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.
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?)
October 21, 2011 @ 1:01 pm
Ugh. Fucking gross.Unfortunately catchy.
May 8, 2013 @ 2:15 pm
It’s not even catchy
October 21, 2011 @ 1:02 pm
I had to stop listening after the first line of the chorus…that was horrible.
October 21, 2011 @ 1:07 pm
As a college student I have to say, you hit it right in the nose when saying its aimed towards my age group. As in the pas few weeks damn near EVERY party I’ve been at has featured this song, prominently at that. And people love it. Lyrically It’s a really stupid song, there’s no doubting that, hell even Keith has said it’s the stupidest song he’s ever seen. But I’ll be damned if it’s not a great party song. Haha. It was a wise move on Toby’s part to market it the way he has. He may not be the countriest of country musicians but the man sure knows how to market his music.
October 21, 2011 @ 1:20 pm
HAHAHA. I think you’re dead on analyzing the state of radio vs. youtube/viral media. And this is a perfect example IMHO. I’m not a huge fan of the song, BUT for me, the video made it enjoyable. I literally lol’d while watching towards the end, with all the cameos. It’s not going to get me to go out and buy Toby’s latest, but the new media age we seem to be in, allows artists to connect with people on a different level. I think it’s great.
Thanks for posting this. I hadn’t heard this song yet. But, I did read an article the other day about this song. It seems some indie hip-hop artist had a similar song and video about solo cups and partying. His fans seemed to be raising a ruckus on the web saying Toby ripped off this other artist. I didn’t take the time to listen to either track at that time, and couldn’t find the article now when I looked for it.
October 22, 2011 @ 2:30 pm
Wasnt Toby Keith accused of ripping of Robert Earl Keen on his last record? I think it was the Road goes on Forever and Toby had some horrible song about outlaws or somemthing. Same dribble, different record.
October 24, 2011 @ 3:40 pm
Paul In Kentucky
October 21, 2011 @ 1:22 pm
This song is the musical equivalent of lead poisoning. Good lord.
October 21, 2011 @ 1:51 pm
October 21, 2011 @ 1:58 pm
Dear Pop Country,
Every now and then there’s a song that comes along that renews my faith in the inevitability of your demise. Just when you start to think that the whole genre is homogeneous enough that one song couldn’t possibly stand out below the rest, along comes a gem like this. Chalk this up on your list of accomplishments along with Honky Tonk Badonkadonk, Stuck Like Glue, Brown Chicken Brown Cow, and Dirt Road Anthem. I sincerely thank you dropping these cow pies on our heads and reinforcing my love of good music.
October 21, 2011 @ 3:34 pm
You hit the nail on the head with that! Wow that was bad!
October 21, 2011 @ 5:05 pm
Some enterprising label needs to compile all these songs and release an album, “Pop Country’s Greatest Shits.”
October 21, 2011 @ 2:15 pm
Triggerman, you’ve shown me the best, and you’ve shown me the worst.
October 21, 2011 @ 3:02 pm
That was unlistenable. Yes he is a household name and that song will sell. My fav part is that he is sponsored by Ford, and sings about red cups filled with beer. Im surprised he dosn’t have a “If I dont drink and drive, how am I supposed to get anywhere” shirt on also.
October 21, 2011 @ 3:06 pm
Will never buy red solo cups again.
October 21, 2011 @ 3:14 pm
Amen to that! I think Toby had better music when he had a hair dresser… Just sayin.
October 21, 2011 @ 6:20 pm
yep…..boycott the red solo cup …….
October 22, 2011 @ 6:07 pm
I do have to admit this song is making me think. Why is it always red cups? They make them in a lot of other colors, but it is always red ones with a keg. Mystery.
Shit song though.
October 28, 2011 @ 9:33 am
“Now I’ve seen you in blue and I’ve seen you in yellow but only you red will do for this fellow”
The reason most parties contain the red solo cups is because it’s cheaper to buy the red in bulk, rather than the smaller bags of the assorted colors.
October 28, 2011 @ 10:15 am
Is Toby Keith a bargain shopper?!
