Breaking Down Shaboozey’s Break Down of “A Bar (Tipsy)”

Saving Country Music is on the record saying that Shaboozey’s smash summer hit “A Bar (Tipsy)” is not a terrible song. It’s important that distinctions are drawn between songs, albums, and artists when sharing spirited praise or strong criticism to not fall into some sort of binary, reactionary, and bias pattern. That was the approach taken to “A Bar (Tipsy).”

As was shared about the song in early May, “For a derivative, commercially ambitious and formulaic song grasping for low-hanging fruit, ‘A Bar’ is not bad. Compare this to Lil Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road,’ Beyoncé’s ‘Texas Hold ‘Em,’ or Blanco Brown’s ‘The Git Up,” and ‘A Bar’ is probably more country-sounding, and perhaps, better overall. It relies more on melody than rhythm and the fiddle is welcome…”

Don’t mistake “not bad” as meaning it’s “good” though. As also said previously, “For a bad song, is not especially bad. Which is good, because we might have to live with it pursuing us in life at every turn for a long, long time.”

If you want to be honest and objective, you have to tip your hat to “Tipsy” for being catchy, compelling, and figuring out how to capture many relevant elements to what is hot in music at this very moment, then putting them all in one place. But again, this doesn’t mean it’s “good.” In fact, looking deeper into this song, there is some stuff that’s outright troublesome about it.

About a week ago, Rolling Stone posted a video of Shaboozey breaking down the massive hit track (see below). Perhaps the idea was to explain the groundbreaking, genre shattering nature of how this song came about. But instead of exposing the genius behind it, the breakdown was an inadvertent self-own by Shaboozey, exposing just what a novice Shaboozey is when it comes to country music, and just how little organic effort actually went into the song.

First and most important to understand about “A Bar (Tipsy)” is that the song is not an original track. As Shaboozey says, they got the idea of “flipping” a 2000s song into a country song, and the song they chose to “flip” was the 2001 song “Tipsy” by hip-hop artist J-Kwon.

To put this in more lay terms, “A Bar (Tipsy)” is a direct derivative of a 23-year-old song, both in the approach, and in much of the lyricism. This is the reason the original “Tipsy” writers Jerrell Jones, Joe Kent, and Mark Williams are credited on the Shaboozey track as well.

Though this “song flipping” practice is very common in hip-hop—in fact, flipping or sampling songs is sort of foundational to the genre—this practice is extremely uncommon in country, and significantly frowned upon. It isn’t unprecedented though. You can think about Dustin Lynch’s recent reworking of “Drift Away” into his derivative and terrible “Chevrolet.”

The second thing that becomes patently evident by watching Shaboozey’s “A Bar (Tipsy)” breakdown is just how little effort went into the song. We’re used to seeing videos for song recordings where you have expert instrumentalists and singers all in the studio together, perhaps in isolation booths so the signals don’t bleed over, doing their best to bring an original and organic country song to life.

But for Shaboozey, he’s just sitting in front of a computer. In front of a computer is how this track came about. Once again, this is common in the hip-hop realm, and though most country songs these days will also be recorded using a computer or digital interface of some sort, that’s not where the project begins and ends. It’s starts with a songwriter feeling inspiration and writing original lyrics and a melody.

For “A Bar (Tipsy),” it existed in the digital realm from start to finish.

“You don’t need to be in a mega studio or anything like that. It’s just me and two friends made a song,” Shaboozey explains while staring at the “A Bar (Tipsy)” project screen. “We had an idea and went for it. Probably had it done in about an hour … well, the demo [laughing],” (meaning, basically, the whole song).

Sure, a “mega studio” or big production value is not needed to make a great song. But originality is. And when it comes to country music, the human touch is also critically important. This is what separates country music from many other modern genres.

In the breakdown video, Shaboozey calls the fiddle the “best part of the song.” He’s not incorrect. He says it has a “Hobbit vibe. The Shire,” which speaks to the kind of shallow, pop culture perspective Shaboozey brings to this music. The more accurate description of the fiddle part would be that it has an Old World Celtic folk style to it. Who knows where they got the part, if it’s a sample or someone played it. Shaboozey never says.

