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The song is two Americas personified.
An average of 17 million Americans tune in for the NFL‘s most floundering, Jacksonville-at-Tampa-Bay telecasts. It’s a cultural obsession surpassed in ritualistic pomp and circumstance only by its unhinged younger sibling, college football.
On the weekend, that means an awful lot of Walmart beer.
This is a tailgating nation. It doesn’t matter if you deep-fry Coca-Cola at the Texas State Fair, complain about all the Mexicans in Philadelphia, or (and this is disgusting) grill salmon with asparagus and then pair it with a cooler-climate Zin in the Pacific Northwest—the process is the same. A few hours before kickoff, you eat and drink near the stadium.
But until Spotify ran the numbers, the soundtrack of choice for parking lot enthusiasts has been a dense wall of question marks. This week, the streaming music giant combed more than 4,000 tailgating-specific playlists to determine America’s favorite outdoor grillin’ anthem.
That’d be the Zac Brown Band’s “Chicken Fried.” And while country music swept this particular Spotify top 20, nothing else can challenge for No. 1.
The 2008 single from Brown’s breakout major label debut, The Foundation, is all red meat. It’s two Americas personified. It’s a sweet-tea sip about the good quiet life on the porch: “Cold beer on a Friday night, a pair of jeans that fit just right, and the radio on.”
There’s a seething heteronormative message: This is a life you achieve by finding “love in my woman’s eyes” and then having children. Its populist tone lands like Captain Sully; it’s not “where you live, what you drive, or the price tag on your clothes.”
From a practical tailgating standpoint, it’s a song that works not so much when you’re headed there or setting up camp, but hits simultaneously with the heartburn: You’ve had scoops of potato salad and a big ol’ sandwich, enough Coors Lites to get wistful—”Chicken Fried” tells you this is a life fully realized. This ain’t too bad, and the consequences of this entertainment—a game we know is sweepingly prone to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, setting your emotional clock by the wins and losses of the Dallas Cowboys, the ensuing hangover—are miles away.
On its fire-burning third verse, Brown tells you to be thankful for the American military, the stars and stripes. Like the obligatory national anthem before the game, the only entry fee to this state of mind is remembering to be outwardly patriotic.
It’s a notion that liberal Americans balk at—often finding ways to ruin the party barge state of mind with nagging about U.S. drone strikes killing civilians. And lest you think I’m falling victim to an overt confirmation bias, keep in mind that Brown once rocked for Mitt at the 2012 Republican National Convention.
The good news is that Brown is mostly an expressionist bro with a guitar who probably doesn’t like coming out on top of this Spotify research. Two years ago, he told a Canadian country station as much: “If I hear one more tailgate in the moonlight, Daisy Dukes song, I wanna throw up. There’s songs out right now on the radio that make me… ashamed to be even in the same format as some of those artists.”
To balance out the data, Spotify solicited a playlist from highly touted NFL rookie La’el Collins. Like Brown, he’s also from the Bible Belt and comes to the Dallas Cowboys by way of Louisiana State University. His tailgating mix is entirely emblematic of his American experience.
Unlike the sun-soaked romanticism of getting drunk in a parking lot alongside students that make racist jokes—a lifestyle fueled by sentimental country—Collins’s playlist is war. Block-attacking, marching band, end-of-days rap compositions from producer Lex Luger; bottle service from R. Kelly where you show up to the club in your sneakers as an act of defiance; flexing; money; cocaine; marijuana; outer-space trunk rattling from martians Future and Lil Wayne.
From Brown’s bearded country to the locker-room trap jams preferred by the players, Spotify’s deep dive into how its users process America’s most compulsive hobby this side of guns maps out the user experience with telling insight.
Photo via slgckgc/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Ramon Ramirez is the news director, and formerly the Dot's entertainment editor and evening editor. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, Grantland, Washington City Paper, Austin American-Statesman, and Austin Monitor.