Single Review: Michael Ray, “Real Men Love Jesus”

“Real Men Love Jesus”
Michael Ray

Written by Brad Warren, Brett Warren, Lance Miller, and Adam Sanders

Its title is lifted from a bumper sticker, and the song itself offers just as much depth.

“Real Men Love Jesus,” the second single by Michael Ray, avoids the clichés of bro-country, which means that the song, like Florida-Georgia Line’s “Dirt” and Luke Bryan’s “Drink A Beer” before it, stands to be praised as something far greater than it actually is on its own merits. More than anything else, “Real Men Love Jesus” is a throwback to those halcyon days of 2008, when contemporary country songwriting became defined by songs that consisted almost entirely of lists of lifestyle signifiers rather than fully-realized characters or purposeful narratives that reflected anything insightful about human experiences.

Here, Ray uses his not-quite-on-pitch baritone to rattle off a list of predictable gender stereotypes that allegedly characterize “real men.” To the surprise of absolutely no one, these include but are not limited to: fishin’, fast cars, livin’ (way too long pause) out on the edge so far they’re gonna need forgivin’, football, cowboys, outlaws, Saturday nights out on the town, Sunday Morning Comin’ Down, mama, a cold beer in a dirty hand, and so on for what feels like ad infinitum.

The production avoids recent EDM-inspired trends and, instead, is a fairly run-of-the-mill take on modern country that doesn’t stray too far from the Blake Shelton mold. Ray’s voice is unremarkable and lacks a distinctive tone or timbre that could differentiate him from any of the genre’s other up-and-coming, would-be heartthrobs, but his performance is at least committed and conveys sincerity. Unfortunately, neither of those attributes is enough to elevate the song beyond a rote list of broad generalizations.

It all seems harmless enough at first blush, but, ultimately, what’s troubling about a song like “Real Men Love Jesus” is how it falls in-line with contemporary country’s tendency toward othering. As recently as the early 2000s, popular country music was still interested in drawing from a variety of authentic first-person experiences that allowed artists the opportunity to communicate with and on behalf of a wide range of potential fans. What the “bro” country trend and its subsequent shift toward dance-oriented music accomplished was a streamlining of country artists and audiences. The endless barrage of tailgate-and-dirt-road-party songs have been every bit as interchangeable as the brigade of lookalike artists peddling them, and the sum effect is to say that country music is by and for only one type of person.

“Real Men Love Jesus” is a song that, while avoiding the exact sounds and images popularized by Florida-Georgia Line and Luke Bryan and Cole Swindell and Chase Rice et. al., nevertheless doubles-down on the idea of exclusion. The song clearly defines groups who are in and out, and there’s an explicit superiority and privilege granted to the “real men” the song describes. And country music in 2015 simply doesn’t need any more unexamined social privilege. Michael Ray may be trying to differentiate himself from the bros who came before him, but “Real Men Love Jesus” puts him squarely in their company as someone trying to define who is allowed to respond to his art and to count themselves among country music fans.

Grade: D


  1. I think this “othering” trend discussed vis-à-vis this particular record has probably been going on in one form or another since the immediate aftermath of 9/11, when a lot of super-patriotic records came out codifying who loved their country and who allegedly didn’t, and thus dividing people along a demarcation line that was simply dumb at best, and toxic at its worst. This, to me, is just the latest attempt to belittle a group of people somebody has a problem with, and it does give country music another black eye that I don’t think it needs.

  2. I’ll start this comment by saying I don’t understand the appeal of Michael. Could be a completely cool guy, but I see nothing about him that stands out.

    This is the kind of review I love to read, and hats off to Jonathan for voicing a valid complaint about current country themes in a way that brings the issue to light without name-calling. I know some would read this and say being a Christian in this day and age means being persecuted for their faith, but we all know that’s a joke. Even though the vast majority of country music fans may be Christians, I like my themes inclusive rather than exclusive.

  3. I can’t stand this guy. I’m sorry, but everything about him is so calculated and fake, it is truly amazing he is one of the rising stars of the genre. I honestly feel like Michael Ray may be a robot, that the record and radio industry has created and just sings whatever they think listeners and advertisers want to hear. I admit I havent exactly followed his career all that close, but he seems to have zero personality or artistic talent.

