Amanda Shires featuring Jason Isbell
Written by Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires
“The Problem” is a stunning intimate portrait of a woman making a difficult choice, and a man giving her the emotional support that she deserves.
The song only alludes to its subject matter, although the topic is made clear through discussions of its local legality and the fear expressed by the woman of being judged by others and God for terminating her pregnancy. But the focus isn’t on the choice being made. Rather, Shires and Isbell spotlight the humanity of the two young adults experiencing an intense range of emotions as they navigate their situation.
Shires has quivering heartbreak in her voice by nature, so she’s particularly effective at expressing the turmoil being felt by her character. What makes “The Problem” especially powerful is Isbell’s heartfelt support for Shires, as he fully acknowledges her pain and uncertainty, and he gives her his complete and unconditional support, repeating often that “I’m on your side” and “everything’s going to be okay.”
For all of the political rhetoric surrounding abortion, it’s remarkable how rare it is for a story like this to be told. To their credit, Shires and Isbell tell the story from the inside out and do not shy away from the moral dilemma at hand. Through her questioning of the own choice she’s making, Shires fully humanizes the woman at the heart of the story. This is a real person making a hard decision, not a straw (wo)man serving as avatar for either side of an argument.
By default, singing about this subject matter at all is a political statement. But “The Problem” is a reminder that all politics are personal, and there’s more to be learned about the human condition through empathy than we will ever learn from pointing fingers of judgment.