It all started when the pandemic hit, and Walker Hayes had some unexpected downtime at home on his hands. Scrolling through social media, he noticed that dance routine videos set to music were trendy on TikTok, and making one looked like fun, so he consulted his resident teenager — his 15-year-old daughter, Lila — for help coming up with a dance to one of his songs.
As months went by, creating dances became a hobby for Hayes and Lila. When he put out his Country Stuff EP this summer, the singer shared a video of the two of them dancing to the title track on his TikTok.
“And then she’s like, ‘Hey, we need to do that with ‘Fancy Like’ on Sunday afternoon,’” Hayes recalls. So they came up with the dance and did two takes on their front porch. Hayes went for a half-hour run, came back and checked the app. “I was like, ‘Oh cool, look, it got 3,000 views.’ My wife was like, ‘That’s 300,00 views,’” he remembers. “By that night, it was surpassing a million.”
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Hayes — who just a couple weeks ago had a mid-size TikTok presence, with videos that didn’t typically rack up more than six-figure views — saw his “Fancy Like” dance video skyrocket, reaching over 4 million views in four days. Even before he’d put the song on TikTok, “Fancy Like” had been standout from his Country Stuff EP in terms of listener response (“We were already like, ‘Hey, these analytics are weird — people must like the song,’” Hayes remembers), but the buzz from the app helped propel it not only onto the Billboard Country Digital Song Sales chart, but to the No. 1 spot on that ranking in its first week.
“Fancy Like” became a massive presence on the iTunes and Shazam charts, too, competing impressively against not only country songs, but songs from all genres. “Something must’ve happened. It must’ve tapped that TikTok algorithm,” Hayes shrugs, amazed and still a little baffled by its runaway success. “It’s really just what you dream of as an artist. The beautiful thing about being a creative person is you literally wake up every day and you’re like, ‘Maybe this is the day.’ It just so happens this was it.”
More than many, Hayes knows what it’s like to be patient with a dream. He moved to Nashville in 2004, and didn’t make his debut on the Billboard charts until 2010 (that was with “Pants,” a song that fizzled after barely cracking the country Top 40.) It would be eight more years until he broke the Top 10, with 2018’s “You Broke Up With Me,” a song that has arguably thus far been Hayes’ biggest hit.
But compared to “Fancy Like,” the rise of “You Broke Up With Me” was fairly traditional. It climbed charts at terrestrial radio, gaining support from Sirius XM’s the Highway, “and it became like a spiderweb,” Hayes recalls. “But [‘Fancy Like’] popped off on a whole ‘nother level. It’s obviously transcending genres. Like, I’m getting people who are like, ‘I don’t like country music, but what is this?’”
Though “Fancy Like” is attracting a subsect of fans that Hayes has never been exposed to before, the singer says he’s happy for the song to be his calling card. “I don’t think I’ve really deviated from who I am with ‘Fancy Like.’ It’s not like I had a hit with a song that’s not what my diehard fans expect,” he points out. “I would never wanna have a hit an be like, ‘Ah, I hope they don’t expect me to do that over and over.’”
But “Fancy Like” is a good entry point into Hayes’ discography, he says, and has been leading fans into the rest of his EP, even translating to a bigger listener following for songs like “Briefcase,” his intimate ballad with Lori McKenna about his complicated relationship with his dad. “Fancy Like,” for all its hooky earworm appeal and silly lyrics, is also a true, personal story: Just because it’s light and fluffy doesn’t mean the song doesn’t come from Hayes’ heart.
“The song is about my family. I mean, it’s about our life, and it couldn’t be more true,” Hayes says. Even more special is the fact that Lila and the rest of his kids have gotten to be a part of the song’s release through making TikTok dances and watching them go viral together.
“The fact that I get to share this with my daughter? I mean, we’ll have that [forever.] I’m gonna die one day, and she’ll be able to be like, ‘Remember when we did that dance and it just popped off?’” he reflects. “It’s cool, too, to be like, ‘Hey, Lila, you wake up, and out of nowhere, you pull together these dance moves, and you and I have a good time, and look what can happen.”