In November 2019, country singer Jennifer Nettles wore an outfit to the 2019 CMA Awards that shined a light on the radio play disparity between male and female country artists. She paired her outfit with a hashtag, #EqualPlay, that’s steadily popping up all over social media. Below, Nettles explains in her own words how that now-iconic red-carpet outfit came together—and why #EqualPlay should matter to everyone, not just musicians.
When I was invited to be a part of the CMAs in November 2019, I learned that the opener was going to be a showcase of women in country music throughout the decades, and the show itself was going to honor and celebrate women and have three female hosts. I thought, “Wow, this is really fantastic.” I also thought, “What an opportunity to take the conversation beyond the applause—to make sure the evening isn’t just some sort of ritual.” I hoped it wasn’t going to just check a box and say, “Look at how much we support women in country music!”
Because both research and observation illustrate that isn’t the reality.
So I had a spark of inspiration: I wanted to make a “statement” on the red carpet. And what’s a more womanly way to make a statement than through fashion? In a way, it’s turning the weapon on its head—so many times when people speak of women, it’s all about their beauty, all about the outside. Well then, I figured, I’ll use the outside as a tool for expression.
I knew exactly what I wanted to say. I wanted to get people’s attention and point a cheeky, subversive finger at the truth. When I say it was a spark of inspiration, it was a spark of inspiration. Like any creation—writing a song, for example—this came to me. I wanted simply to say, “Play our fucking records, please and thank you.” (“Please and thank you” to be mannerly, of course.) But I knew that if I actually used the expletive, media outlets might veer away from picking up the pictures. So I thought, If I make it more cartoonish, if I use symbols for the letters, everybody will know what it means and it will be more effectively digested.
My stylist, Haley Atkin, reached out to Christian Siriano. I’ve worked with him several times, and he is a fantastic advocate, ally, and activist for equality across the board. He was into the idea and created this beautiful design: a suit with a gorgeous cape train that flowed behind it. I thought it was a wonderful mixture of strength and femininity at the same time. And then Haley found Alice Mizrachi, a visual artist, muralist, street artist, and portraitist in New York. We spoke and I shared with her my vision, what I wanted it to say, and how I wanted it to look.