LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Reba McEntire pulls no punches about the women of country music: she says they put on a better show.
In a genre that, until very recently, has been dominated by men, those sound like fighting words. "No, they're truthful," corrected the singer.
"I've watched many, many decades of entertainers," she continued. "And I will go watch females and be totally entertained. And when I watch the males, I love their singing, and their lights. But when the girls come on, you better know that they've come up with something new and innovative, and they're going to give you a show."
It's been some month for women in country, with Martina McBride scoring last week's No. 1 country album ("Shine"), as well as Carrie Underwood (Entertainer of the Year) and Taylor Swift (Album of the Year) taking home the ACM's top trophies. McEntire marked her 11th time hosting the telecast, and used the platform to debut her new single, "Strange," released Monday.
It may be McEntire's hardest-rocking, least romantic record to date.
"It's a little bit different," McEntire explained following a rehearsal for last Sunday's Academy of Country Music Awards. "It's tongue-in-cheek. It's a little bit about, you know, 'I'm supposed to be in love with this guy and really heartbroken, but I'm not.' So, it's a tough-woman song."
At 54, McEntire's still got plenty of girl power -- for which she credits some of the new female singers that she influenced, including Underwood and Kelly Clarkson, with whom she recently toured.
"I mean, I had to step up," McEntire recalled. "I didn't get to stand in just certain areas of the stage. I was rockin' right along with her. I was singing her songs, she was singing my songs. We never left the stage during the whole time. And it was a lot of fun. So, when I started looking for new material, that's what I was gravitating to: the more kick-butt type, more youthful-type, attitude songs."
If you doubt McEntire's continuing cool factor, consider that Will Ferrell's "Funny or Die" Web site became "Reba or Die" on April Fool's Day, loaded with pictures and videos from McEntire's 35-year career.
"When I saw Roy Clark and myself on 'Hee Haw,' I died laughing," McEntire said. "Oh my gosh, (my hair) was jacked up to Jesus! It was big hair, big hair from Oklahoma, Tennessee -- yeah, I had it."
McEntire is on the road this spring and a new album, including "Strange," is due in late summer.
"Where I am in my life and career is very happy. I'm very busy -- not only with the music, but I have a clothing line, a luggage line, shoe line, bedding, bath, and we're going into gift ware, like silver platters and candy dishes. So, that's the way we like it. It keeps us out of trouble. That's what mama always said."