The Biggest Country Crossover Hit Of 2021 Is A Literal Applebee’s Ad

Robert Chavers

The Biggest Country Crossover Hit Of 2021 Is A Literal Applebee’s Ad

Robert Chavers

“Fancy Like” didn’t start out as an Applebee’s commercial, officially speaking. Spiritually, though, it was always an Applebee’s commercial. Walker Hayes’ crossover country smash hinges on a trip to the casual dining franchise: “Yeah, we fancy like Applebee’s on a date night/ Got that Bourbon Street steak with the Oreo shake.” But it’s not just about Applebee’s — there are also references to Wendy’s and Natty Lite, for instance — and as far as I know Applebee’s didn’t secretly fund or ghostwrite it. They merely put it in their commercials after it blew up on TikTok, setting “Fancy Like” to videos of people doing the song’s viral dance. And now those of us who spend all weekend watching football are being bombarded with the thing.

Since its release on June 4 as part of Hayes’ Country Stuff EP, “Fancy Like” has steadily climbed the charts, all the way to its current perch of #5 on the Billboard Hot 100. A new remix featuring Kesha, while not outpacing the original track, has bolstered Hayes’ standing on the charts. Central to the song’s rise was a dance routine on TikTok, starting with a June 13 clip of Hayes and his daughter that has now been viewed 31 million times. It’s cute, and as usual, many have replicated it, creating an exponential audience for “Fancy Like” far beyond Hayes’ usual country listener base. Notably, despite topping Billboard‘s Hot Country Songs chart, the track topped out at #13 on Country Airplay. TikTok is an even more powerful amplifying force than country radio, though, so Hayes is flying high right now. If Morgan Wallen proved a savvy young country artist can thrive on TikTok, this guy has shown that lovable doofus dad shit can also launch you to fame and fortune on the platform.

@walkerhayesofficial

##fancylike ooooooooo💪

♬ Fancy Like – Walker Hayes

Despite his success on Gen Z’s favorite video service, Charles Edgar Walker Hayes is no spring chicken. Born 41 years ago in Mobile, he’s been kicking around Nashville since 2005 and cutting records of his own since 2010. Until now his biggest hit was 2017’s half-rapped, whistle-laden “You Broke Up With Me,” a monogenre monstrosity that seemed designed to permeate Top 40 radio. It didn’t, but the track did scratch the top 10 at country radio — not enough to make a hit out of Hayes’ sophomore album Boom, but enough to extend his career by a few years. He’s since taken to releasing meme-like songs like “’90s Country,” on which he quoted lyrics from a litany of Clinton-era country hits, but these kinds of swings for the fences have been strikeouts up until now.

Hayes is produced by Shane McAnally, a Nashville mainstay and former Songland coach who has notched credits with pop-minded country favorites like Kacey Musgraves and Sam Hunt. I am a huge fan of those artists, but both can sometimes teeter over into cheese when not restrained by their own better judgement. As you might expect from a guy who flaunts his devotion to Applebee’s, Hayes isn’t guided by good taste the way Musgraves and Hunt often are. He is proud of being tacky, and after years of hacking away in the industry trenches, that tackiness is finally paying off.

The six-song Country Stuff EP includes collabs with fellow McAnally associates Jake Owen, Carly Pearce, and Lori McKenna. Sonically, it’s a deeply competent take on hip-hop-inflected pop-country, deploying drum machines and digital bass as ably as banjo and twangy slide guitar. The lyrics are mostly sentimental and good-natured, though mostly quite hokey. There’s one song about breaking up on good terms (“I Hope You Miss Me”) and another about a one-night stand that could be more (“What If We Did”). There’s one about falling in love with his wife as a teenager (“Make You Cry”) and taking after his dad (“Briefcase,” which boasts the Hallmark-but-brain-damaged lyric “I guess a guitar doesn’t fall too far from the briefcase”).

The focus here, though, is the first two tracks, on which Hayes leans hard into the tried-and-true pop-country trope of… I guess you could call it anti-flexing? You know, songs on which the singer celebrates their average down-home tastes, bragging not about their material excess but how content they are with the simple things in life. In the case of “Country Stuff” that means Hayes and Jake Owen listing off all the country stuff they like: “I like beers cheap and cold/ I like chairs that rock and fold/ I like long cut wintergreen Skoal, and Redman’s what I chew/ Got a yard full of car parts in it/ I can dress you a hog in a minute/ Yeah, my number one amendment is gonna have to be number two.” Nashville has served up countless such manifestos over the years, but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard the premise “I like country stuff” presented so plainly.

“Fancy Like” is sort of innovative in this category too, in that rather than the usual procession of porch beers and beautiful women in jeans and pickup trucks on dirt roads, it pays tribute to the kind of big-box name-brand junk food that has completely overrun the American landscape. It’s an extremely honest song in that regard. And to be equally honest, there are plenty of trash food and beverages of this ilk that I am happy to consume on a regular basis. Although I’m one of those millennials who was supposedly helping to kill off chains like Applebee’s, I want to be clear that I am not above the kind of low-class dining experience being celebrated here. I’d gladly crush an Oreo milkshake, which Applebee’s put back on their menu after the namecheck on “Fancy Like” caused a surge in demand. Nor do I universally reject country songs that name-check these kinds of brands. Eric Church’s “Give Me Back My Hometown,” one of my favorite songs of the past decade in any genre, wrings genuine heartbreak out of a line about Pizza Hut. The people dancing to “Fancy Like” on TikTok seem to be enjoying themselves, too. It’s all in good fun, right?