October 21, 2011 @ 3:45 pm
I would love to hate on this song. There are so many things wrong with including that it sounds like something Cledus T. Judd would sing. But I must say it is catchy & I think it’s just bad enough to be realy good if that makes since. Everything tells me to hate it but I don’t.
October 21, 2011 @ 4:38 pm
I’ve said it before, and it bears repeating, that 99% of the people do not consume music in the same way Saving Country Music readers do. For a large majority of music listeners music is nothing but mindless escapism, regardless of style. They want their love songs to portray the unrealistic chick-flick ideal or tug at their heart strings so they can feel. They want songs that help them forget their daily problems for three minutes and a half minutes.
I’ve come to the point where I judge songs simply based on how well the do what they intend to do. How well it reaches to audience its intended to reach. Based on that criteria, I’d say the song does pretty well.
Will it find a place on my iPod? Hell the f*%k no.
October 21, 2011 @ 4:50 pm
After listening to that, and the samples from the album on Amazon, I need to listen to some Whitey Morgan. He does the sound I think Toby Keith is going for the right way. In a perfect world, I Ain’t Drunk would be playing at parties instead of Red Solo Cup.
October 21, 2011 @ 6:54 pm
Notice how he step right up to that line of sounding country (in a Charlie Danials Uneasy Rider kind of way), but doesn’t go all the way to making a country song. And on a different note, just because a song should be taken at face value doesn’t mean it should be taken seriously.
October 22, 2011 @ 6:51 pm
Good catch on the difference in meaning. Of course the song is not meant to be taken seriously, we can all agree it is a “stupid” song. But it is not a sarcastic song, meaning he’s not trying to make fun of other stupid songs with irony. That is what is I meant when saying it should be taken at “face value.”
October 21, 2011 @ 7:59 pm
I want an “A” or an “F” from Toby. This is a “D-.” I’m not going to listen again if I can help it because that idiotic, melody-less chorus might stick in my head.
October 22, 2011 @ 3:12 am
This is insidious, with it’s catchy little hook of a chorus, asinine high school humor and lowest-common-denominator message. I regret having watched it because that’s logged as another “play” of the video. Think of all the money the corporation put into making the video, making the album, marketing it all… It would have been enough to produce any 10 real artists and support them and their music. What a waste…
October 22, 2011 @ 8:56 am
I enjoyed your commentary and break down of this video. However I believe you are reading far too much into it. Wonder if the song and video were made solely as a joke and nothing more? No viral marketing ploy, no bad is the new good, just a song he thought would be funny? Meh, Im probably wrong though, it is probably a giant marketing conspiracy.
October 22, 2011 @ 12:22 pm
Thank You Patrick !
I agree with many things said on this site and many things I do not. This being one of those I don’t agree with.
Red Solo Cup is meant to simply be a stupid song (and Toby Keith has even said it himself!) nothing more. No Conspiracies here!
Personally I am a fan of Toby Keith, but I’ll agree with a lot of people in saying that he hasn’t been up to par the last several years, but his new record (Clancy’s Tavern) is probably his best since Shock N Yall or one from the 90s. Go check it out and see what yall think !
October 22, 2011 @ 7:17 pm
Never called this song a “giant marketing conspiracy”, and never said the song wasn’t meant to be funny. In fact I said: “Sure, the song is meant to be funny”.
But understand, as a label owner, Toby Keith is a businessman first, then an entertainer, just like Garth Brooks was before him. Don’t fool yourself into thinking there was no marketing consideration taken in this song. EVERYTHING that comes off of Music Row has layers of marketing considerations. I will say, I was using this song as an example to talk about these emerging viral marketing trends, and so in that context I can see how some might think I am picking on this song a little too much. And I fully admit, a lot of this stuff is theory.
But something else I want to point out: This song was not released to radio, nor the video to CMT or GAC. It was released on YouTube (or VEVO, same thing), and then pushed through blogs and social media. I have NEVER received an email from a major label attempting to market a song or album or artist, EVER. And I received an email directly from a publicist at Show Dog Universal asking for me to post about the song, which I happily obliged 😉
October 22, 2011 @ 9:45 am
I can’t help but notice this is the only song on the album Toby didn’t have a hand in writing, not counting the covers on the deluxe edition. I doubt that’s a coincidence.
