Maren Morris

Four years after consultant Keith Hill's comment that women artists on country radio were best thought of as garnish — tomatoes, as in "hot" — added fuel to what was already becoming a major debate about sexism in country music, gender-equity activism in the genre has reached a tipping point.

From rap to rock to singer-songwriter pop, 2019 was a bountiful year for all kinds of music. Lil Nas X's hit "Old Town Road" defined the year with its massive, genre-crossing popularity and sheer catchiness. But when it came to the best albums of 2019, female artists reigned.

Country music has a gender problem. Women only make up 16% of country artists, and even fewer are songwriters.

When women do break into the mainstream — the likes of Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, and Kacey Musgraves — they're often young. The average age of the genre's top female artists is 29 years old.

In 1985, a team of country-music legends formed The Highwaymen, a supergroup combining the talents of Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson.

A meditative quality lingers over our favorite tracks from March. U.K. rapper Dave crafted a 11-minute opus to an acquaintance, grappling at once with toxic masculinity, domestic violence and the cathartic value of therapy. LA rock star-on-waiting SASAMI wades into a solitary quest for universal connection. Caleb Burhans shares his entrancing tribute to the late Jason Molina. And Amanda Palmer unleashed a grand treatise on the human condition.

Juice WRLD, the reigning prince of emo rap, is back with a follow up to last year's Goodbye & Good Riddance. Deathrace for Love is bleak, brutal and the rare sequel that lives up to the original. The Oxford rock band Foals takes a big swing in one of the group's most ambitious albums to date; and singer Patty Griffin has a beautiful and profoundly moving, new self-titled album on growing old, the frailty of life and perseverance.

Maren Morris' life has been a whirlwind these last few years. Following the success of her major label debut album, 2016's Hero, and last year's dance-pop hit "The Middle," the country-pop singer-songwriter is back with more experiences, more confidence and her latest album, Girl, out March 8.

The song "GIRL," which arrived at all digital music platforms yesterday afternoon, is the first new solo music from Maren Morris since she released her 2016 major label debut Hero and its four singles.

Evolution follows a familiar pattern in plenty of popular music genres. Fearless newcomers or agile established stars with credibility to burn veer from the dominant aesthetic, adopting approaches to music-making that come off as savvy correctives to what everyone's used to hearing. And if what they're doing really begins to catch on, bits and pieces are absorbed into the mainstream, subtly or significantly shifting the genre's center, before something completely different comes along to catch the public's ear.

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