In the age of cord-cutting and ad-free subscription services, the mass culture experience of sitting through television ads, those once-universal generational touchstones (WAZZAAA! Less filling! Where’s the beef?!), have mostly gone the way of the Zune player. For me and probably many of us, it’s only during football season that the inescapable, unfast-forwardable television commercial resurfaces as a cultural phenomenon. It is kind of nice when so many demographics can come together and be annoyed by the same things.
Thus, it’s partly with a sense of nostalgia that I write that the “fancy like Applebee’s ad” absolutely has to go. I mean just look at this thing:
This must be the worst television commercial produced in a generation. It’s probably the worst ad since the Geico mandolin guys. Almost everything about it seems designed to make me grind my teeth into dust, and I hope I’m not alone when I say that everyone who made it should be in prison.
The 30-second spot consists of a series of real “heartland America” types — nurses! newlyweds! wakeboarders …an old man fashioning a kayak out of a log! — dancing to a song in which a blandly handsome white man rap-sings the Applebee’s menu. The lyrics go something like this:
Yeah, we fancy like Applebee’s… on a date night
Got that Bourbon Street steak with the Oreo shake
Get some whipped cream… on the top too
Two straws, one check, girl, I got you
Bougie like Natty… in the styrofoam
Squeak-squeakin’ in the truck bed all the way home
Some Alabama-jamma, she my Dixieland delight
Ayy, that’s how we do, how we do, fancy like, oh
Those lyrics were an especially easy pull, because believe it or not, this song actually once existed independent of the Applebee’s ad. Written and performed by stereotypical country man Walker Hayes (by which I mean he looks like an ex-athlete with a comfortable life in the ‘burbs who smiles a lot), “Fancy Like” spent eight weeks (and counting) at number one on the Billboard Country Music charts. It racked up 50 million plays on Spotify, and that was all before Applebee’s decided to turn it into an annoyingly ubiquitous ad. You read that correctly: this motherfucker wrote an ode to Oreo shakes on spec.
And then there’s the ad itself, which consists of a food montage intercut with a series of people dancing to the Applebee’s song. If I had to choose a worst moment, I’d probably go with the triptych boomerang of the cowboy man butt shaking to the infectious Applebee’s music:
It’s honestly difficult to put my finger on what it is that’s so infuriating about being danced at by a man in a cowboy hat, I just know that I hate it. Am I being detained?? Please stop dancing at me! I should probably discuss this with a therapist.
The song also has a first verse that you don’t hear in the commercial, which is arguably even more puke inducing:
My girl is bangin’
She’s so low maintenance
Don’t need no champagne poppin’ entertainment
Take her to Wendy’s
Can’t keep her off me
She wanna dip me like them fries in her Frosty
She wanna “dip” you? Like… fries into ice cream? I’m not being deliberately obtuse here but I don’t even get it. “Dipping” sounds courtly, yet fries dunked in a milkshake is undeniably sexual imagery (are the fries your wiener? what body part does the dairy product represent?). PG porn is always the grossest porn. Of course, in terms of things that make this song and commercial so insufferable, that line wouldn’t even make the top 10.
Once upon a time, our corniest hip hop acts would name drop luxury brands in songs, presumably in the hopes of freebies or sponsorship deals. The Black Eyed Peas come to mind. I think Will.i.am is a professional techno-futurist now so it seems to have worked out for him. This phenomenon has apparently come to country; only now it’s not Bentleys and Gucci they’re name dropping, it’s Oreo shakes and Frosties. It’s one thing to sell out for a $200,000 car, it’s another to do it for a fast casual milkshake.
And yet, a guy writing an ode to the Applebee’s menu on spec and immediately being rewarded with an Applebee’s ad deal is basically the beau ideal of a modern country song. The song is like a layer cake of corniness, which is perfect, because, I would argue, the only real defining characteristic of modern country is being corny. Hayes’ collaborator, a professional hitmaker named Shane McAnally, essentially admits as much.
“Those first two lines of the chorus — the perfection of ‘steak’ and ‘shake’ rhyming — it literally gave me chills,” McAnally says with a laugh. “Because I know how hard it is to make something sound dumb.”
There you have it: sounding dumb is a feature, not a bug. (Incidentally I had a brilliant joke about the last name “McAnally” here but my editor deemed it inappropriate).
Musically, there’s nothing even really “country” about this song. No fiddles or lap steel guitars, no shuffling beat or harmonies, etc. It’s basically a hip hop song with an 808 beat and scatty, rap-like rhymes, performed in a hybrid blaccent and redneck drawl, both delivered with equal fraudulence. (Is it redundant to point out that a guy singing about Applebee’s probably grew up in the suburbs? According to this profile his father owned a real estate business). And yet “Fancy Like” is undeniably a country song, based solely on the sentiment being expressed. A sentiment which goes, roughly, “don’t forget to drink your Ovaltine.”
But, of course, only in a very personal way. As Walker Hayes, tells it, Applebee’s had a very special place in his childhood memories, as the “splurge” restaurant.
“My dad could get fajitas, but none of us kids could,” Hayes told the LA Times earlier this month. “We had to get, like, a quesadilla. So if you saw a couple of Bourbon Street Steaks sizzle by, you were like, ‘Ooh, what’s that table celebrating tonight?’”
Aw yeah. Remember that? When we’d go to Applebee’s but could only order the quesadillas? We’d spend all day laying on the hoods of our trucks, dreaming of one day being able to write that hit song about Bourbon Street Steaks and being able to finally afford that Bourbon Street Steak. Those were the days, huh?
Country has long been a genre that prized paeans to half-remembered mass media myths — wide open spaces and lonesome cowboys and all of that. I don’t know if it’s infuriating or just sad that we so effectively killed the small town in America that country musicians are now writing love songs to chain restaurants. If the town dies, write a love song to the strip mall. Let us all now join hands and sing the hymn of homogenization.
This commercial is delivered like a party anthem when everything about it is sad as hell. It makes me feel depressed, queasy, and old, in a way that has nothing to do with Applebee’s food. After all, I grew up in the country eating at mediocre chain restaurants myself (to be fair, “Applebee’s” certainly has better rhyming potential than “Golden Corral”), I promise I’m not above it. In fact, Applebee’s, I will make you a deal. I will eat at your restaurants every day for a month if you stop playing this commercial forever. Please?