October 22, 2011 @ 4:32 pm
I’m not the biggest TK fan in the world,but I have to agree with the comments who say you may be taking this one a weee bit too serious.I don’t see it being no huge hit.In fact I get stuck listening to a mainstream country station all day at work and haven’t even heard it played yet.
October 22, 2011 @ 6:40 pm
“This song wants no business with radio, because like I said before, it wouldn”™t hold up.”
However if it does become a big viral sensation, I could see it being added to radio in a limited capacity. But again, that’s not the point. The point is to circumvent radio. And the greater observation is that radio is losing its relevancy, and so what you do or don’t hear on the radio may have little bearing on popularity. Remember Arcade Fire won the Grammy for Album of the Year last year, with little traditional radio support.
October 22, 2011 @ 4:43 pm
Jesus, people, lighten up. It’s a JOKE.
October 23, 2011 @ 10:34 am
Rabble rabble rabble. A pop (country) artist made a forgettable novelty song. Again.
October 23, 2011 @ 1:07 pm
Most likely sponsered by Solo cups, too.
October 24, 2011 @ 11:03 am
Guilty as hell. I watched the entire video. While I often read the album reviews on SCM, I must admit I only click on the attached vids to hear a sample.
WHY? While many of us put in real effort to promote GOOD music, why would I act like the mindless consumer that frustrates us all so much? “Video Killed the Radio Star”. As Trigger Man pointed out, “Red Solo Cup” was INTENDED to be viewed as a joke, on YouTube. It’s that simple. GOOD music was not intended to be ‘viral’. How could [best 3 minute song ever] stand a chance of getting as many views as anything that’s meant to be spread that way?
I had a long drive this weekend and a lot of time to think about this. I was free from the constant “suggestions” that come along with YouTube, Facebook, whatever. i had hours to listen to good music without interruption. Ding, ding, ding, ding!!!
People still do want GOOD music. However, the current state of technology and the invasive coroporate tentacles make it hard to enjoy without being more than a “consumer”. With the medium of internet radio growing, and technology becoming more mobile, I anticipate a new wave of personal, mobile, online radio in the near future. We have iPods and Podcasting now. We have the I Heart Radio app, Pandora radio etc. I’m guessing within a couple of “Holiday Seasons” we’ll have some kind of car radio that picks suggestions based on your history, just like YouTube. This could offer a more fertile environment for real music.
Promoters, start tagging and grouping good music. If Justin Townes Earle can’t compete with Yelawolf in the number of views, the car radio could give both artists the “test of time”. Then we’ll see…
October 24, 2011 @ 11:41 am
so much for the “no radio play”…
I was at a little party yesterday and when I saw the red solo cups I made reference (lol) to the toby kreep song. A lady from West TN spoke up and said she had just heard it on mainstream radio the day before….ugh!!
Chris Lewis "Louie"
October 24, 2011 @ 2:51 pm
I recently went to a Toby Keith/Eric Church concert in Indy last month and he debuted this song for a female friend’s bday party….I know shoot me! He admitted it was the stupidest song he’s ever written and was meant to be a gag song between band mates because one of his band mates wanted Toby to prove that he could actually write a song about anything and he saw a red solo cup and made the song up. He said that he played it a couple times live and the radio stations were requesting copies of the song to play on their stations. So I think you are wrong about “This song wants no business with radio, because like I said before, it wouldn”™t hold up.” It is played on all the major country stations here in Central IL and is probably the most requested song on mainstream radio. I agree this song is total garbage and Toby hasn’t had a good song since the early 90’s. He actually played some of his songs from that time and I had forgotten that he can actually write a decent classic country song. From the “hat act” era but still good.
On the other hand we drove over to Riverton, IL and saw Hellbound Glory the next weekend. Talk about a class act. These guys were the real deal. I had to listen to some real country music to wipe my memory clean of Toby and Church’s shitty songs.
October 24, 2011 @ 3:37 pm
Well, I may have to eat my hat with the whole radio thing, but I still assert that this song was not meant for radio, it was not constructed and released to be successful there, it was meant for the viral world. If in the end it does end up em masse on the radio and becomes a big hit in the charts, then we have a much bigger problem. As pliable and gullible as the mainstream country music fan is, they didn’t fall for “Brown Chicken Brown Cow”, and I didn’t think they would fall for this. Maybe I was giving them too much credit.