    Basically, Michael Ray comes off as a failed male model that someone in the industry saw in a magazine ad, plopped him down in front of a stylist and told whatever hack producer in bouncing around Nashville these days to have him sing in front of a mic some songs carefully calculated to appeal to the widest possible audience and then auto-tune the crap out of it.

    Michael Ray is pretty much the definition of “hack”.

  4. I’m sorry, but have y’all ever heard of Merle Haggard? “Fightin’ Side of Me,” “Okie from Muskogee,” “Workin’ Man Blues” – you know, Merle Haggard? Hell, he even outright mocked the pansy liberal side of America with “Rainbow Stew.”

    The trend of “othering” has been around for a long time. It didn’t start with bro country, and it didn’t start with 9/11. Country music is and has been, by-and-large, a conservative genre of music, with a pretty well-defined definition of “manly” behavior and a solid Christian belief. If these things offend you, I would suggest that you became a fan of the wrong type of music.

    This song is not a very good one, but not for the reasons that Jonathan, Erik, and John think. Rather, I think that Mike’s comment regarding the lack of sincerity and personality from Michael Ray is the chief complaint.

  5. This song is actually kind of offensive to me. The amount of “othering” in this song is almost aggressive.

    The first point that offends me is that this song almost implies that “real men” must be Christian. Is that to imply that Hindu men can’t be real men?

    And it paints such a narrow character of what men are supposed to be. I don’t like American football. I’m Colombian so I grew up preferring soccer (which the rest of us call football). Does that mean I can’t be a real man?

    What’s next? Jana Kramer recording a song called “Real Women Love Cleaning”? Or “Real Women Love Cooking/Soap Operas/High Heels”?

    Songs like this really make certain people feel like they aren’t welcome in the country music community.

  6. @ Six String Richie

    Excellent points, all. My first draft of this review had a line about whether or not this exact song could even get released if the only change was from “Jesus” to “Allah,” but I figured that was too glib. But it only serves to highlight the unexamined social privileges on display in this song.

    @ Keith

    No one would refute that country music skews somewhat more conservative on social issues, but the genre has always been far more balanced than it is currently. Historically, the genre has not gone to the lengths that has gone to in recent years to alienate all but an exceedingly narrow swath of the population as an audience. This song only serves to perpetuate that.

    And the fact that anyone might disagree with the politics espoused in a few of Merle Haggard’s songs– or, on the flip side, of socially progressive songs like Loretta Lynn’s (you know, Loretta Lynn?) “The Pill” or “Rated X”– should not preclude anyone from enjoying the full range of Haggard’s extraordinary music or that of any other country artist.

    With your use of “pansy” as a pejorative and by saying, “If these things offend you, I would suggest that you became a fan of the wrong type of music,” you’ve proven the exact point that I was making in the review.

  7. “…the genre has always been far more balanced than it is currently.”

    That’s exactly the point that I disagree with. You bring up Loretta Lynn as a counterexample to my point that the 70s were just as conservative, but I can point out Kacey Musgraves (“Follow Your Arrow,” “Merry Go ‘Round”) or Brandy Clark (“Get High,” “Pray to Jesus”) as similar present-day examples. None of this, however, changes the fact that the prevailing attitudes in country music throughout history have been conservative. And knowing this, I stand by my statement that people who are easily offended by conservative sentiment may have chosen the wrong genre of music.

  8. I have no problem with people who don’t want to listen to conservative-minded songs. I personally have no use for liberal-minded ones. I don’t listen to any artists who were recording their Bush-bashing songs after 9/11 or who regularly push their liberal views in song or in the press, so I’m not going to criticize people who have those feelings from the other side.

    I’ll have to listen to the actual song before I make up my mind, but I did look up the lyrics and had no problem with them. I don’t drink, but it doesn’t offend me if someone sings about it. But due to political correctness, it’s almost an abomination for a man to express what he thinks a real man should be. For that reason alone, I tend to like the song and the artist a little more than I should.

  9. “But due to political correctness, it’s almost an abomination for a man to express what he thinks a real man should be.”
    And who are you, sir, to decide what makes a man “real”?

