Songs like this always make me nervous, regardless of what they’re advocating for.
Shane Profitt is a Tennessee native who’s been on a rocket ride in 2022, courtesy of two people: Chris Janson, who signed Profitt to a publishing year in January and a full-fledged record deal in June (since when did Janson have all these ventures going?), and Thanos, who Profitt is blatantly plagiarizing from with his sound and his branding. (I recall John Lithgow talking about the five stages of a performer’s career in an interview long ago; Thanos is officially in stage three now that labels are demanding “Bring me someone like Luke Combs.”) Of course, imitating Thanos and capturing his radio magic are two very different things, but with Profitt’s debut single “How It Oughta Be” already in the Mediabase Top 50 a month after its release, he’s off to a decent start.
However, I’ve been feeling rather lukewarm (no pun intended) about Combs’s work over the last few years, and I’m getting a similar feeling from Profitt, especially with his choice of a scattershot (and poorly-written) “how life should be” song as his opening move. It’s the sort of shared-grievance song that should easily click with its audience, but fails to do so due to a series of boneheaded decisions.
I mentioned a while back that the genre was sending mixed signals about its love for the 1990s, but I’m starting to get that old-school vibe from more songs, and I’m wondering if the reason 90s songs are getting cycled off the gold playlists is because artists and producers decided they could capture that same sound themselves. The opening riff here is taken right from Kenny Chesney’s “Fall In Love,” and while we’re back on the usual guitar-and-drum grind (with some steel guitar sprinkled in here and there), the guitars do their best to capture that classic tone (though not quite the texture). That said, the volume/pervasiveness of the electric guitars (especially on the chorus) wash out everything else and bring the mix dangerously close to ‘wall of noise’ territory, and when combined with the punchiness of the percussion, they give a sound a bit too much of an edge for my tastes (more on that later). The forcefulness and slightly-dark feel of the sound tips the track from simply selling the narrator’s point of view to pushing it a bit too hard, causing the listener to take a step back from the idea rather than lean in to it. In other words, I think they overdid it on this mix, and they should have gone with a softer approach instead.
I have a similar issue with Profitt, who’s such a Combs clone that you’d be hard pressed to distinguish the two by sound alone. There aren’t any technical issues to speak of here, and I’m impressed by his ability to maintain his tone and apply emotion on the rapid-fire parts of the song, but there’s a forcefulness and a confrontational feel to his delivery here that I find really off-putting, even when he’s trying to forcefully agree with the listener! He may sound like Thanos, but he doesn’t come close to Thanos’s level of charm or charisma, and instead of just nodding along, his attitude-laden approach makes the listener pause to consider if this is really what they want. Much like with the production, I think a softer angle would have been a more-successful one, as it would have made the song seem more like a dream than a demand, and thus not startled the audience into thinking twice about the writing. This is a big deal, because…
The writing is actually the biggest problem here, which seems like a really weird statement considering the slam-dunk sentiments in here: Of course people want safe neighborhoods, cheap gas, and an end to dying young! Part of the issue is that the lyrics are awkwardly-constructed (as if the song was rushed when it was written): Some lines force the artist to hurry through them to fit all of the syllables into a line, while other lines need to be stretched to fill the same amount of space. Part of it are the overused and/or silly references sprinkled in: The “Mama’s chicken” line is more than a little cliché, and the “cold beer ought to be too cold to hold” feels both pointless and self-defeating (what good is a beer you can’t hold? Do you have to break out your winter gloves, or funnel it like a fraternity member?). The biggest issue, however, boils down to one line: “Ought to be off your ass when that anthem gets sung.” Not only is it a cheap and targeted shot against Colin Kaepernick (you know, the kind that a certain former president might use), but it’s the one time when the narrator comes at the listener and demands that they do something and they conform to the fantasy. Everything else here is the kind of wishful thinking that makes no real demands of people and that everyone can agree on, but this single dog whistle of a demand suddenly calls the speaker’s motives into question, and raises all sorts associated imagery that makes the listener stop and think “Wait, that’s not how it oughta be.” (As much as I’d like to say this was unintentional, this is 2022—we’ve been living in a hyper-politicized environment for too long for the writers not to know exactly what they were doing.) This wasn’t a well-constructed song to begin with, but it got flushed down the toilet the moment the writers decided to play with fire and deliver a message between the lines.
“How It Oughta Be” ought to have been different than this, because Shane Profitt and his team missed a golden opportunity to deliver a message about our current struggles that everyone could get behind. Instead, they went in with their elbows up, giving the song an edge and a lot of unnecessary baggage that it simply didn’t need, and the end result is a track that didn’t move the needle much for me. There’s an inherent danger with a song declaring “How It Oughta Be” because the listener may not find your version of paradise appealing, and thus there’s a risk that the audience will tune you out completely. In other words, it’s not a great choice for a debut single, and for someone who’s trying to Profitt (pun intended this time) off of Thanos’s success, he needs to find a way to both distinguish himself from his predecessor and better endear himself to his audience.
Rating: 5/10. You’ve got better things to do with your time.