In Hamlet, William Shakespeare’s 17th century drama about the tragic Prince of Demark, Polonius utters the memorable line, “To thine own self be true.” Four hundred year later, those words continue to resonate, thanks in part to Reba McEntire, who sings them in one of her most popular hits of all time, “Fancy.”
The dark but ultimately triumphant tale of “Fancy” was first committed to tape on this day, August 8th, in 1969, when its songwriter Bobbie Gentry, entered the now-legendary FAME recording studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to record her version, which was produced by the equally iconic Rick Hall. Released in November of that year, the tune stalled at Number 26 on the country chart and just missed the pop Top Thirty, no doubt a disappointing result for Gentry, whom two years earlier had crafted another Southern Gothic tale, “Ode to Billie Joe,” which topped the Billboard Hot 100.
Fast-forward to 1990 and the release of Rumor Has It, Reba McEntire’s 15th album and her first of four multi-platinum LPs in a row. On a red-hot streak since the mid-Eighties, McEntire took four songs from the disc into the Top Ten, reaching Number One with “You Lie” and “Rumor Has It.” But in the same year Reba made her big-screen debut alongside Kevin Bacon in Tremors, she and music video director Jack Cole took the story of Fancy and gave it the full cinematic treatment. Expounding on Gentry’s tale of a teenage girl who grows up “plain white trash” in a rundown shack outside New Orleans with an ailing mother and a young sibling, McEntire and the director created a clip that was at a time a rarity in country music, weaving a storyline with external dialogue around the song’s performance, and incorporating a plot device surrounding Fancy’s locket inscribed with Polonius’s memorable words.
In the flashback-heavy video, Reba portrays Fancy Rae Baker, who travels to her childhood home in the back of a cab, surveying the now-abandoned shack and recalling her rise from confused teenager sent out into the world by her desperate mother to a famous singer and actress now the owner of a Georgia mansion making peace with her mama’s decision and, in the video version, planning to turn her former home into a refuge for runaway girls. Reba and the clip’s director would later team for the videos “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” and “Is There Life Out There.”
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Although “Fancy” peaked at Number Eight on the country chart, Reba’s third of four singles from Rumor Has It went on to be a centerpiece of the entertainer’s increasingly elaborate, Vegas-style concerts and a popular karaoke choice for aspiring young Reba wannabes – in spite of its controversial plot points. The song pre-dated, but perhaps helped inspire, McEntire’s infamous red dress from the 1993 CMA Awards telecast and a generation of fans, including American Idol veterans Kelly Clarkson, Kellie Pickler and Carrie Underwood, among many others, were paying close attention as the singer changed the game for country’s female artists. Even genre-crossing “Body Like a Back Road” singer Sam Hunt acknowledged Reba’s influence, including “Fancy” in a medley of covers on tour.
McEntire also became well-known for the many costume changes she would make during her live shows, including her 2015
Earlier this year, an Off-Broadway musical inspired by “Fancy” was staged at