I was really hoping the future of country music would sound a lot better than this.
Radio has long been the dominant force in country music, but the balance of power has shifted over the last two decades with the rise of streaming services and social media platforms, allowing artists to circumvent the traditional gatekeepers, connect more directly with listeners, and find new paths to success within the genre. Some artists (most notably Kane Brown) have used this momentum to push radio to get on board their hype trains, and the latest artist to attempt the trick is Walker Hayes, a half-decent writer and terrible vocalist who used massive streaming numbers and a viral TikTok dance craze to crack the Top 50 on Mediabase with his latest single “Fancy Like” before the song was officially released to radio. (The song charted on the Hot 100 several weeks ago, making it the rare country song that Mark Grondin reviewed before I did.) Unfortunately, there’s no correlation between quality and popularity, and while this is slightly better than, say, “You Broke Up With Me,” the track is a weak, poorly-executed effort that doesn’t stand up against even mediocre competition.
The production is pretty much you’d expect from a Walker Hayes song, which means it’s a generic mix that doesn’t fit with its subject matter at all. At its core, this is nothing more than the same old guitar-and-drum arrangement that everyone in Nashville depends, and…yeah, that’s pretty much it. The instruments themselves have a different feel than Hayes’s prior work, but it’s not a change for the better: The electric guitar has a rougher feel the slick axes he usually leans on, but it winds up giving the song a raunchy, overly-sexual feel that doesn’t fit the song well at all, and the percussion (which doesn’t sound at blatantly synthetic as it usually does, although the low beats on the chorus feel out of place and Grady Smith’s favorite clap track makes an appearance) lacks any punch and only serves to fill space between the lyrics. For everything that’s here (there’s an acoustic guitar and a bunch of repetitive background shouts tossed in as well), the mix’s biggest failure is that it doesn’t establish much of a presence in the song as a whole—outside of the slimy electric guitar riffs, the instruments are barely noticeable and never register in the listener’s mind. This, in turn, puts all the focus on Hayes and the lyrics, which is probably the worst thing a producer could do when neither stand up against scrutiny (more on this later). If ever there was a time to overproduce a song, this was it, and standing by and letting Hayes go unchecked on this track was a serious dereliction of duty.
If I could give Hayes any advice, I would counsel him to take a vow of silence and focus on his songwriting, because the man is absolutely horrible behind the mic. Let’s set aside his technical issues for a moment (seriously, the man has zero tone or range with his voice) and focus on his biggest faux pas: The attitude with which he approaches this song. The lyrics try to sing the praises of a woman with simple tastes and pleasures, and any respectable artist would join the chorus by displaying their awe and admiration for this person. Hayes, unfortunately, comes across as both sleazy and self-satisfied in his delivery, shifting the focus to his own luck/happiness and reducing the woman to a sex object that “wanna dip me like them fries in her Frosty” (as the quote suggests, the lyrics deserve their shame of the blame too). I don’t know if this is the product of malice or incompetence, but the result is that Hayes sounds like an unlikable meatheaded Bro who isn’t remotely pleasant to listen to, and the audience tunes him out before he reaches the second chorus.
I’ve both praised and disparaged Hayes’s writing up to this point, so where does this song fall? Frankly, this is far from his best work, as his story about a partner who isn’t into the trappings of luxury lacks a point and a punch line. The hook is nothing more than a dad joke: The narrator claims that sometimes he’s “gotta spoil my baby with an upgrade” that’s “fancy like”…something that’s not actually any fancier than what he described (and in the case of Applebee’s over Wendy’s, is something I would personally consider a downgrade). The second verse tries to expand on the concept with some generic comparisons (houses, cars), but the repeat of the original chorus then feels awkward and out of place, and should have been modified to match the verse (maybe a Jeep ride to a log cabin?). Lines like “bougie like Natty in the styrofoam” sound like they’re trying a little too hard to be casual (“how do you do, fellow kids?”), and lines like the “dip me like them fries” don’t do anything by amp up the song’s sleaze factor. The whole thing feels like it could have used a few more drafts being heading to the studio, because it just sounds like a narrator gloating to the listener over their low-maintenance partner, and it winds up being more annoying than amusing.
“Fancy Like” is a failure at nearly every level, from its disappearing soundalike production to its rambling, pointless writing to Walker Hayes’s atrocious vocals. Its only redeeming trait is that it’s not quite as aggravating as some of Hayes’s previous releases or some of the worst tracks we’ve heard this year, and that doesn’t make it any less painful to sit through. I’m all for opening new channels for people to discover music and giving artists more and different paths to success, but a bad song is a bad song no matter how viral it is, and no amount of silly dancing on social media can change that. Hayes either needs to step up his game or step away from the game, because you can only torment your audience like this for so long before you get tossed out of the genre for good.
Rating: 3/10. Ignore this drivel and listen to Darius Rucker sing Hayes under the table instead: