Cam Is the Feminist Powerhouse That Country Music Deserves (Certified Country)
By Sophie Schillaci
Cam isn't afraid of the word "feminist" -- or the "twisted" blowback that it can illicit.
"For me, that is not angry, that's not anything except saying I just want to empower women to feel like equals and I want to inspire men to treat us like equals," she tells ET in this week's installment of Certified Country. "I still get people that comment, 'I don't need feminism, it didn't do anything for me. I'm my own individual.'
"Yes, there are a lot of things that we have and privileges that we're enjoying right now, especially white women," she continues. "It's easy to think everything's fine. For a lot of women, that's not the case. Also, if you forget where you came from, that's a really slippery slope to have it move backwards."
The 33-year-old California native is outspoken about women's issues, particularly on her Instagram page, where she regularly shares messages of empowerment with her followers. Earlier this week, Cam shared a refreshingly candid post about her own insecurities as a performer; last month, she modeled a "Feminist Gangsta" T-shirt with a bold message of self-worth; and in October, she took abusers to task after allegations against Harvey Weinstein rocked Hollywood. All the while, Cam's sunny disposition delivers her message with a spoonful of sugar.
"I think everyone's trying hard and, underneath, everybody wants what's best for everybody," she says now. "I really do believe that."
With her new single, "Diane," a response to Dolly Parton's "Jolene," Cam tackles the subject of infidelity, both championing and challenging how women cope with the issue. The song was inspired by real-life infidelity in her friends' and friends' parents' marriages, with Cam offering "the apology and healing that they did not get in real life."
"It's a wonderful narrative to have out there, too, to have these two women that didn't choose to be in this situation. This was somebody lying at the center of it," she says. "What do you do when you're put in that hard situation? Do you resort to slut shaming? Do you get competitive and adversarial? Or do you step up and have integrity and you tell the truth? You try to do the right thing by each other."
Cam sings the part of the other woman (the "Jolene" of the story, if you will), offering regrets and apologies to her lover's wife, "Diane."
"Diane, I promise I didn't know he was your man," she croons. "I would have noticed a gold wedding band."
"There's so much shame involved in infidelity, even on the part of the wife that's been cheated on. People don't want to talk about it," Cam says. "For you to rise above that shame and then be able to tell your story, it's an extra step that's really hard for a lot of people. So I think it's kind of a gift to have me on the outside say, 'No, it's not confusing for me. I'm not embarrassed. You deserved that and I'm gonna tell it to you. I'm not being angry, I'm not being vindictive. I know you deserved that.'"
"Diane" comes amid a moment of reckoning for women's issues in our country, with the Time's Up movement taking over awards season in Hollywood. The initiative aims to support women in all industries through a legal defense fund.
Meanwhile, Cam is calling on country radio to remedy a "major issue" in their industry.
"People come up to me and they're like, 'Oh, aren't you so happy about the renaissance that's happening of women? There's so many women artists. There's so many female artists,'" she says. "When you have one female artist in the top 50 on a chart, that is not a renaissance. When you have such a small number of program directors working in radio that are women, that tiny number, that's not a renaissance. When you have the heads of labels not being women, that's not a renaissance.
"There's a weird myth that's one of the excuses: 'Women don't like listening to other women.' That's a thing that they say," she continues. "Program directors, hopefully all of them are not there anymore, very recently they were told, 'Don't play two women next to each other in the playlist,' and some of them, 'Don't play two in an hour.' ... People will say, 'No, that's not recent' and then one of the gals sitting at one of the stations is like, 'Nope, under so-and-so that was the rule.'"
The unwelcome trend is particularly surprising, Cam says, because of the predecessors that came before her.
"What's funny is that country music, traditionally, we have powerhouse female vocalists. We have super strong female writers," she muses. "The '90s and 2000s had all these incredible female artists, so it's not like country music has always been behind. There's some weird turn of events that has happened with where radio's at right now."
Whether you agree with her or not, Cam says she welcomes and encourages dialogue among women and men from all sides of the subject.
"I think the most important thing is, don't let the anger keep you from talking about it with people that have different views," she advises, "because that's what's going to get everybody to the right spot."
After breaking out with her 2015 hit, "Burning House," Cam is feeling more emboldened than ever to channel her passion into fresh perspective on her sophomore full-length. She's reteamed with Tyler Johnson and Jeff Bhasker on the project, which is expected out later this year.
"Having a hit like 'Burning House,' it gave me so much confidence and let me feel really free to go into this next album and really be me," she explains, "because when you have such an outlier song like that and have it work in an organic, genuine way, it doesn't make me feel like, 'Oh, I better stay in the rules and the lane and whatever mainstream.' No, I can just do me. I dug super deep with the songwriting, the production is exactly what I want and the vocals sound like they've grown so much. I feel like this is definitely my best set of songs to date."
All the while, Cam's been busy collaborating on high-profile projects, including co-writing, singing and playing guitar on Sam Smith's heart-wrenching new song, "Palace," and opening for Harry Styles at the historic Ryman auditorium in Nashville.