It’s possible that you remember the first time you heard it. Maybe it was on your TikTok feed, accompanied by a jaunty, illustrative dance. Perhaps it came when you sat down to watch the opening game of the college football season in the beginning of September. But whenever it happened, it is almost certain that you’ve heard “Fancy Like,” the country hit about finding joy in mid-tier chain restaurant Applebee’s.
Released on June 4, the ascendancy of country newcomer Walker Hayes’s “Fancy Like” has been the definition of meteoric. It is currently the number one country song in the country, according to the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. It’s also achieved crossover success, peaking at #1 on the Digital Sales chart and inspiring a remix duet with pop star Kesha, who discovered the song via TikTok.
Mining the kind of down-home relatability that makes both country music and chain restaurants a staple in American life, it celebrates finding joy in the less-fine things in life — eating a Bourbon Street steak at Applebee’s, sharing an Oreo milkshake topped with whipped cream with your date, then going out to do some ill-advised drunk driving with your paramour and a cooler full of Natural Lights in tow.
As a country girl from a small town in Northeast Texas, I get it. I too appreciate a mid-tier chain restaurant — maybe I should write my own song about those breadsticks at the Olive Garden — and understand the impulse to reject the trappings of celebrity and wealth that will never be attainable to me. But I also know that this song, which has been streamed more than 100 million times, is an absolute scourge.
Engineered to the teeth by Hayes and his co-writers, Nashville hitmakers Shane Stevens, Cameron Bartolini, and Josh Jenkins, “Fancy Like” was essentially created in a lab to be a viral hit. It’s the perfect blend of catchy, silly, and relatable — all essential elements of a classic country story song, like the Chicks’s legendary “Goodbye Earl.” (“Goodbye Earl” also benefits from another tenet of good country music: some light murder.) It’s a one-in-a-million song that unites fans across genres, whether they love it or would choose having their eardrums forcibly perforated with an ice pick in lieu of ever having to hear Walker Hayes sing about seducing his lady with boxed wine and a kisser, so long as his mouth isn’t actively dipping Skoal.
Applebee’s isn’t the only brand mentioned in the song — Natural Light beer, Wendy’s, and Maybelline also get shoutouts — but one can only imagine the kind of intense ecstasy felt by the suits in the Applebee’s marketing department as soon as “Fancy Like” started to trend. The brand has struggled in recent years, and Applebee’s has done everything from selling $1 Long Island Iced Teas to offering unlimited French fries with the purchase of an entree to get diners back in the doors. Now, content creators are posting videos of their Applebee’s date nights to TikTok, racking up millions of views.
The song has been so influential for Applebee’s, in fact, that it was forced to actually put the Oreo shake back on the menu. A longtime fixture, the Oreo shake was discontinued in the midst of the pandemic. In my brief time as a 15-year-old hostess at Applebee’s nearly two decades ago, the Oreo shake was a coveted treat, only an option if one could successfully scam a bartender into schlepping out the blender and filling it with ice cream and milk.
To be clear, I understand why someone might want to write a song Applebee’s Oreo shake because, yes, it is very good. There’s also nothing wrong with enjoying a date night at Applebee’s. What is at issue, though, is that we will all soon be unable to escape “Fancy Like.” It is a terribly infectious earworm, one that will not leave your head without copious sleep or perhaps pharmaceutical aids.
Sure, there have been many terrible jingles associated with restaurant chains in the past. In the late 1990s, the Chili’s “Baby Back Ribs” commercial theme became so ubiquitous that it was forever immortalized in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. But what is so nefarious about “Fancy Like” is that it wasn’t written by an advertising executive, a la “Baby Back Ribs.” Nope, it came from actual songwriters looking to turn the appeal of a middling restaurant brand into a number-one hit.
The brands have fully enmeshed themselves into our lives, no doubt about that. Product placement has existed in film and television, even music videos, for decades. But there’s something about hearing a grown (rich!) man earnestly sing about the appeal of an overcooked steak that he’ll never eat that feels extra grating. Especially when that song is interrupting your ability to sleep at night, or watch the Dallas Cowboys play on a Sunday afternoon.
Call it snobbery, but as a solidly middle income person whose high school job was actually at an Applebee’s, I know that this isn’t actual relatability. It’s pandering to middle America in a way that both romanticizes the “normal” life and flattens it to the brands that we associate with that experience. For some, that is appealing and comforting. But in reality, it’s just another way for the brands to find their way into your wallet.
Now officially part of the pop-culture zeitgeist, we will never escape “Fancy Like.” An incredible example of marketing genius for both Hayes and Applebee’s, don’t be surprised if this song endures well beyond the typical TikTok trend. It is on your For You page, it is on your television, and now, it will be in your head. Forever.