Deep dive: Toby Keith

I remember him from Swedish television, late 00s. He refused to look up from under his hat, and got verbally attacked by Swedish comedian Sissela Kyle, who didn’t like Keith’s patriotic views. “You’re allowed to love your country, but you don’t have to view yourself as better than everyone else”, she claimed. “Who wants to talk to a hat?” a journalist asked, critizising Toby’s self-chosen TV anonymity. I didn’t think about him much more, but now here we are. Toby Keith is very nice, even though he’s also 25 years of musical repetition.

Toby starts off promising in 1993 with an 80s touch and a couple of hits, but immediately becomes boring, and stays that way throughout the whole 90s. His charm could be used more effectively but it is mostly wasted on generic balads. He releases a Christmas album sounding nothing like Christmas, and in 1999 the synths and the drum reverbs are still there, like nothing has happened since 1993.

In the 00s, Toby turns into his true self: the patriotic, taliban-bashing, beer drinking, horse riding and guitar playing son of a gun. He’s fun and controversial, commercial and generic, and he has ditched the lamer parts of his persona for the cooler ones. From a non-American perspective he looks like a parody artist, covering all super-American subjects in a super-American way, and it’s mostly a fun stereotype to me, but understandably this is the real world to many people. He makes a lot of cinematic and goofy music videos, with Toby himself looking cinematic and goofy in a similar manner. He’s self-ironic, but still he obviously stands for something. Like, he sings a guitar balad about middle-eastern talibans crashing into the World Trade Center. How am I supposed to interpret this man?

Toby’s lyrics are simple and clear, and are told like personal stories, giving the listener a connection to him in the same way some rap artists are able to do – jokes, storytelling and opinions, all delivered from a personal standpoint. He also does real attempts at some kind of country semi-rap, making the genre gap seem even smaller. The way he emphasizes his personality lets him be bigger than his music. He is Toby Keith – singer, artist and icon.

In 2010, his music gets the “truck driving country” genre label for the first time, and in 2011 he leans towards doing more slow balads again. We see a slightly less active Toby Keith in the 10s, but he still excels in his music videos and in his tales about American guys drinking in bars.

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