Keith Urban is in the running for four trophies, including Entertainer of the Year, at the 51st annual Country Music Association Awards tonight (Nov. 8), but — win or lose — his most important contribution to the event might well be the song he plans to debut.
Capitol Nashville released a new single, “Female,” to radio stations at 6 a.m. ET, hours before the performance on ABC. Roughly three weeks old, the song was inspired in part by the Harvey Weinstein scandal in Hollywood’s film industry. Urban recorded it on Halloween, and the quick release ensures that the song gets attention while the nation is still discussing the predatory behavior and abuse of power at the heart of that ongoing story.
“As a husband and a father of two young girls, it affects me in a lot of ways,” Urban tells Billboard of the song’s empowering message. “And as a son — my mother is alive. It just speaks to all of the females in my life, particularly. For a guy who grew up with no sisters in a house of boys, it’s incredible how now I’m surrounded by girls. But not only in my house; I employ a huge amount of women in my team. The song just hit me for so many reasons.”
“Female” was crafted by three of Nashville’s current go-to songwriters — Ross Copperman (“Setting The World On Fire,” “Wanna Be That Song”), Nicolle Galyon (“Smooth,” “All The Pretty Girls”) and Shane McAnally (“Body Like A Back Road,” “Different For Girls”) — during the early stages of the Weinstein saga in October. The New York Times published the initial story Oct. 5, and the writers’ reaction to it was enhanced by the sensitive emotional state created by the Oct. 1 massacre of 58 fans at a country concert in Las Vegas.
“After Vegas, to be honest, I haven’t wanted to do anything other than write songs that make an impact,” Copperman says. “So that’s all I’ve been doing. We got to talking that day, and then Shane McAnally was like, ‘I’ve had this title in my phone a long time — I’ve never known how to do it — called ‘Female.’ Me and Nicolle were like, ‘Uh, yes, we’re doing that.’ We thought the best way to write it was to just list things in the chorus.”
That chorus is a parade of individual words and short phrases that build a complex portrait of a strong woman. And the first words of the final line — “Baby / girl / woman / child / female” — cinched the connection for Urban, whose pet name for wife Nicole Kidman is “baby girl.”
“The rhythm is very much a mantra, like a chant; it’s like, are ‘mother’ and ‘nature’ two separate words? Or is it ‘Mother Nature?’” Urban says rhetorically. “When you’re dealing with that kind of subject, you’re already fraught with, how do you frame something that speaks to as many people as possible? I think the writers did an extraordinary job on reaching down to places of the soul and heart and humanity, even deeper [to] that sense of oneness and connectedness.”
That mantra phrasing has the potential to work as a form of empowerment for women who take the words to heart, in the same way that other songs — including Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” — have done in earlier times. In fact, “Female” obliquely references another of those songs: Beyoncé’s “Run The World (Girls).”
Urban is purposely refraining from making any predictions about the impact “Female” may or not make.
“It’s none of my business what a song does after [it’s recorded],” he says. “For me, it’s not the result, it’s the process. As a musician, the way I create, it’s just about capturing something that means something to me and then letting it go and finding its way in the world to do whatever it’s meant to do.”
Despite the song’s potential impact and Urban’s own possible victories during the awards, his CMA presentation of “Female” will be intentionally understated.
“Minimalism was my main desire for the performance of the song,” he says. “I just wanted the song to be the feature.”