At first glance, Toby Keith’s new song “Happy Birthday America” may look like a holiday weekend lark, a jingoistic U-S-A! anthem akin to his post-9/11 release “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American).” But the Oklahoma songwriter is actually reckoning with the country’s longevity — from which viewpoint, liberal or conservative, depends on who’s listening.
“Seems like everybody’s pissin’/on the red, white and blue/happy birthday America/whatever’s left of you,” he sings in the first verse, alluding to both criticism of the country and its far from certain future.
To Keith, the nation’s greatness — American exceptionalism is a theme of the song — may be a hallmark of the past, especially for nations who might have relied on the country to lead the way. “Who they gonna count on/when you’re not there to take their call?/Will the world keep right on spinnin’/without the greatest of them all?” he asks.
There’s other allusions that suggest in which direction Keith is leaning (he writes fondly about “Dubya Dubya One and Two” and calls out the burning of the American flag), but he upends any perceived certainty about his politics in the bridge by calling out by the left and the right. On Election Day, Keith says he’s left feeling dejected.
“Every time I go to town and vote/I just come home with the blues,” he laments. “The lesser of two evils/all we ever get to choose.”
“It had been a screwed up 18 months,” Keith said in a statement about the song. “I was seeing both sides having concern over the end of democracy. We’ve fought and divided almost to the point it’s only about power and winning. Charlie Daniels had a song saying ‘God save us all from religion.’ And I’m thinking, God save us all from politicians.”
Keith is on the road this summer with his Country Comes to Town Tour. His new radio single, “Old School,” was written by Maren Morris, Ryan Hurd, and Brett Tyler.