  10. “how it falls in-line with contemporary country’s tendency toward othering”
    Exactly. Except – and here I find myself agreeing with Mike W. – this was coldlly calculated: I can just see some executive somewhere going “OK, so we need something our core demographic can get on board with, but it can’t be the usual trucks and girls thing, they’ve seen through it. We could try family and values, so definitely something religious, but not too religious, plus say something about mama, very traditional, and we got ourselves a new hit record! Send me the next reeducated fake non-descript Disney reject, have him record it.”
    And as a result, this doesn’t even have the panache of “I’m still a guy” – hate it as much as you will, at least Miller and Paisley had the guts to say it out loud.

    @caj: I am a card-carrying pinko commie and, at the same time, a Christian, so I like a good song with a Christian message, but a) this one ain’t good and b) its message ain’t Christian.

  11. @John

    More Christians have persecuted and martyred in the last two centuries than all than all the previous centuries combined. Yes, American Christians have not (yet) dealt with forces such as ISIS or similar groups as our brothers and sisters in Christ have been subjected to overseas. We have been only combated with a rapid increase of secularism in society. Frequently, I visit this one Pokémon site. Any attack on another group brings a moderator from the shadows to slam down infractions, but a “Bible Thumper” insult is never punished. Christians, along with country folk, are “acceptable” targets.

    But to say Christians aren’t persecuted is illogical and incorrect.


    You are correct. Country music might be the last bastion of conservative values in popular culture.

    What is funny, is that despite the lengths country music has gone to alienate listeners with a narrow view of being country entails, it has only blossomed in popularity. Of course, modern country music has become popular due to its sonic embracing of other genres, but the subject matter certainly hasn’t driven people away, instead the “other” treat country music/living as a rural fantasy of bonfires and girls.

    And to be truthful, the amount of Christianity in radio country music has seemed to decrease.

  12. To clarify earlier comments I made, I don’t have problems with themes of Christianity or socially conservative viewpoints in country music. However, I don’t appreciate when a song seems to diminish the value of people from other faiths, political viewpoints or lifestyles.

    I feel that this song shares the message that Christian, football playing, beer drinkin’ jocks are superior to other men. Thus, I feel it diminishes the value of other people. I would be equally disapproving if this song poked fun at Christian men and implied that men of a different faith were superior.

    A song I enjoy that is Christian influenced and probably was designed to appeal to social conservatives is “God Must Be Busy” by Brooks & Dunn. I feel that it addresses certain themes of the Christian faith but the focus of the song is a man who hopes for peace on earth. I don’t feel that it diminishes people of different faiths or lifestyles.

  13. There are many wonderful Christian themed songs in country music. Anyone who thinks that any of us here at Country Universe thinks otherwise is greatly mistaken. This, however, is an embarrassing example of a good christian themed country song.

  14. Unfortunately there are a lot of Christians in this country of seem to think that having a Christian message automatically makes it good. There have been plenty of movies and bands in recent years that were terrible but made good money just because they had a Christian message and a lot of people supported it more as a statement about themselves than anything. Mentioning Jesus is practically a license to print money as long as you market it to the right people. And your theology doesn’t even have to be sound.

  15. The band Creed gave off a semi-Christian vibe that made them huge in some religious communities even though they didn’t really practice Christianity in their personal lives.

    When they were big a church youth group in my town went to see them in concert. The youth group was only allowed to see Christian acts. Apparently the youth leaders didn’t know much about Creed.

  16. This song is absolute garbage… It’s no better than the equally-terrible “God Made Girls”, and while there are several examples of fantastic, Christian tinged songs in country music, this is certainly not one of them, and is one of the single worst things country music in 2015 has had to offer in my opinion.

  17. This is probably the most contrived thread I’ve seen on this site, which has had some pretty contrived features of late.

    First, it is pretty clear that clear that Michael W knows nothing about Michael Ray: “I can’t stand this guy. I’m sorry, but everything about him is so calculated and fake, it is truly amazing he is one of the rising stars of the genre. I honestly feel like Michael Ray may be a robot, that the record and radio industry has created and just sings whatever they think listeners and advertisers want to hear. I admit I haven’t exactly followed his career all that close, but he seems to have zero personality or artistic talent….Basically, Michael Ray comes off as a failed male model that someone in the industry saw in a magazine ad”

    I’ve known Michael Ray for at least a decade. He comes from a family of country and bluegrass musicians and fans. His country roots run far deeper than Ashley Monroe, Miranda Lambert, Jason Aldean or Luke Bryan. Ray could give you a three hour concert of Merle Haggard and George Jones songs and do it convincingly. Most of his early public appearances featured bands that went heavy on the fiddle and steel guitar. He is a pretty decent guitar player. He does not need auto-tune, although today’s record producers seem enamored of it.

