The Iconic and Cringe of Dolly Parton’s Thanksgiving Performance

Is it possible for a performance to feel unquestionably iconic and memorable, and still cringey at the same time? Because that’s how one may feel about Dolly Parton during the Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Commanders football game on Thanksgiving, 2023.

What worked with the performance, and the reason a lot of people were raving about it revealed itself immediately as the cameras trained on Dolly Parton coming out of the commercial break. To see Dolly Parton dressed up as a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader was an epic moment of popular culture where two legendary fixtures of Americana collided.

Forget that she’s 77 and the skin parts of the costume were spandex, her stage attire was the genius of the performance and presentation, and also what immediately endeared it to large swaths of the audience. Don’t be surprised if you see that stage costume on display at Dollywood or the Country Music Hall of Fame in the future.

But Dolly Parton lip synced her performance, which we all pretty much knew was going to happen from the outset. What was a little bit shocking, and what revealed the lip syncing as obvious to many in the audience is how she also mimed her between-song banter, and the “Happy Thanksgiving!” at the end. Usually turning the mic on between songs is what helps conceal a lip synced performance as opposed to confirm it.

Every single performance at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade earlier in the day was lip synced. This is how these things go. A performance at the 50 yard line of a football game on Thanksgiving is not meant for the folks who take the time out of their day to read in-depth commentary about music on the internet. It’s for people who get really excited when chain restaurants offer things in pumpkin spice and peppermint flavor this time of year. It’s for the mainstream.

The other cringey aspect was how Dolly seemed to need the edge of the big Dallas Cowboys star on stage to steady herself as she moved from side to side. Apparently, Dolly was supposed to be on top of the star, but a technical malfunction meant she had to perform in front of it. Whatever footwear Parton was wearing was obfuscated by the front of the stage. Hopefully the height of her heels was the issue, and not some sort of underlying health concern.

But in truth, none of this really matters. Dolly Parton exudes more talent simply walking out on stage than most entertainers can muster in their entire careers. If you don’t believe that, just check out whatever Jack Harlow turned in during the Detroit Lions/Green Bay Packers game earlier in the day.

Dolly Parton’s legacy stretches beyond country music, football, America, and peppermint lattes, and she’s having a moment after her recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the release of her Rockstar album where she has the opportunity to be exposed to different and newer audiences.

There will be a day when we all wish Dolly Parton could still take to the field at a football game, and sing to a backing track or otherwise. She’s already announced her retirement from touring. There will be a day when there is no Dolly Parton in the present tense to offer a steady hand on the rudder of life and guiding wisdom to the world like she’s been doing for nearing seven decades.

And on that day—whether you enjoyed it or otherwise—you will remember Dolly Parton on Thanksgiving Day 2023 like you remember the first time you heard “Jolene” or “Coat of Many Colors,” or saw her sing “Islands in the Stream” with Kenny Rogers, or played opposite of Burt Reynolds in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Because if we’ve learned anything about Dolly Parton over the years, it’s that she’s memorable in whatever she does, and her legacy endures.

Watch Dolly Parton’s performance (not embeddable).

(This story has been updated)

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