In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always worth hearing.
I grew up in Dallas, where listening to country music was just as acceptable as listening to Gin Blossoms. So it was without irony that I listened to, and loved, Reba McEntire throughout my teenage years. (Full disclosure: I even named the family dog Reba.)
Though her sound became poppier to match the nouveau country of the mid-’90s, in 1990 Reba was still belting out the kind of country music that was popular in the decade prior: twangy but not old-timey, and with a good story to tell. Her 1990 cover of “Fancy,” originally recorded by Bobbie Gentry in 1970, stands out from the more commonplace tear-in-my-beer tale, telling the story of a girl who grew up in poverty “on the outskirts of New Orleans,” and was kicked out by her mom so she could make a better life for herself. Her means are questionable—Fancy is given a red dress, red lipstick, and told to “just be nice to the gentlemen, Fancy, and they’ll be nice to you”—but the song’s narrator portrays herself as a woman of power and ambition, a woman who makes a better life for herself.
In Reba’s hands—and in her twanging growl—a song ostensibly about becoming a courtesan sounds more like a girl-power anthem about doing right by yourself and not letting your critics get you down. With the backup singers’ egging her on, Fancy woos a king, a congressman, and the occasional aristocrat, ultimately living out the American dream by making enough money to buy “a Georgia mansion and an elegant New York townhouse flat.” Maybe it’s not the route that most of us would choose to take to the top, but Reba’s Fancy knows how to take care of herself.