And yes, reports over the last couple of days is that this song is being added on radio all over the place.
October 26, 2011 @ 10:42 am
If this song was not constructed/meant for radio, and it is getting through to radio as many have mentioned (I heard it on our mainstream country station too), then why is this such a bad thing? It is a song unlike the shit pop country/lovey dovey songs and I would argue, although stupid as it is, it points the arrow back in the direction of true/real country.
There are a ton of old-time country songs that are dumb in topic.
Also, Toby’s radio days appear to have surpassed him. So why knock a guy for promoting his music another way? Seems as an underground supporter, you find it refreshing that Toby is cutting the music he likes to cut and finding new ways to get it out….and seems radio is open to it. Doesn’t that give hope to underground artists that if you catch fire with fans virally or something, radio will find you.
One could say no underground artist would cut a song so stupid, although that can be debated….If Hellbound Glory did a joke song like this the review would be “catchy little tune for the young crowd. this on could make radio and be a big break for these guys.”
Is that the Warren Brothers in that video? My guess they had a hand in writing it.
October 26, 2011 @ 11:03 am
“why knock a guy for promoting his music another way?”
I’m not knocking him, I’m giving him lots of credit for being shrewd and on the cutting edge of the current trends of how to promote music. I think underground artists, mainstream artists, really everyone should take note of his strategy with this song, My criticism is for the song itself, and I’m sorry, just because you admit something is stupid, doesn’t mean it’s not still stupid.
Chris Lewis "Louie"
October 24, 2011 @ 2:53 pm
By the way..who see’s Toby Keith as being the next spokesperson for the NFL? I think that is very possible.
October 24, 2011 @ 3:39 pm
Don’t know if I agree or not, but some are saying Toby Keith ripped this song off from a San Antonio hip hop artist.
October 24, 2011 @ 4:21 pm
I doubt it. There’s really not any similarity between the songs. Besides, as I mentioned before, Toby wasn’t a writer on the song. Maybe the Warren Brothers copied it but I still think that’s a major stretch.
October 24, 2011 @ 4:49 pm
Yeah, as sexy as it would be for it to be true, I’m pretty skeptical, and the hip hop guy in his video almost seems to be playing it up for attention.
October 24, 2011 @ 5:31 pm
I’m gonna write a song called “Last Blue Solo Cup” and then throw it in the garbage pail.
October 24, 2011 @ 9:00 pm
Good Lord what a piece of crap. And yes i get it ,its a joke but its not even funny, it was better the first time i saw this video when it was called “Fight for your Right” and the Beastie Boys were the doin it. They too, were not that serious but that was 25 friggin years ago. The truly sad part is that here in Casper Wyoming Toby Kieth is the most “country” thing on country radio in this town and this could quite possibly end up being broadcast. Booooooooooo. Denise had the right idea. Take Toby Kieth and his solo cup and his big blue oval and throw them in the dumpster.
December 27, 2011 @ 8:56 pm
LOL to Patrick’s first line. And, amen to his second!
BTW FYI 2 TK: Acting and looking drunk doesn’t work for you. Once upon a time I thought you were the best and strongest looking country singer out there. What happened? I’m afraid this video has tarnished my image of you. Leaders do what they’re certain of, not what will sell to the populace. It’s a shame if this is what you were certain of. Can’t blame you for being a business man, can’t admire you for it either.
Pat's Blue Ribbon
October 25, 2011 @ 4:44 am
I don’t see much difference in Toby Keith’s “Red Solo Cup” and Chris Ledoux’s “Copenhagen”, which Toby Keith was a part of, or George Jones’s “It’s Finally Friday”. I’ve actually heard it on the radio twice, once this morning and it put a smile on my face on may way to another monotonous 8 hour day behind a desk. It’s just a fun goof around song, somethin me and my buddies would throw together sittin around a campfire drinkin Jack. Loosen up…
October 25, 2011 @ 8:41 am
Pat, I loosen up all the time. I do it through prayer and music. The point being, it’s tired and old to have to loosen up and brush it off as it’s just a ‘goofy’ song. Respect the art, respect the music and don’t release crap and then just laugh it off. It’s done for money, right?! I mean, Toby didn’t waste his time when he could be doing something else did he? I think we need to tighten up and quit makin’ excuses for this kinda thing. Of course it’s my opinion and all the frat kids will think this is the end all and the be all of country music. Til the next goofy song comes along.
