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No matter how you feel about Keith Urban’s ‘Female,’ here’s why it’s important for country music

Keith Urban performs “Female” at the 51st annual CMA Awards at the Bridgestone Arena. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
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On Wednesday, Keith Urban released a song called “Female,” a ballad about respecting women that was inspired by the recent flood of sexual assault and harassment allegations that started with Harvey Weinstein.

It was an unusual move, partly because country music is almost never this timely — in Nashville, songs can take years to get from the songwriters to artists. But “Female,” written by established hitmakers Shane McAnally, Nicolle Galyon and Ross Copperman, was penned shortly after the explosive New York Times story that detailed the accusations against the famed Hollywood producer. Urban said he heard it the next day and it was “instant love.”

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After “Female” was released, there was a sharply divided response on social media. Some people, especially those in the country industry, loved it and called it “a game changer” and “bold.” Other takes ranged from “mansplaining” to “atrocious” — particularly in regards to the chorus, which ticks off descriptions of women (“Sister, shoulder, daughter, lover … secret keeper, fortune teller, Virgin Mary, scarlet letter.”) Very different reactions continued into Wednesday night, when Urban performed it during the Country Music Association Awards.

Still, no matter how you feel about the ballad, it’s an important song to have in country music right now from one of the biggest stars in the genre.

First, it is increasingly rare for country stars to be outspoken about hot button issues. Artists have shied away from anything controversial in this past year’s political climate, for fear of alienating fans or seeing backlash. And although Urban didn’t write the song, he made this track a priority — he stopped work on his new album to record it. As an influential Nashville figure, Urban has the power to inspire other artists to record songs with a message.

“When somebody laughs and implies that she asked for it, just cause she was wearing a skirt,” Urban sings during the second verse, “Is that how that works?”

Plus, one of the biggest issues in country music over the last few years is the lack of representation for women, particularly on the radio — there are currently just five female singers on the Top 50 country songs chart. While the topic may have made national news in 2015 when a radio consultant advised country stations to “take the females out” for higher ratings, women in Nashville have frequently discussed the challenges they face in a male-dominated industry.

A couple of new singers, such as Kelsea Ballerini and Maren Morris, have been able to break out on country radio, an extraordinarily difficult task for any artist. But given that the majority of hits are from a male perspective, it’s simply refreshing to have a song — and “Female” already got some radio play on Wednesday — that attempts to offer a different point of view.

“When you hear somebody say somebody hits like a girl, how does that hit you? Is that such a bad thing?” Urban wonders in the first verse. “When you hear a song that they play saying you run the world, do you believe it? Will you live to see it?”

Urban’s wife, Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman, has worked with Weinstein on several movies. When the allegations about Weinstein started, she released a statement that applauded “women who speak out against any abuse and misuse of power.” Kidman was out of the country on Wednesday, so didn’t attend the CMA Awards — Urban told Billboard that he was also affected by the song’s message because, “as a husband and a father of two young girls, it affects me in a lot of ways.”

Copperman, one of the songwriters, said the idea for “Female” originated while he and his co-writers were reading the news about the Weinstein scandal.

“We’re in a room and we’re like, ‘What can we do about this?’” Copperman said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “And that’s the one thing we can do is write songs.”

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