Song Review: Payton Smith, “Like I Knew You Would”

Wow Payton Smith, you gave us a lukewarm Boyfriend country track just “Like I Knew You Would.”

On some level, I feel bad for Louisiana native Smith right now: While “Like I Knew You Would” is not really his debut single (“Let Me Help You With That” was dropped back in 2017) and his debut Big Machine EP was dropped last October, the 19-year-old is pretty much introducing himself to the radio audience in the face of the coronavirus outbreak, which I something I explicitly mentioned was not a great idea on Wednesday. Of course, it would be one thing if Smith’s song and sound were something new and interesting, but the truth is that thing is the same old reheated Boyfriend material we’ve been dealing with over the past nine months or so. Even if this song doesn’t make any headway on the airwaves, we’ve already heard this story a million times recently, so the world really isn’t missing much.

The production here is very strange, because it manages to be both exactly what you’d expect and not what you’d expect at all. The major surprises here are in the arrangement: The percussion all sounds real (and the restrained, sticks-based beat actually suits the mood quite well), and there’s quite a bit of atmospheric steel guitar present as well. Unfortunately, its the guitars that dominate this mix, starting with the slick Metropolitan electric guitar that opens the track and covers the verses, continuing with the hard-rock background axes that hit you with a wall of noise on the choruses. (Even the guitar solo feels simple and repetitive, which is a disappointment given Smith’s much-hyped guitar skills.) The overall tone of the mix is also far too dark and minor-chord-heavy for the subject matterif this is supposed to be a happy love song, why does it sound so serious, and even ominous at times? We’ve got enough of these cheerful-yet-somber love songs to survive a year-long quarantine at this point, and no one is terribly interested in hearing one more.

As a vocalist, Smith’s voice is at least distinct enough to defy easy comparison (maybe Hunter Hayes with a higher pitch and less Keith Urban influence?), but standing out like this doesn’t help if you can’t sell what you’re pitching. His range seems decent and his flow is enough to handle the faster cadence of the lyrics, but he seems to follow the lead of the production and doesn’t put a lot of emotion or optimism behind his delivery. He just doesn’t sound like he’s singing a love song here, and one gets the sense that he’s putting so much effort into covering the technical demands of the song (which barely gives him time to spit the words out at all) that he’s unable to add any passion or emotion to the song, and the lyrics feel incredibly empty as a result (and in turn the listener isn’t convinced that the narrator truly loves the person he’s singing about). It’s a pretty forgettable performance on balance, the kind that you could get regardless of who you stick behind the mic, and that’s the worst possible outcome for a newer artists like Smith.

And then there are the lyrics, which suffer from several problems:

  • The story is ripped straight from the Metro-Bro playbook (a nighttime drive by the river with the narrator’s significant other) with a bunch of generic Boyfriend country tropes tossed on top (“one look in your eyes and I could feel forever,” “You’re my angel as a matter of fact,” etc.). While it avoids the sleaze and explicit objectification of the Bro era, the lack of interesting detail makes the song feel shallower than it should (outside of “your baby blues,” we have no idea who this other person is, and thus no sense of the depth of the relationship).
  • As mentioned earlier, the song gets in its own way by trying to cram a lot of syllables into each line, which combines with the brisk tempo to make this a really hard song to sing at all, much less put any feeling behind it. Slowing things down and giving the words room to breathe and time to sink in would have been a much better choice.
  • One way to address the above issue would have been to cut out some of the repetitiveness, especially pertaining to the hook (which isn’t that strong to begin with). With two verses, a barely-there bridge, and sixteen “knew you woulds,” this starts to feel like only half a song fter the first few listens.

Let’s just say that “repetitive,” “crowded,” and “generic” aren’t a great recipe for a song.

Bad timing might be possible to overcome, but a poorly-constructed track like “Like I Knew You Would” will be a much bigger challenge.The production blends in too well with its competition, the writing says a lot without actually saying anything at all, and Payton Smith’s performance is a poor argument for us to pay attention. This things falls into the same trap that a lot of “debut” singles do: It just doesn’t make people stop and take notice, and instead flows in one ear and out the other before the listener even realizes the song has changed. It’s nothing more radio filler, and as tight as radio playlists have been lately, it may not even get to be that.

Rating: 5/10. Feel free to follow current social distancing guidelines and avoid this track.