Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

With “Red Solo Cup,” Toby Keith made a grocery store throwaway a cultural icon

In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we’re talking about some of our favorite songs about drinking.

Toby Keith, “Red Solo Cup” (2011)

A lot of songs about drinking aren’t what you’d call objectively good songs. They’re sing-alongs about bars closing and pending divorces and brown liquor, and they’re oftentimes more meant to appease the masses than to make some grand artistic statement. That’s certainly the case with “Red Solo Cup,” Toby Keith’s ode to a grocery store item. And yet, like so many drinking songs, “Red Solo Cup” has become a boozy juggernaut. Hell, a 2012 Slate piece said that 60 percent of all Solo cups sold are red, and that same year the Solo Cup brand sold to another cup manufacturer for a little over a billion dollars.


I’ll straight-up say I like “Red Solo Cup.” (Toby Keith as a person or a political entity, not so much.) The track is simple, and something I know that my parents also have a random familiarity with. It can pop up at baseball games, at karaoke, or in a bar, and I’ll always be a little pleased. It’s dumb and catchy, and like Zac Brown Band’s “Chicken Fried,” it’s a mass-market country song that’s both easy to sing and also well known. It’s not annoying—not that “not being annoying” should be an achievement—and if anything, it’s pretty fun. Its video is gross, lecherous, and packed with dumb cameos from everyone from Carrot Top to Ted Nugent, but it’s a means to an end when I get “Red Solo Cup” stuck in my head, which happens more than I’d ideally like.

More than anything, I’m fascinated by how Keith and the song’s writers, The Warren Brothers and Brett and Jim Beavers, turned a then somewhat fringe-dwelling grocery store item into a cultural phenomenon, sparking everything from red Solo cup wine glasses to Etsy-fied creations like this lamp and these 70-cup light strings. It’s all very dorm room chic—meaning not at all—but it’s charming in that way that makes moms titter, and I suppose we have Keith to thank for that.

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