At the 2:21 mark of the breakdown video, Shaboozey lets us know that he considers “Tipsy” a “traditional country song.” So not just a country song, but a “traditional” country song. As the breakdown continues, Shaboozey’s sheer, unmitigated ignorance of what country and traditional country are becomes patently clear.

At the 3:35 mark of the song, Shaboozey says, “You guys want to hear some 12-string guitar? You can’t have a country song without 12-string. You can’t have bluegrass without 12-string guitar.”

You might have difficulty finding a more ludicrous, asinine, and horrifically uninformed statement from any artist ever in the history of country music than this quote from Shaboozey. 12-string guitar is in no way synonymous with country music, and it’s absolutely not in any way affiliated with bluegrass.

For the uninitiated, most guitars you see and hear in music are six string guitars. 12-string guitars are rare, specialty instruments with double the strings to create harmonious sounds while either picking, or usually strumming the instrument. Though they can be found in certain eras of folk music, they’re especially common in jangle pop, like the music of The Monkees, The Byrds, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, for example.

12-string guitars are never used in bluegrass except perhaps in extremely exceptional cases. Bluegrass guitar is commonly flatpicked, and a 12-string guitar would get in the way of that technique. Another common bluegrass instrument, the mandolin, is somewhat similar to a 12-string guitar since the strings are paired together, though there are only 8 strings on a mandolin.

Have 12-string guitars been used in country songs before? Of course. Are they synonymous with country or bluegrass songs? Absolutely not. A similar foot-in-mouth moment ensues when Shaboozey says, “Brush loops. Gotta have a brush loop. You can’t have an Americana song without brush loop.”

What Shaboozey is talking about here is incorporating a snare drum played with brushes instead of sticks into the song. The brushes give the snare hits a more diffused and muted sound. Sure, a snare drum with brushes is a common element to country or “Americana” songs.

But looping the sound—meaning recording a short snippet of an actual performance, or borrowing it from another source—and then interpolating that over and over into the song to create a percussive element is the very essence of taking something organic, and digitizing it for convenience, rendering it inorganic.

This also helps underscore how nobody “played” the song “A Bar (Tipsy)” in the recording process. It was part and pieced together.

“A Bar (Tipsy)” is a perfect example of scraping the essence of organic authenticity out of other songs and performances, copying and pasting it into a “project” wholly of the digital world, and releasing it as product.

Shaboozey also says in the breakdown that he was listening to Zach Bryan when he composed the track, as well as The Lumineers. This affirms what Saving Country Music concluded when first addressing the song:

The devilish ingredient, and perhaps the quiet genius of this song is how it deftly taps into the whole Zach Bryan appeal in the way the song is structured. To the right ear, this comes screaming out from its blatant obviousness. “A Bar (Tipsy)” is a Zach Bryan song dumbed down for the masses, which may sound ironic to some Zach Bryan opponents who consider him a dumbed down version of Tyler Childers.

By taking the melancholic structure of a typical Zach Bryan song, adding Shaboozey’s savvy at incorporating zeitgeist signifiers (Birkin, Jack Daniels, whiskey, tipsy), he creates a viral hit.

Many Zach Bryan detractors are rendered stupefied of how he’s become the 2nd most popular artist in country, and one of the most popular artists in all of music over the last few years, especially when his music seems so amateur and unpolished compared to many other performers.

The answer is quite simple. It’s because in an increasingly plastic, digital, and deceptive world, the music of Zach Bryan is real. It’s not in spite of Zach Bryan’s amateurish nature that he’s popular. It’s because of it, and his blatant honesty.

Shaboozey had the smarts and instincts to understand this appeal and harness the essence of that Zach Bryan realness in “A Bar (Tipsy).” But the public should not be fooled. There is little or nothing organic about the song, and virtually nothing about it that’s country.

“A Bar (Tipsy)” is a pieced-together product optimized to entertain. It’s effective in that manner, but the inorganic nature of the song is what separates actual country music from the interjections of interlopers and genre benders like Shaboozey.

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