society for American Music in New Orleans, LA in March 2019 and at the International Country Music Conference in Nashville, TN in June 2019.