Song Review: Little Big Town, “Happy People”

For a song trying to hype the power of positive thinking, listening to it doesn’t make me all that happy.

Little Big Town’s last single “Better Man” didn’t really connect with me, but I turned out to be the exception rather than the rule, as the song wound up being a multi-week No. 1 hit and sold over half a million copies. (My first clue that it was resonating with people should have been the fact that my review quickly became one of my most-viewed posts.) Apparently the group feels that it’s stumbled onto a winning formula, because their upcoming single release “Happy People” leaves me feeling similarly ambivalent.

The production here is mostly carried by the percussion (it sounds like a drum machine, but I’m not 100% sure) and a bright-but-quiet acoustic guitar, with an organ providing some background tones that give the song a spacious-spacious atmosphere. While the mix sets a slightly-optimistic tone for the song, it feels far too restrained to make any substantial impact on the listener, and fails to build up any energy as it goes along. (Using minor chords on the bridge was a bad choice, as they increased the serious quotient of the song instead of making it happier.) The song should be more emotive and energetic and fun to listen to given the subject matter, but it isn’t, and it’s a real shame.

The issue of “too much restraint, not enough emotion” bleeds over into the vocals as well. Lead singer Karen Fairchild is mostly trapped in the lower range of her voice by the song, and it keeps her from putting any sort of power or emotion behind her delivery. (The producers would have been better off kicking the song’s key up a chord or two and giving Fairchild the go-ahead to really cut loose.) The verse harmonies sound a little strange (Kimberly Schlapman seems to be singing a second melody part rather than harmonizing), but the group sounds decent on the choruses, and while they still don’t help the song build any momentum, they come closer to doing so than any of the other production pieces. On the whole, however, the vocals generally sound far more serious than they should for a song that’s supposed to inspire you to feel happy.

Lyrically, this song makes me think of a doctor who methodically describes the benefits of healthy living, but doesn’t actually inspire or encourage you to eat right and exercise. Little Big Town does such a thorough job of outlining all the great personality traits of happy people (my favorite is “happy people don’t fail, happy people just learn”) that one could almost call this a checklist song…but the track doesn’t actually make the listener feel happy. Instead, it’s delivered as a serious message that has all the charm of a public service announcement, and just leaves the listener feeling kind of “meh” about the whole thing. (Heck, even Lady Antebellum’s subpar “You Look Good” was more uplifting to listen to than this.) On top of this, the lyrics come off as painfully naive when it comes to describing happy people. Of course there are happy people who cheat and steal—that’s usually why they’re happy! With its clinical tone and simplistic view of happy people, the song just doesn’t make listeners feel anything when they hear it.

Overall, “Happy People” has a decent premise, but Little Big Town and their producers completely botched the execution on this track, leaving it a neutered husk of what might have been. It just sounds like radio filler to me, and I doubt it’s going to leave a lot of listeners feeling like happy people.

Rating: 5/10. If you’re looking for a song that’ll actually make you happy, check out The Railers’s debut single instead.