January 8, 2012 @ 1:35 am
Respect the “art’ ???? what are you talking about ? wake up people. this isnt art. this is 5h!t masquerading as a song. what is its message? get drunk at a party? how does it speak to the human condition? By capitalizing on and promoting the desire for pleasure? It is not even remotely (country or) any form of music except pop. Pop because it is “pop”ular. absolute proof that what sells is not art. Arghhh this is an abomination to the reason music even exists. On top of that i am incensed about the fact that Red solo cup adds appear at the top of my SCM homepage. Horseshit!
January 8, 2012 @ 1:46 am
sorry had to come back to this and rant some more.since last time I posted here this piece of rubbish is on the local radio all the time. Burns my butt.
October 25, 2011 @ 5:05 am
Wow. I have found it. My quest is now over. This is the worst song I have ever heard. Ever. I am speechless. Dumbstruck. I am in reverse awe. What is that? Disgust?
October 25, 2011 @ 9:00 am
Amen. It’s so chock-full-o-shinola I think I would gag iffn’ I took a drink from the Red Solo Cup. Is that how they party in HollyNash/Nashvegas/Trashville? Or just when the cameras roll?
October 26, 2011 @ 3:28 am
The thing that saddens me most is that Ted Nugent was in the video. I know he is BLOWING up the red cup, but his anti-drug/anti-alcohol stance doesn’t really work with the theme of the video.
October 26, 2011 @ 5:21 pm
Okay, I see this song as just being a complete goof-off by Toby — some harmless fun. Unlike Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” which I’m assuming the poor young lass was trying to be serious, this video was made as a complete fun goof — no message, no seriousness, just fun. Everyone deserves to make a “Chicken In Black” now and then.
BTW, for Toby at his best I suggest “White Rose” from the album “Big Dog Daddy.”
November 3, 2011 @ 3:32 am
Why are they called “solo” cups. Aren ‘t all cups meant to be used solo?
November 3, 2011 @ 10:35 am
The one positive thing that did come from this song is that I was able to introduce a young girl to Rachel Brooke’s music because of it.
Last weekend I was taking my daughters and two of their friends trick or treating. While we were driving one of the friends starting singing the Toby Keith song. I asked her if she really liked the pop-country crap. She said it’s not pop-county, it’s just country. I corrected and said that wasn’t real country. She asked what was real country. I turned on the CD player, which had the Outlaw Radio compliation in. Turned Rachel’s song on. I do believe I converted her.
November 6, 2011 @ 5:53 am
” I said run to the mountain, I said run to the hills, that trumpet sound is . . . Lord I know it’s closer still”
November 5, 2011 @ 2:35 pm
There is a wiki fo the song. This is the ONLY song on his latest album he did not co-write. Warren and Beavers brothers wrote it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Solo_Cup
It is a stupid song with very simple lyrics. It will probably be a hit just like the old Minnie Riperton song “Lovin’ You” Try getting that song out of your head…
December 27, 2011 @ 8:45 pm
Perfectly sums up the state of America: Commercially destructing and spiritually waning. This is a song wherein the subject matter chosen was purely for sponsorship reasons. One word: Sheep.
January 7, 2012 @ 8:00 pm
what’s amazing is now it’s months later and the song is now all over country radio. It’s been in the top 5 of requested songs for a while now. It started off as a youtube joke, then when popularity hit, it became an official single from the album. multiple videos tons of merchandising. What a great marketing ploy from a “stupid” you just cant get out of your head. I tried to resist. Was so mad at toby for singing such a crazy song, but now i can’t help but love it
September 10, 2013 @ 2:50 am
His current chart-running single “Drinks After Work” may be wetting the whistle of music fans, but Toby Keith is springing for a dozen more rounds with the October 29 release of his latest album.