Not since Dixie Chicks’ 1999 hit “Goodbye Earl” has a country song been as reviled by mainstream media—yet beloved by country radio and fans—as Tyler Farr’s “Redneck Crazy.” But while the Chicks’ song stalled at No. 13, Farr’s hit recently ascended to No. 3 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart.
The Columbia Records promotion team accomplished that feat despite some significant challenges. First, Farr’s two previous singles, “Hot Mess” and “Hello Goodbye,” only peaked at Nos. 49 and 52, respectively, last year. Second, “Redneck Crazy” was reaching critical mass just as a backlash against redneck-themed songs was gaining traction.
Finally, and most significantly, some media outlets went on the attack against the song because of such lyrics as, “I’m gonna aim my headlights into your bedroom windows/throw empty beer cans at both of your shadows/I didn’t come here to start a fight, but I’m up for anything tonight” and “Did you think I’d wish you both the best, endless love and happiness?/You know that’s just not the kind of man I am/I’m the kind that shows up at your house at 3 a.m.”
While noting, correctly, that “people love it,” The Washington Post called the song “disturbing,” “ominous” and “creepy,” and said it offers a “step-by-step guide to stalking.” The Tennessean interviewed a sociology professor who opined that the song’s tone “is very much like . . . a domestic violence scenario.” The Nashville paper also quoted “Independence Day” singer Martina McBride saying it depicts a “bully who is exhibiting a stalking-type behavior.” She pointedly added, “I can’t imagine any of us would want our sons acting this way.”
But as Columbia VP of promotion Norbert Nix points out, that’s exactly the kind of controversy that sells records. The single is quickly approaching platinum status, having sold 943,000 downloads to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The Redneck Crazy album, released Sept. 30, debuted at No. 2 on Top Country Albums and No. 5 on the Billboard 200, selling 50,000 copies thus far. And the comical music video, which smartly takes the teeth out of the song by replacing hurled beer cans with toilet paper, has more than seven million views.
While he admits there may have been some early concerns about the song from a few programmers, Nix says, “There was no lyric that somebody could point out and say ‘I can’t play this because of this lyric.’ That never happened.”
Just to make sure of that, the label had already replaced the lyrics “get my pissed off on” with “get my redneck on” in a radio edit serviced alongside the album version last January. Programmers made their own choices about which version to play. In Nashville, WKDF chose the “pissed off” version.
“Obviously from the start there’s been that element of the ‘stalker song,’ but if you really dissect the lyric, he doesn’t really do anything,” says Nix. “He doesn’t get in a fight. It’s really more [about] a relationship gone bad, which everybody has [had]. That’s why it’s had so much reaction, and that’s why it was a top five record. People can relate to that.”
While Farr didn’t write the song, Nix says he’s shared the experience of the song’s central theme, a bad breakup, and listeners responded by sharing their own such experiences on his social media pages. “It was amazing to see that people were relating heavily to that lyric,” Nix says. “It struck a chord with people.”
From the time both terrestrial radio and Sirius XM began playing the song, Nix says, “We started seeing pretty significant scans that told us there was passion for this record.” He adds, “Radio . . . paid attention to it. They know their audience, and they knew they had something with this. People were reacting.”
Adds Nix, “It wouldn’t be a top five single if radio didn’t, en masse, support this thing at the very top levels. Any concern was diffused with the positives on the record.”
Nix says Farr has been signed to Columbia parent Sony Music Nashville for more than four years, and in that time has toured hard and visited radio often. As a result, he says, radio programmers “saw him as a viable artist,” despite two previous misses. “For the most part, radio programmers were really championing this song.”
As for his own staff, Nix says, “We operated very closely on this one, and navigated through those tough waters.”
In the end, Nix says, the final push into the top five “was supported by radio. They . . . rallied and made it happen,” which then set up the album’s high debut. “This thing fired on all cylinders,” Nix says of breaking Farr. “Having a hit at country radio was the element that made this thing roll.”
As for Farr’s reaction to his first hit, Nix says, “He was blown away, absolutely speechless [and] emotional. It was a big, big moment for him. He knows his friends in radio made it happen. There’s no other way in this format.”