    Unfortunately, doing that would not get him on the radio and would have not landed him a recording contract. I suspect that as his career advances he will be able to do more tunes that are closer to his roots.

    I am not overwhelmingly positive about Ray’s current recording choices but I basically think that nearly everything on today’s top forty stinks. While I am not a huge fan of this song (I’d give it a C or C+) to say the song “doubles-down on the idea of exclusion” is utter nonsense . Moreover, to even describe “othering” as a concept is giving it far too much credibility

    There is nothing plastic or phony about Michael Ray. He is simply yet another young artist trying to differentiate himself from the rest of the pack without offending the powers that be at radio. I don’t know if he’ll succeed – early returns are mixed

  18. CountryKnight,

    rapid increase of secularism in society
    I don’t think that word means what you think it means. The opposite of a secular society is a theocracy, so in essence you’re saying that the US used to be a theocracy, but is not anymore. Which is blatantly false.

    But to say Christians aren’t persecuted is illogical and incorrect.
    First, “illogical”, I don’t think it means what you think it means, either. Logic is a method, not outcome, so you probably mean “empirically incorrect”. Second, you’re wrong. Yes, there are parts of the world where Christians are persecuted, like Syria or Iraq. But we are not talking about international politics, we are talking about country music and thus the good old USofA. And there Christians are still the majority population who control every branch of government. And if you insist that being called a “Bible thumper” on a Pokémon message board constitues persecution, you are not only delusional, but you also insult those of us who know what real persecution of Christians looks like.

    But all of that is beside the point: as Leeann said, Christian-themed songs are a part and parcel of country music and its traditions and no one wants that to change or go away. The problem is when the such songs are, well, bad and the message is nothing but a cold calculated marketing gimmick.

  19. @ Keith

    One key difference is that both of the Loretta Lynn singles I cited were big hits at radio (“Rated X” was a Billboard #1, while “The Pill” peaked at #5) and Lynn irrefutably one of the genre’s all-time greats, while Musgraves’ “Follow Your Arrow” failed to crack the top 40 at radio, despite strong sales and some industry recognition. Neither of Clark’s singles charted at all. Which, again, speaks to my point about the lack of balance of perspectives– though, again, I agreed with you that the genre has historically skewed more conservative and no one would refute that– in the genre today as opposed to the 70s. But I’m sure we could trade examples and counter-examples all the live-long day, and I’m just as sure that it wouldn’t accomplish much.

    Still, you’ve provided another illustration of the greater thesis of my review by saying, people who are easily offended by conservative sentiment may have chosen the wrong genre of music.

    No one gets to dictate who is allowed to respond to art.

    Not Michael Ray. Not Merle Haggard. Not Loretta Lynn. Not the Dixie Chicks in full-on Taking The Long Way temper-tantrum mode. Not me. Not you.

    Simply because someone finds the politics of a song like this– which is based upon attempts to exclude people based upon their differences and to claim moral superiority on the back of a list of cliches– to be offensive doesn’t mean that person needs anyone else’s permission or blessing to be moved by the music of Merle Haggard or Loretta Lynn or Josh Turner or Kacey Musgraves or Jason Isbell or Iris DeMent. And to suggest otherwise, as has been done repeatedly in this thread, is actually far more offensive than anything Michael Ray and the four songwriters of this song accomplished.

    @ Paul

    I’ve often attempted to find some common ground with you because I really do have a great deal of respect for your historical knowledge of country music and because there are many areas in which our tastes overlap. That said:

    I’m not sure how a comment thread can be “contrived,” but, as the writer of the original post, what I wrote is a reflection of my honest opinions about this single and its broader context.

    One need look no deeper than the title of the song to see that it does, indeed, double-down on the idea of excluding others. It isn’t difficult to parse: If “Real” “Men” “Love Jesus,” then those who don’t “Love Jesus” aren’t “Real” “Men.”

    That is, on its face, an example of exclusion.

