October 20, 2008
What’s going on, Toby? Seriously, now: when one of the genre’s finest mainstream voices is stooping to tired numbers like this one, something is seriously up. “God Love Her” is an uptempo, Mellencampish toss-off about a “rebel child” preacher’s daughter who falls for a “bad boy” and – you’ll never guess it – runs off with him to her parent’s chagrin. So basically, every good-girl-gone-bad song ever plus “Whiskey Girl” plus a whole bunch of religious puns. Sweet action.
Really, though, is this the kind of song we’ve come to? Has Nashville decided country radio won’t give a fair shot to anything that doesn’t sound like it was written for turbo-hormonal minors, or has Keith just lost his sense of quality? Aside from it being absolutely ridiculous (and reasonably creepy) to have artists at his age recording odes to rebellious seventeen year-old girls, releases like this belie the quality of Keith’s legacy, which has seen material both serious and frivolous that did a heck of a lot more to establish him as an actual artist.
And that’s my big problem here: the lack of distinction. “God Love Her” sounds like something any ol’ southern rock wannabe might ship to country radio; instead, it’s coming from one of the genre’s modern greats. It’s a cheesy and overblown little piece, but it could be passable or even enjoyable coming from a younger artist, someone who’s still learning the ropes and looking for that big hit. But Keith is not that artist. He is a seasoned pro who has settled, wittingly or not, for an easy hit.
Of course, that’s taking the song out of the context of the video, which is how it’s being initially released. The pairing of the two makes a lot of sense, as the video details a few specific occurrences not mentioned explicitly in the song that lend the story a bit more weight (for example, we see our wild girl hook up with her boyfriend in church, then teach him the joys of Bible study maybe thirty seconds later). Michael Salomon’s direction is sharp and snappy as ever, capturing the song’s heartland rock pulse and comedic implications effectively.
But where both the song and video come up short is in never fully justifying the juxtaposition of “goodness” and “badness” supposedly evident in the song’s focal character (our rebellious heroine). We hear Keith assert, “yeah, me and God love her,” but the evidence that she has actually divided her attentions between both affections is relatively slim, as both song and story focus exclusively on the secular end of the situation. In other words, God might love her, but since His relationship with the girl isn’t depicted much at all in the song or video, the abrupt allusion to that relationship feels irrelevant, making the song’s play on its titular phrase seem very forced indeed.
Of course, fans may not care about such details; the effect of this joint effort remains to be seen, and there is certainly something to be said for the sense of fun imbued throughout both song and video. But watching through, I couldn’t escape the depressing sense that Toby Keith has essentially run out of important things to say. He’s never been the most consistent artist, but this release might mark the least individual personality we’ve witnessed from him in some time – and that’s what’s going to sink the ship, God help him.
Directed by Michael Salomon
Single Grade: C
Video Grade: B
Watch: God Love Her