Keith Urban’s understated performance of his new women’s rights anthem Female was a universal hit with the audience at Thursday’s Country Music Awards, but not so much with the critics.
Hours after it was released to radio stations, Urban delivered his debut performance of the song – a response to the recent raft of sexual assault allegations against disgraced Hollywood boss Harvey Weinstein.
Even as he was taking off his guitar, Twitter lit up with praise for Female and its lyrics, which Rolling Stone Country said is dedicated to the women in Urban’s life and “the power they inherently hold yet are so often denied.”
But to entertainment website AV Club, the song was inexplicable: “Keith Urban recorded a song about Harvey Weinstein for some godforsaken reason,” it declared.
Added the site, Urban “doing his bit to promote healing in the emotionally shattering wake” of the Weinstein scandal was “much like a toddler who drops a bag of flour on the floor in an attempt to ‘help’ bake cookies”.
I love the verses on Keith Urban's 'Female,' but I hate that the chorus is just a list of female words ("…Secret keeper, fortune teller, Virgin Mary, scarlet letter, Technicolor, river wild, baby girl, woman child…") with no narrative. Very tired of that McAnally habit.
— Grady Smith (@gradywsmith) November 8, 2017
Keith Urban's "Weinstein-inspired" ode to women "Female" is the "We Didn't Start the Fire" of absolutely atrocious takes. pic.twitter.com/CuCuP493wB
— R. Eric Thomas (@oureric) November 8, 2017
— Spencer Dukoff (@SpencerDukoff) November 9, 2017
After listening to Female, written by Ross Copperman, Kaitlyn Tiffany of tech news website The Verge said its appropriation of predatory behaviour towards women left her “bleeding profusely from the eyes, nose and ear canals”.
To a verse referencing Beyonce’s 2011 single Run The World (Girls) Tiffany – a fan of other Urban songs – responded: “This is, I will use one of my last breaths to say, an … extraordinary way for a man to begin a song.”
But not every professional critic shredded Female.
Billboard called its message “empowering”, and Urban told the magazine he was immediately drawn to the song because, “[It] just hit me for so many reasons.”
Among them? His actress wife Nicole Kidman, 50 – who reportedly contributed backing vocals to the song – and their daughters Sunday, 9, and Faith, 6.
“As a husband and a father of two young girls, it affects me in a lot of ways,” Urban told Billboard.
“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.”
He expanded at the BMI Country Music Awards on Tuesday, reported AP: “I think it’s just time for a recalibrating of the past, you know? Things have been a certain way for a long, long time, and I think you’re seeing a turning of the tide for that.”
Listen to the song below
Billboard noted the first words of the final line – “Baby / girl / woman / child / female” – cinched the connection for Urban, whose nickname for Kidman is “baby girl”.
The song’s chorus lists multiple descriptions of women including “broken halo”, “suit of armour” and “Technicolor river wild”.
Said The Verge‘s Tiffany, “These are all the types of female that exist, and Keith was very thorough.”
Urban, who was up for four gongs at the CMAs but only won Single of the Year for his track Blue Ain’t your Colour, wouldn’t be drawn on whether Female would make a social or commercial impact.
He said his interest as a musician lies in creating, not getting a result.
“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.”