Keith Urban, one of country music’s most celebrated artists, is in the spotlight this week as he releases his ninth studio album on Friday, “Graffiti U.” But even before the album dropped, one song — and specifically, one lyric — was already getting attention.
The 10th song on the album is “Gemini,” which Urban co-wrote with pop singer Julia Michaels (featured on his current single, “Coming Home”), along with hugely successful Los Angeles songwriters Justin Tranter and Ian Kirkpatrick. The pop-infused track features Urban gushing about a strong, opinionated woman who drives him crazy in all the best ways: emotionally, physically, spiritually. Then the chorus kicks in:
“She’s a maniac in the bed, but a brainiac in her head,” he sings. “And I know that everybody knows … she’s both.” The song goes on to list her other pleasing attributes, such as “Wears the hell out of that dress, but she’s pretty even when a mess” and “She’ll wake you to make love in the middle of the night.”
However, it’s the first line of the chorus that is proving memorable, mentioned in multiple early stories and reviews about Urban’s record. No surprise there — the rhyme stands out. But there are a couple of other reasons.
Though that maniac-brainiac line might seem tame, it’s an unusually direct reference to sex for country music. Country songs about sex have been around for many decades, but songwriters tend to rely more on euphemisms and innuendo. There are increasingly exceptions, such as Florida Georgia Line’s “Sun Daze” (“If I’m lucky, yeah I might get laid”) and Jason Aldean’s “Burnin’ It Down” (“With you baby, laying right here naked in my bed.”) And “maniac in the bed” is a new one.
“My first reaction was, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I’d say that,’ ” Urban told Rolling Stone of the lyric, adding that Michaels came up with the rhyme. During a songwriting session, Urban’s co-writers asked him to describe his wife, Oscar-winning actress Nicole Kidman. Urban told them, among other things, “She is Gemini, but she’s not a contradiction. She can roll with things.”
So when he protested he wouldn’t say the maniac-brainac chorus, according to Urban, Michaels replied, “You pretty much just did.”
“Again, it’s really one of the things I love about the way she writes,” Urban continued. “It’s unfiltered. It’s pure. It’s truth. It was such a playful song, that in the context of that kind of song, which is super sexy to begin with, it just went together for me.”
As for the content of the line itself, which has been labeled both “intimate” and “cringy”? Frankly, the descriptor — a lady who is wild between the sheets, but don’t worry, she’s also smart! — feels outdated for a singer who has positioned himself as a progressive artist, especially in a genre that has notable issues with representing women. Country music has caught much flak recently for being filled with songs that cast women as the tight jean-wearing, interchangeable sidekicks in the passenger seat.
Urban, on the other hand, has made an attempt to give female country artists a boost, given the low number of women who can get their songs played on the radio. He’s known for inviting female singers to sing with him live in concert, such as on his duet “We Were Us,” originally recorded with Miranda Lambert. On “Graffiti U,” Kassi Ashton sings on “Drop Top,” and Lindsay Ell joins him for “Horses.”
Last year, as the Harvey Weinstein scandal was unfolding, Urban released “Female,” a ballad that urged respect for women. It turned out to be rather controversial, as some felt the song was degrading and accused him of “mansplaining,” while others found it empowering and applauded Urban for recording a song with a message.
So far, the reaction to the “Gemini” lyric has shown it could also be polarizing. Yet this song has one significant boost: According to People magazine, Urban made sure to connect the “cool, sexy track” to his movie star wife. During a Spotify event in Nashville this week, a fan asked which song on the album reminded him of Kidman, and Urban replied “Gemini.”
“She’s definitely a little bit of Gemini. Maybe the whole thing. Right, baby?” Urban said. People reported that Kidman — a Gemini, born June 20 — grinned “sheepishly” in the audience. “Yes,” Urban added, “ ‘Gemini’ is definitely her song.”