Walker Hayes, 41, has been a known and respected country music artist for nearly a third of his life. However, the story of his chart-topping success is made that much sweeter when you consider the bullet points of his story in the period before reaching the top of Mediabase’s Country chart with his single “Fancy Like.”
– Parent of six children, with wife, Laney, and their seventh child died hours after her birth on June 6, 2018
– Recovered from an addiction to alcohol
– Dropped from two separate labels in 12 years, and before signing to Monument Records in 2017, worked a “humbling,” graveyard, 4 a.m. to 10 a.m. at Costco to make ends meet
– Approached his eventual label boss at Monument Records, Shane McAnally, at a Smoothie King, with interest in a label deal
– Recorded his self-produced, 2016, 8Tracks (Vol. 1 and Vol. 2) EP while working in a tool shed behind his publisher’s Music Row office
Most often, when aspiring creators refer to Music City as a “10-year town,” it’s a story complete with low-paying jobs and high-flung aspirations. However, for Hayes, the tale is a bit more harrowing than that.
“When you get beat up by Nashville, people vanish,” he told the Washington Post in 2017. “It was lonely there for a little while.”
The loneliness inspired lyrics like “The sky ain’t falling/It’s just the roof of my car,” from 20187-released “Lela’s Stars,” culled from the experience of the upholstered roof of Hayes’ car caving in on him, and the thumbtacks he borrowed from his young daughter to fix the issue looking like a constellation briefly.
Hayes’ best-selling single is a simple tale about opting for Applebees’ two-for-$20 platter and splitting an Oreo milkshake instead of a Wendy’s Value Meal and a Frosty milkshake. This notion speaks to a larger conversation about the singer-songwriter discovering a joyous reprieve in his tireless quest for country stardom. Upon its official release as a single in June 2021, his statement to CMT about what inspired him to write “Fancy Like” feels profound in the face of his career to that point: “I just wrote about my family. There’s no pretentiousness there. It’s just who we are. When you get to be that honest and the public reacts, it’s a real magical thing. And the dances, that’s just me being a dad. I mean, that’s just how we roll around here.”
To wit, regarding the viral TikTok dance craze that “Fancy Like” inspired, the idea that the social media app is inspiring a slew of hitmakers is — if you pay attention to CMT’s digital series Viral to Verified, and TikTok star Priscilla Block being a 2021 CMT Next Women of Country class member — already happening. However, pair what independent country artist Spencer Crandall tells The Boot is streaming social media success at “4 million people, or 20 million, or however many streams you have” already completing market research with a known quantity like Hayes.
As Hayes told Bobby Bones, learning TikTok dances was a way for him and his previously mentioned daughter, Lela, to bond during COVID-19’s quarantine. Upon the release of “Fancy Like,” Lela and her father put together a quick routine in about 35 minutes. One video filmed by wife Laney and a million views in one night later, and Hayes’ following on TikTok grew over 2,000%.
Unlike a performer like BRELAND or the previously mentioned Block, who used viral acclaim to become label-signed artists, Hayes was not a complete Music Row unknown. Hayes is signed to Monument Records, a label started by producer and songwriter Shane McAnally. Hayes has credits with Colt Ford, Rodney Atkins, and more. Unquestionably, being able to pair digital virality with real-time familiarity as a signed, veteran artist creates a space where success beyond traditional Nashville expectations — at a seismic, spiking level — can occur.
Since its June release, “Fancy Like” has topped every country streaming and sales chart, including spending 17 weeks on top of Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, becoming one of the fastest platinum-certified singles of 2021. Plus, instances including a remix of the track featuring pop star Ke$ha and Applebees featuring the song in a commercial plus returning its Oreo milkshake to its menu keyed an unprecedented climb into Mediabase’s top ten in October 2021. That surge (seven spots) was the largest into Mediabase’s top ten in nearly two decades.
“When Walker Hayes walked up to me at Smoothie King almost seven years ago, he hoped I would change his life, but he ended up changing mine. I have learned more about perseverance and passion and heart from him than any artist I have ever known,” stated Monument’s Co-President McAnallly in a press release.
Hayes’ comment regarding his chart-topper is perhaps country music’s best feel-good moment in quite some time. “Country radio, you hung the moon. This is the ’we did it moment’ for Laney and me. No matter what I say, you won’t be able to know how grateful I am. Thank you for a hundred chances…now I’m Fancy Like #1!”
Besides those at Hayes’ label, others share the artist’s irrepressible joy at his sudden, astounding achievements. Upon watching an admittedly nervous Hayes close out CMT’s 2021 Artists of the Year event, Kane Brown offered, “Hey buddy just know your not alone I felt like that my whole career so far like I had to please other artist and all that crap but just know you don’t! As long as your happy and your getting to do what you love and your fans and family love you that’s all you can ask for man! God bless ya and keep being fancy man 💪🏾”