    The concept of othering– which has been around for well over a century and figures prominently in contemporary scholarship in psychology, anthropology, sociology, and philosophy and which actively influences training practices in professional fields ranging from social work to business management– is doing just fine on its own without needing any further validation of its credibility from my review of a Michael Ray single and without needing your endorsement. It has been documented and studied in great depth and detail as a form of human social behavior countless times over, and this single is simply one illustration of it in practice.

  20. Ok, let’s all be honest. Regarding the song. It simply is just not that good. I will add one comment about his so called bluegrass and country roots. To me it doesn’t matter if he has bluegrass roots in his family. The music either sounds authentic or it doesn’t, and there is no denying that this does not. Maybe he will get better with time. We shall see.

  21. Just because someone chooses to be offended by a song doesn’t mean the song itself is offensive.

    I find it refreshing that an artist is willing to define what he thinks is a real man, without being bland or apologizing.


    I was not referring to opposite ends of the spectrum definition with my comment. A society can not be a theocracy and remain with religious undertones, and a society can increase in secularism without being fully secular. It is not one or the another. I do not want a theocracy, but I also do not want to live in a country where a nativity scene is taken down or the Ten Commandments are removed or retailers push Happy Holidays when they are making most of their sales because of Christmas.

    My Pokémon example was tying into my increasing secularism point. No, it is not real persecution, but persecution has to start somewhere and a moderator ignoring blasé insults against a particular group constitutes a starting point. If I left a racial slur on that site, my username would be banned within an hour. (As well it should.)

    Oh, I know what real persecution of Christianity looks like. I read the news and I devour history books. You can step down from your mind’s moral superiority.

  22. I tend to agree with Tom P. It’s even more disappointing/frustrating to me if an artist knows better. I’ll quickly let it go, however, if/when he starts making good music someday.

  23. CountryKnight,

    and a society can increase in secularism without being fully secular
    Like many of your conservative brethren, you misunderstand the term “secular”: it merely refers to the relationship of the dominant religion to the government of a country. A country can only be either a theocracy – like, say, Iran or Vatican – or it can be secular – like the US or, say, Denmark. The 1st Amendment is clear on the relationship between the Federal government and that of the States, so what you are concerned about is the role of religion in the US in general.
    a nativity scene is taken down
    Only a publicly sponsored (i.e. paid by tax money) nativity scene and/or one in a public space which violates the 1st Amendment (just think about how you would like a nice Id al-Fitr decoration in front of the courthouse in your home town). Or, you know, it suffices to add a menorah and maybe some mistletoe.
    You are still absolutely free to put a nativity scene in your own back yard.
    or the Ten Commandments are removed
    … from courthouses where they were put in violation of the 1st Amendment by people who really should know better.
    retailers push Happy Holidays
    And this is the persecution we’re talking about?
    You can step down from your mind’s moral superiority.
    I will, as soon as stop comparing your loss of privilege to actual human suffering.
    I find it refreshing that an artist is willing to define what he thinks is a real man, without being bland or apologizing.
    But he is bland, definitely blander than Paisley. And I dunno about refreshing – thing is, (popular) culture is filled with ideas on what or who a ‘real’ man is, so he is just another sucker riding the way. Except he directs his message at a clearly defined audience.

  24. I read some interviews with Ray and the reason he recorded the song was because it reminded him of his grandfather and men like his grandfather. He also wanted to give a nod to working-class men who he feels do not get recognized enough for what they do.

    I listened to the song and I don’t really understand the issue people are having with it, but that’s why we have these discussions.

  25. It’s clear that bulbul doesn’t really understand the meaning of secular. How ironic that he’s pompously attempting to define it for us all. Allow me to provide the actual dictionary definition:

    denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis.

    Clearly a society, independent of government recognition, can vary its degree of secularism.

    What it cannot vary, however, is its history. And bulbul is clearly also quite ignorant of that as well. The 1st Amendment says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” It does not prohibit the use of public space for religious purposes (e.g. nativity scenes and the Commandments). Historical context backs this reading of the Constitution as the Founders’ intent, considering that they used public space for these purposes all the time. Even the U.S. Capitol was used for church services until relatively recently.

