Written by Cameron Bartolini, Walker Hayes, Josh Jenkins, and Shane Stevens
I have no interest in assessing the overall quality of “Fancy Like,” but I do want to talk about it.
Because I love that it exists, even if it’s not something that I’m terribly interested in listening to.
It’s been a very, very long time since I’ve been fully engaged in mainstream country music. Much of it seems to go out of its way to let me know that I don’t belong because of where I live or how I vote or my odd desire for women to be seen and heard.
But I’m not fully engaged in Americana either. I like some of it, but it’s usually the kind that would have made it on to country radio in an alternate timeline where women weren’t exiled and great songwriters still pitched their best songs to the best singers.
I’ve spent so much time in retro mode lately, between Sirius and the nineties No. 1 series, that it’s been reminding me of why I fell in love with country music in the first place. It was comfortable in its own skin, and it trusted itself to have something to say that would resonate with small town folk and city folk, the young and the old, and even the right and the left.
“Fancy Like” has that same spirit. I think it’s resonating because real life, when you’re holding down a job and raising kids and trying to make ends meet, means going through a drive through some nights to make sure everyone gets fed. Date night involves whatever fast casual restaurant is in your immediate neighborhood, and buying the alcohol that gets you the most bang for your buck. Natty Lite in the song, but it could just as easily have been Barefoot Wine or a case of White Claw.
But it’s not the details that matter. It’s finding the joy in the mundane, and celebrating what you have and choosing to be grateful for it.
I didn’t bother writing about “The Worst Country Song of All Time” or “Am I the Only One.” They appeal to an anger and resentment of some bizarre caricature of what it means to be a person who lives in the city and votes Democratic. I’m not the target audience, but I think that both songs show more contempt for the ones they’re singing to than the ones they’re pointing at, assuming that they hate those “other people” who don’t cross their mind throughout the day anymore than us city folk spend time thinking about people in small towns while we’re navigating our days.
“Fancy Like” loves its target audience, and it connects beyond it because American life itself has become so homogenized. No matter where you are in the country, you aren’t that far away from a Wendy’s or an Applebee’s. We don’t have Wal-Mart in NYC proper, but there are Targets everywhere, and they sell Natty Lite. We may imagine yawning cultural gaps that can’t possibly be crossed, but consumer culture does so with ease.
If I was going to critique “Fancy Like” and turn this into a proper single review, I’d say something about how country music continues to struggle in its attempts to incorporate older top 40 music trends, as it has since hip-hop became a dominant force a generation ago. Country radio has historically sounded like the top 40 radio of ten or fifteen years earlier, but there are very few artists today who can make that work. On first listen, I thought “Fancy Like” was a parody of Kane Brown, when it’s really just a pale imitation of Brown’s ability to effectively blend elements of country with elements of R&B and hip-hop.
But I love the sensibility of “Fancy Like” and I’m happy that Walker Hayes is having success with it. For a guy who worked at Costco’s between record deals and is balancing a music career with providing for six kids, it’s a much needed breakthrough. And his EP, Country Stuff? I’m not going to review that either, but it has some solid songwriting moments and welcome appearances from Carly Peace and Lori McKenna, even if most of it sounds like those cheap pop crossover remixes of late nineties country songs and it kept reminding me of Marcel.
Marcel’s album wasn’t great. But I’m happy that it exists.