Song Review – Shaboozey’s “A Bar (Tipsy)”

Alright. So it goes without saying that this really isn’t a “good” song, and that it’s not especially “country” either, aside from a few tokenary and surface inferences. But regardless, according to Billboard, it’s the #1 song in country music at the moment, replacing Beyoncé’s “Texas Hold ‘Em” now at #2. Zach Bryan’s “I Remember Everything” feat. Kacey Musgraves is at #3, and is actually the most streamed song in country per volume.

Is the success of Shaboozey’s “A Bar (Tipsy)” symbolic of the deepening success of Black performers in country in the wake of the release of Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter? After all, Shaboozey appears on Cowboy Carter twice. Perhaps this is the case, but it’s not conclusive just yet since just like Beyoncé, “A Bar” is being bolstered significantly by streaming activity and downloads from people well beyond the country realm. But that doesn’t mean it’s not resonating with country audiences either. It likely is.

“A Bar (Tipsy)” starts off in some respects like Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” attempting to present a sad story about trying and failing to make it in America. But instead of continuing in that potentially enriching and timely direction as inflation continues to dog so many, the song only briefly presents the specter of substance before descending into a revolving cycle of radio-friendly buzzwords and phrases in a mindless singalong.

Rhyming “whiskey” with “tipsy” isn’t exactly Townes Van Zandt, and the counting verse “One, here comes the two to the three to the four” is fit for the vampire muppet on Sesame Street, or an early 90s hip-hop rehash. Word to your mother. The insanely intrusive T-Pain enhancements on Shaboozey’s vocal signal belie and injure an otherwise curiously organic-sounding track for a dance song. Hand claps are also a cliché for a song like this, but aren’t especially cumbersome in this instance.

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, even though you could never two-step to this song, only bounce around to it mindlessly like the characters in the song’s video.

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. As unnerving as this all might be for some country traditionalists, it’s also somewhat genius. Sometimes you have to tip your hat at the mad scientist moves behind a song, sort of like with Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise.” Criticize it all you want, but you could tell from jump that “Cruise” was going to be a monster song. “A Bar (Tipsy)” feels similar.

Perhaps this Shaboozey song does symbolize the opening up of country to Black performers. You definitely would rather hear this than Walker Hayes and the Applebee’s song. It undoubtedly speaks to the blatant influence of Zach Bryan on the direction of country and all popular music. 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.

1 1/2 Guns Down (3.5/10)

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