In 2014, before the topic of women in country music was the hot-button issue it is today, Maddie & Tae addressed it with their debut single, "Girl in a Country Song." The tongue-in-cheek track calls out the objectification of women in the genre, and although the song eventually became a No. 1 hit, the duo says initial reception was tepid.

"When we first came out with that song, there were so many people that wouldn't play it. So many radio stations wouldn't play it, and [there were] so many people who said, 'Country music can't be associated with this; it's too much,'" recalls Maddie Marlow, adding that she and duo partner Tae Dye were labeled as feminists.

"Almost everyone is a feminist," she says. "A feminist is just someone who believes in equal rights."

While the conversation about women in country -- both as artists and as the subjects of the art -- is more prevalent now than four years ago, Maddie & Tae acknowledge that there's still a long way to go.

"It was interesting being in country music at that time and seeing it come so far," Marlow says. "I think we still have a lot of work to do, just with the equal playing field and everything, but I do feel like we're moving the needle, slowly but surely."

Continues Dye, "We could use this whole topic as something that scares us or maybe makes us feel like we're at a disadvantage, but really, we just let it challenge us and let it be fuel to make us work harder."

On their upcoming sophomore album, Maddie & Tae will continue to be straightforward with their feelings and observations. "We aren't shying away from anything; we're not timid or holding back," adds Dye. "We're like, 'Here we are, unapologetic, and we're gonna speak our truth no matter what' while all this is going on."

"I think that women are continuing to do that ... speaking their truth," she notes. "I think that's a great way to keep the conversation going: Just be who you are and not worry. "

Maddie & Tae have been tapped by Carrie Underwood to be part of her 2019 Cry Pretty Tour 360, along with Runaway June, making the trek a showcase of strong female talent. Marlow and Dye say that delivering their music and its message boldly, and in the company of other women, is one great way to progress the discussion.

"I think the bolder the better right now," says Marlow, "Even four years ago, 'bolder is better' was not a thing."

Maddie & Tae's sophomore album, due in 2019, will be a concept record, about a romantic relationship. The disc comes after a rocky couple of years that saw the duo change labels and, therefore, push back their record's release.

Country Music's Female Trailblazers