  26. Ray could give you a three hour concert of Merle Haggard and George Jones songs and do it convincingly.

    So could Darius Rucker, allegedly, but his music has been a disappointment as well. Perhaps not as big as that of Michael Ray, but it’s still a big bag of meh. The point is that what he allegedly can do isn’t matching up to what he is doing.

    As for Ray doing what he had to do to get on the radio and whatnot…perhaps that may be true, but then I go back to what I said earlier about the mainstream game being rigged with a bunch of crappy rules that don’t benefit the artists or the longtime fans who give a damn about the genre. You might say he has no choice but to play the game, but as for me I beg to differ. The Red Dirt and Americana scenes are full of people who are playing an entirely different game by an entirely different set of rules, and I’m going to take a shot in the dark here and say that they’re doing pretty well for themselves, at least well enough not to have to apply for jobs keeping the shopping carts off the Walmart parking lot.

    Ray seems to have made his choice, and that is fine. But if songs like this are what comes of it, then he deserves every bit of criticism that comes his way.

  27. Have to agree. This seems like a label’s choice to position Michael in the clean livin’ good ol’ boy category, but the song itself is formulaic and, dare I attempt the pun, uninspired. “Everything In Between” is a much better song, and would have been a far better choice for a sophomore single.

  28. First of all, I feel guilty because for some reason I had it in my head that Michael Ray was a former reality show star (Survivor or something like that) and I therefore scoffed at the very thought of him. My apologies to Michael. Unfortunately this is just a bad song. Sorry again, Michael.

    However this is a timely release given what recently went down in France. I read a few pieces this last week about the role traditional manhood plays in the world, and how society has been undervaluing it as of late. It seems like the right time for a like-minded song to gain momentum, but guys like that deserve better than this one.

    Lastly, I think it’s interesting to accuse country as the genre of othering. I sincerely mean that because I honestly saw it the other way around. And I say this as a non-Christian libertarian.

    Bro country has always seemed like a response to pretty much every other aspect of modern pop culture. I even think the lack of rallying behind female country artists is largely due to the omnipresence of stars like Beyonce, Lady Gaga, and Miley. They’re everywhere, they’re obnoxious, and they’re exhausting. I totally understand why country radio fans just want to chill out and have a beer with the bros.

    It stinks for the serious country artists trying to come up in the midst of all of it, as well as music fans trying to sift through the nonsense. But I understand it.

  29. I think this othering is just an extension of society in general. I do think a lot of it started with 9/11 (and was shown in the music and of course in reactions to Dixie Chicks). We are obviously seeing it in politics, too, where the lines between conservative and liberal (and then the sub-groups of those broad terms) are more clear than ever. Trump is doing as well as he is because he’s basically giving voice to privileged white people who now feel justified enough in their ignorance to go public. Many of these people do feel like they are being persecuted, but then martyrdom has always been a part of Christianity. It’s no surprise these qualities are showing up in country music since it’s the genre most associated with conservatives. I say that as observation, not judgment. In a general sense I think we actually need to let go of our expectations of “country” and perhaps just look to a new genre that holds onto the traditions of country music. The music is what matters, not what it’s called.

  30. caj – The issue is that to say “real men (fill in the blank)” implies that people who don’t do those things are not real men. It’s limiting to define anything in such a specific way. As someone else wrote, can real men not believe in Allah? The song also states that real men love women, which implies homosexuals are not real men. It also says real men love football, so I guess any man who doesn’t is…a woman?

  31. …at least jesus will still love michael ray after this one. bumper-sticker-country after bro-country? no handle on this blade, i guess.

  32. Cora,

    Ray actually was a contestant on a CW singing competition called “The Next” with judges John Rich, Nelly, Joe Jonas and Gloria Estefan. He won the show.

    I watched an episode (don’t judge me) and he forgot the words to “Springsteen” by Eric Church during his performance. The judges didn’t say anything about forgetting the words because they were all trying to be really nice.

  33. Anyone find it ironic, “othering” the “otherers?”
    “These guys don’t sing my kind of country music, so I don’t think they should be singing.”
    I’ve always felt that country is a genre for freely and honestly sharing your opinions about life through song. If this is his opinion then he’s entitled to it, and country is a place that welcomes his input, even if we don’t agree with it.
    By all means, critique his message, give him a low grade, but don’t complain that he’s killing the country genre. People singing their hearts is what keeps the genre strong.

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