Toby Keith — “Red Solo Cup”
Toby Keith’s new single “Red Solo Cup” is silly, gimmicky, and, according to the artist himself, pretty stupid. But after releasing a long line of singles that cornered the embarrassing country song market and ticked off every box on that grating checklist, it’s refreshing to finally add “clever” and “self-aware” to the mix.
Like a less-elegant version of Alan Jackson’s “Talkin’ Song Repair Blues,” the song’s organic sound contrasts sharply with spoken-word verses packed to the brim with brash revelations like “But I have to admit the ladies get smitten/Admiring how sharply my first name is written/On you with a Sharpie when I get to hittin’ on them, to help me get lucky.” And while it’s novelty through and through, the nearly monotone dry humor suggests something just a shade deeper underneath.
But despite any of its polarizing merits, why would an artist choose to record, let alone include on an album and promote, a self-professed “stupid song”?
In fact, “Red Solo Cup” is almost like a send-up of Keith’s worst songs, or at least a knowing Saturday Night Live skit set to music. He’s a shadow of the radio artist he became shortly after his 1993 debut on the charts, when modern classics such as “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” “You Shouldn’t Kiss Me Like This” and “Wish I Didn’t Know Now” graced the airwaves. More recently, pandering wink-wink, nudge-nudge tunes have become his go-to shtick, with songs such as “Trailerhood,” “Made in America” and “She’s a Hottie” simultaneously winning new fans and losing old ones.
But in this case, the answer to that question goes back to some of the same reasons one would champion any song: Despite its anvil-to-the-head presentation, the tune authentically portrays a range of social and even political scenes (“And unlike my home they are not forclosable/Freddie Mac can kiss my ass, woo!”) many can identify with. And while it seems both designed and destined for the kind of here today, gone tomorrow viral-ity of an episode of Glee (literally, when it gets the school choir on steroids treatment later this season), those authentic qualities make a song more than just a party joke.
If recorded by any other artist – a jovial Brad Paisley comes to mind – “Red Solo Cup” may not be nearly as dividing among country music fans. Indeed, even the ghosts of Keith’s reputation and past catalog nearly soil the sound, causing many to preemptively relegate it to the far corners of YouTube, destined for months of inane comment section banter. Instead, it’s a refreshing moment for Keith, back to the days when a new single from the artist did and said something new.
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