This post is lovingly dedicated to my friend Becky.
I’m not one of these people who thinks that all music has to “say something” or be “serious art” all the time. But I gotta say, I really hate novelty songs. No matter how clever or funny you think a novelty song is, given enough time you’re gonna hate it. Which is why even after 25+ years of making music, Weird Al si still on the fringes of cultural acceptance. Novelty songs are bubble-gum in the purest sense: it’s sugary and good for about two minutes before it turns nasty and you have to spit it out.
Last week I heard Toby Keith’s song “Red Solo Cup” for the first time at work. I share an office now with an older woman who likes to listen to the radio while we work. Unlike a lot of people I don’t mind not getting to pick the radio station, sometimes I like hearing new things. And besides, I’m at work, what am I gonna do? It’s not like I have a choice…
So we were listening to the local country station and this song came on about fucking plastic cups. Now I’m not a huge country fan but not all country is stupid hillbilly music. Johnny Cash was a badass and I like Gram Parsons. Anyway, one of the appeals of country music is the material, the idealized agrarian lifestyle, the yearning for simpler times, surviving a harsh world, bucking broncos, and crying in one’s beer. Modern country music isn’t about anything cool like that. It’s basically about the same stuff as mainstream pop music is about. But you know, with a twang.
This Toby Keith song, “Red Solo Cup” is basically a song about that ubiquitous party cup. But if you think about it, the Red Solo Cup represents everything bad-ass outlaw Country dudes SHOULD be against. The Red Solo Cup ain’t even from Texas, it’s from New York City….NEW YORK CITY!!!
Seriously, think about it: the Red Solo Cup is part of the “disposable lifestyle” that of corporate America’s always shoving down our throats. The idea that we should use a cup once and throw away is anti-artisan, anti-homemade, and anti-country. But hey, Toby’s just a good-time good ‘ole boy! He’s not here to THINK he’s here to DRINK. Okay, fine. But how about the fact that this song is basically a spoken-word piece. It’s not really sung so much as “read” by Toby Keith. Which, again, is fine except the same red-neck idiots who giggle and guffaw at this bullshit have the nerve to turn around and say ignorant shit like “well rap ain’t music, that’s just talkin’.”
And anyway at the heart of the matter: it’s a stupid one-joke song. It’s “Grandma Got Run-over by a Reindeer.” Except that song is slightly better because “Grandma Got Run-over by a Reindeer” is a Christmas song, and thus only played during the holidays which helps keep it away from me most of the time. The fact that this plastic cup song is #1 Country song on iTunes AND it’s played every hour-on-the-hour on the local Country radio station is both bleak and telling. If I was flipping through the dial I might even think I’d stumbled upon a really long commercial.
Which reminds me., you know who’s happy about this song? Well, besides Toby Keith, who’s no doubt loving the fact that he’s enjoying some success again: the Solo Cup Company. I bet they’re laughing all the way to bank. In fact, I predict that in a few years we’ll see a Solo Cup ad or commercial that uses this song (you know, when it’s no longer culturally relevant and the licensing fees are more economical).
Bottom line: “Red Solo Cup” is going to be the answer to an obscure trivia question in about six months, just wait and see.