Yet “Fancy Like” drives me nuts. Something about describing a night out at Applebee’s as “fancy” strikes me as so glib and cynical; it’s as if he’s performing the role of uncultured yokel because he knows it will score points with his audience, like a populist cable TV pundit. This probably says more about my own joyless self-consciousness than Walker Hayes, but I also hate the way TikTok has incentivized cornball dance routines as a promotional tactic. On the other hand, when has the entertainment industry not rewarded a willingness to be goofy in front of a camera, especially in the social media era? And just as Hayes’ music reflects pop-country’s increasing embrace of rap production techniques, there’s probably some connection to be drawn between the hip-hop-adjacent “Fancy Like” dance and the line dancing that used to accompany every country hit in the late 20th century. Really it’s quite the fascinating document of American culture — just not one I want to be subjected to dozens of times every weekend while trying to enjoy our problematic American pastime.

Charlotte Rutherford

CHART WATCH

Lil Nas X is killing the game but has to settle for #2 on both of Billboard‘s major charts this week due to longstanding hits from some of pop’s biggest brand names.

Let’s start with the Billboard 200, where Drake’s Certified Lover Boy holds on to #1 for a third straight week with a massive 171,000 equivalent album units, a whopping 165,000 of them via streaming. That means LNX’s Montero enters at #2 despite posting 126,000 units, enough to top the chart most weeks this year. According to Billboard, that total includes 22,000 in sales. The #2 placement ties Lil Nas X’s chart peak with his debut EP 7 in 2019. Debuting at #3 is K-pop group NCT 127’s Sticker: The 3rd Album, their best-charting release to date. With 58,000 of its 62,000 units deriving from actual sales of the album, it’s the bestselling LP of the week. Kanye West, Olivia Rodrigo, Doja Cat, Morgan Wallen, the Kid Laroi, Billie Eilish, and Kacey Musgraves fill out the rest of the top 10.

On the Hot 100, the Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber’s “Stay” stays at #1 for a sixth nonconsecutive week. The release of Montero helped push Lil Nas X and Jack Harlow’s “Industry Baby” back up to its #2 peak — the highest-ranking of three LNX singles in the top 10. From there it’s Drake, Future, and Young Thug’s “Way 2 Sexy” at #3, Ed Sheeran’s “Bad Habits” at #4, Walker Hayes’ “Fancy Like” at #5, Olivia Rodrigo’s “good 4 u” at #6, Doja Cat and SZA’s “Kiss Me More” at #7, Drake, 21 Savage, and Project Pat’s “Knife Talk” at #8, and Lil Nas X’s “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” at #9. Lil Nas X’s “That’s What I Want” debuts at #10 — his fifth top-10 hit.

POP FIVE

Coldplay & BTS – “My Universe”
An embarrassing moment for Coldplay, and for Coldplay, that’s saying a lot.

Elton John & Charlie Puth – “After All”
Now this is a partnership I can get behind. Honestly would be curious to hear a whole album of Sir Elton and the Truth.

Kelly Clarkson – “Christmas Isn’t Canceled (Just You)”
When you’re starting with a title that brilliant, you basically just have to not mess it up. Kelly Clarkson and friends have not messed it up.

Givēon – “For Tonight”
When you’ve raised the bar for yourself with a ballad as fire as “Heartbreak Anniversary,” singing discount Sam Smith knockoffs is not going to cut it.

Whitney Houston & Clean Bandit – “How Will I Know”
Decent remix of an all-time classic, but, like… why?

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Britney Spears asked the court to expedite Jamie Spears’ exit as her conservator so that she could negotiate a prenup with her fiancé with no hindrance from her dad. [NYT]
  • Spears also returned to Instagram. [Instagram]
  • Meanwhile Netflix teased its new documentary on Britney Spears‘ conservatorship, Britney vs Spears. [Twitter]
  • “Whatever you know of Rihanna is not gonna be what you hear,” Rihanna told AP about her new music. “I’m really experimenting.” [Twitter]
  • In other Rihanna news, James Corden became her assistant for a Late Late Show sketch. [YouTube]
  • In other James Corden news, BTS Army was not happy with a joke he made about the group. [Twitter]
  • “This is the first year that I really understand what it means to be alive and to live in the moment,” Beyoncé wrote in a post-birthday letter to fans on her website. “This has absolutely been the best I’ve felt I my life.” [Beyoncé]
  • Ariana Grande and Kelly Clarkson sang “Respect” on The Voice. [Twitter]
  • Saweetie will host Sex: Unzipped, a sex positivity comedy special for Netflix. [Vulture]
  • Shawn Mendes announced Wonder:The World Tour with opening acts King Princess, Dermot Kennedy, and Tate McRae. [Wonder: The Tour]
  • Billie Eilish, BLACKPINK, Anitta, and other pop stars will appear in a sustainability-centered YouTube Originals special Dear Earth next month. [Billboard]
  • Eilish also collaborated with Nike on two new styles of Jordans. [Twitter]
  • Chris Martin did an acoustic performance of Coldplay’s BTS collab “My Universe” (also singing in Korean) on Kelly Clarkson. [YouTube]
  • Poppy hosted Roblox’s first ever album listening party. [Roblox]

HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME

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