Sunday, July 28, 2013

Toby Keith -- "How Do You Like Me Now?!" (2000)

Alarm clock starts ringing
Who could that be singing?
It's me baby, with your wake up call!

Like a lot of country songs, "How Do You Like Me Now?!" -- yes, that is the correct punctuation -- tells a story. 

It seems that the singer had a crush on a particular girl when they were in high school.  She was "always the perfect one," not to mention being the class valedictorian. He was desperate to attract her attention, but she had "too many boyfriends to mention."  (Remind you of anyone from your high school class?  Me, too.)

Toby Keith
My theory is that many -- probably most -- creative artists are driven to create by a sense of inferiority that goes back at least to high school. Maybe their fathers were disappointed in them, or their teachers and classmates viewed them as stupid.  Or maybe they had crushes on girls who were way out of their league. 

Did that make them mad?  Probably.  But they didn't just get mad, they got even!  They channeled their resentment into their art or their writing or their music.

The singer of this song doesn't seem to resent his father, or his teachers -- but he sure as hell resents that uppity little valedictorian who never paid him the attention he deserved.

So he moved to Nashville and made himself a star. (According to the song, he heard that she made fun of his delusions of grandeur when he took off, but he's probably wrong -- it's more consistent with his depiction of her that she was never even aware that he had left town to seek his fame and fortune, and couldn't have cared less if she had been.)

And the most satisfying thing about his eventually becoming a star and having a hit record is knowing that she will hear that record on the radio and realize what a good thing she missed out on when she blew him off.

Because her life has gone straight down the crapper ever since she delivered her valedictory remarks at their high school graduation.  She married for money, not for love -- and was rewarded with a cheating husband.  Her kids hear her crying every night behind the closed door of her bedroom.

The interesting thing about this song is the unadulterated glee that the singer takes in getting his revenge on the girl that he claims to have once loved.  You expect the song to end with the singer saying something to comfort her, or feeling empathy.  But he doesn't seem to feel the least bit sorry for her. To the contrary: he's absolutely delighted by her misery.

Toby Keith's alma mater
I don't know if the song is based on Toby Keith's real-life experiences back at Moore (Oklahoma) High School. I'm guessing it is.

If I'm right, Keith obviously took the the advice of best-selling mystery writer, Mary Higgins Clark, who once said, "When someone is mean to me, I just make them a victim in my next book."

A lot of people swear by revenge. Muhammad Ali once said, "I'm no cheek turner.  You kill my dog, you better hide your cat."

Sir Walter Scott
Others advise against seeking revenge not so much because they believe in loving their enemies, but because they know how the desire for vengeance can poison the human heart.  Sir Walter Scott defined revenge as "the sweetest morsel to the mouth that was ever cooked in hell" -- it is tempting to indulge in it, but ultimately it never satisfies.

The singer of "How Do You Like Me Now?!" eats a big ol' heapin' helpin' of revenge, and then says, "Please, sir -- may I have some more?" That repast may seem to hit the spot going down, but it will likely leave the diner feeling queasy.

"How Do You Like Me Now?!" is perhaps the biggest hit Keith ever had -- and he's had a lot of hits. It stayed at #1 for five weeks, and Billboard ranked it the top country song of 2000. There must be a lot of people out there who are dying to take their revenge on someone who did 'em wrong when they were in high school.

Here's "How Do You Like Me Now?!":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:


  1. I don't know if the Greeks had a word for it, but the German term "Schadenfreude" comes to mind. Then there's the Klingon saying, "Revenge is a dish best served cold." "You Oughta Know" by Alanis Morissette also fits in this discussion.


  3. Thanks for the link to "Ancient History"--I bought "Jagged Little Pill" mostly for "Hand in My Pocket" (the instrumental backing reminded me of "Hello DJ" by Don Bowman, for some reason) but "You Oughta Know" takes Evie Sands' "I Hate You Today" to a whole other level.