Jess Moskaluke‘s accolades suggest she’s a darling of Canadian country music, but even in the midst of her widespread success the singer is baffled by the hurdles she faces as a woman.
Consider FM radio, she uses as an example, where archaic standards established decades ago in Canada still favour male country stars.
“Certain stations feel you should not play two women back-to-back,” the Rocanville, Sask., native said.
“That’s crazy, because they’ll play men (for several songs in succession). It leaves even fewer spots for women.”
Once U.S. superstars like Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood get spins, there’s even less airtime for homegrown female talent.
Heading into Sunday’s Canadian Country Music Association Awards in Saskatoon, the 27-year-old performer knows the value of exposure for a musician.
Moskaluke has taken home the CCMA award for best female artist every year since 2014 and she’s nominated again this year.
She’ll also perform one of her songs, as will Canadian country favourites Brett Kissel and Gord Bamford, who will be joined by Blue Rodeo frontman Jim Cuddy.
While those TV appearances certainly paid off, Moskaluke says country radio stations remain “a solid part of the foundation” of breaking through in Canada.
She felt the impact earlier this year after Kiss Me Quiet won the Juno for best country album. The win boosted her spins on Canadian radio and helped the single Drive Me Away crack the top three of the Billboard Canadian country music airplay chart.
WATCH: Jess Moskaluke Drive Me Away
It was the first time a Canadian woman reached those heights since 2008, when Terri Clark reached No. 1 with In My Next Life.
Moskaluke carries that claim to fame knowing it’s emblematic of the uphill battle female country stars still face in the pursuit of mainstream success.
The topic was broached in the pop industry more than 20 years ago, when Sarah McLachlan founded the Lilith Fair tour in response to her frustrations with how she felt radio stations were downplaying talented women.
Despite a lack of progress, Moskaluke looks at her fellow nominees in the female artist category with optimism.
Among the group is Alee, whose track Moonshine gave the Edmonton-based artist a notable breakthrough. Calgary’s Lindsay Ell is in the running after her major label debut The Project grabbed attention following previous work alongside mentor Randy Bachman. Madeline Merlo from Maple Ridge, B.C., is nominated on the heels of 2016’s Free Soul and a tour with Dean Brody and Paul Brant, while Meghan Patrick, who hails from Bowmanville, Ont., recently toured with Tom Cochrane for her album Grace & Grit.
“Even just looking at the female category in the CCMA awards — it’s a strong one,” Moskaluke said.
“All of those women have put out amazing albums or singles and have really done something impactful in the Canadian country music scene. So it’s getting better.
“But that doesn’t mean that it’s over.”
WATCH BELOW: Juno winner Jess Moskaluke wants to celebrate small towns
Moskaluke takes her cues from the iconic women of country who came before her, including Faith Hill and Timmins, Ont.-raised trailblazer Shania Twain, who proved that the genre could hold its own on the Top 40 charts.
“I just thought this girl was so cool,” she said, giving Twain credit for bridging the gap between country and pop music, which has become a popular trend in recent years.
“You’re introducing a whole new set of fans into our genre. I just say, ‘Welcome, come on in.'”