Toby Keith’s “Red Solo Cup”: Bad is the New Good

I started Saving Country Music with the deep-hearted belief that a song can change a life, and that music can change the world. I also started it believing everyone has a right to good music, just like they have a right to clean water and education. Good music shouldn’t be a privilege of the few.

In underground and independent music, people love to pat themselves on the back all the time for the music having so much soul. Back in the day, if you didn’t have soul, you didn’t have a song. Today, if a song has soul, it doesn’t have an audience.

The Ford Truck Man Toby Keith’s last album Bullets in the Gun held the unsavory distinction of being the lowest-selling Billboard #1 album of all time. Despite that, Toby Keith, who owns Show Dog Universal, one of Nashville’s few remaining labels whose able to keep their nose above the red, is the richest man in country music, making $50 million annually, mostly from his Ford truck sponsorship.

Duh.

The first salvo from Keith’s newest album Clancy’s Tavern is a contrived viral video for the song “Red Solo Cup”. You can probably anticipate what I’d have to say about the song and video, so I will spare you the snark. What I think is more important to focus on is the approach of this song and video, and how it relates to how music is currently being marketed.

My first observation about the song is that it was written to be a video, not vice versa as per normal. Divested from the video, this song has so much nothing, it wouldn’t even fool the most blind of spoon-fed consumers. Presented in a video medium, it is pure genius from a marketing standpoint. Not because it’s good, but specifically because of how bad it is.

Remember the viral song “Friday” by Rebecca Black? When that song blew up, some were saying this symbolized a historic shift in the good music/bad music paradigm, where the song wasn’t popular despite being bad, it was popular because it was bad. What we might have with Toby Keith’s “Red Solo Cup” is the first song taking this paradigm-shifting concept and applying it to a carefully thought-out, manufactured song released to the public not expressly for comedic or parody purposes. Sure, the song is meant to be funny, but it’s also meant to be taken at face value. This isn’t a hidden track or web-exclusive, this is the first foot forward from his new album.

And Toby Keith was infinitely wise to include cameo appearances by celebrities in the video, especially ones outside of country music, from the world of sports and entertainment, to make the song appeal to multiple demographics. He also made sure the song itself wasn’t too country, so it would not be pigeon-holed by any demographic, and then he made the setting appeal to the college-aged demographic where a viral campaign has the greatest effectiveness. Slurred, fake drunkenly-styled lyrics are also popular these days. And behold, the thing spreads faster than a foul-originating flu virus.

This song wants no business with radio, because like I said before, it wouldn’t hold up. The reason Toby Keith’s last album Bullets in the Gun did so poorly was because it was too good. Don’t get me wrong, I have little use for the album myself, but it was an album full of songs that told stories and tried to relate to people on a human level. It tried to be good. Screw that, people don’t want to think, and people don’t want good, and that is what is embodied in the whole “party” motif that is personified in “Red Solo Cup”, Rebecca Black’s “Friday”, Yelawolf’s “I Just Wanna Party” and other viral video hits. This is what the masses demand, and Toby Keith isn’t too proud to give it to them in a bid to rekindle his relevancy.

And I think it will be effective in doing so. I think it also solidifies the concept that radio is losing relevancy, YouTube is replacing radio, and most importantly, that bad is the new good.

Beam me up.

(Or wait, is it still popular to say that?)