During convention week my Facebook feed was drowning in political memes, party-charged dissertations masquerading as status updates and video link upon video link of someone saying something that either inspired or perturbed my friends. Scrolling through, I followed a link to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and down the rabbit hole I went.
I had skillfully avoided anything to do with the convention up until that moment, but I am so grateful for that link which led me to an episode of The Daily Show that recapped Tuesday night of the Republican National Convention.
The RNC’s catchphrase and overarching theme that night was “We Built It.” This phrase was taken from a comment Barack Obama made in July when he said entrepreneurs “didn’t build” businesses without the help of government tools.
I’m not here to debate or purport any sort of political mumbo-jumbo concerning the use of “We Built It.” No, I am here today to bring your attention to country singer Lane Turner’s “I Built It,” which was performed Tuesday night and highlighted on The Daily Show.
I am not a country music fan, but I do admire the storytelling qualities that some country musicians employ. Their songs evoke memories of backwoods romances I never had and the pain one feels when they leave all they’ve ever known. I might’ve converted from 97X to WQYK and never looked back if it weren’t for that godawful country twang.
“I Built It” is no ordinary country song, however. I’m not really sure if it’s even a song. It’s almost as if Turner was kidnapped, locked in a dressing room at the Forum with nothing but his guitar and a slip of paper saying “We Built It,” and told he’d be onstage in ten.
As one can imagine, “I Built It” was said at least 57 times throughout the course of two and a half minutes. It details the story of a man who pumped gas until the station he worked at went up for sale. The man spends his life savings and buys the business, and when the investment pays off he lights up a big cigar for the “business [he] could call [his] own.”
From there Turner leaps into the chorus of I Built It’s, which he did “with [his] own two working hands” and “without help from Uncle Sam.”
This is all well and good, yet “I Built It” scolds where it should inspire. Abrasive lyrics pepper the final verses with advice like “Bust your butt/keep your big mouth shut/and your eyes on the job at hand” and “there’s a moral to this story/I’ll make it short and sweet/If you never find the “x” on the front of a check you better think before you speak.”
If this political anthem was truly meant to rally crowds, gain supporters or even do something as far-reaching as convert voters, I think it failed. It doesn’t band together a diverse group of people under a gentle message. Instead, it weighs like an overbearing parent on the mind, yelling at you to shut up and not speak until spoken to.
For comparison’s sake, take “I Built It” and put it next to the “Yes We Can” anthem of 2008 which won Will.I.Am and fellow compatriots an Emmy Award for Outstanding New Approaches.
“Yes We Can” is just as guilty for its repetition, but it uses it to an advantage rather than a taunt. It includes where “I Built It” excludes. “We” holds so much more weight than “I.” If the song had been called “We Built It,” like the actual mantra that was used for the theme, then maybe this would be a different story.
Lane Turner, you tried your best, but I don’t see a Country Music Television award in your future. I’ll offer you this, though–a second chance. Take a listen to Will.I.Am’s “It’s a New Day” and see if you can make an “I Built It” follow-up that’s just as hopeful or bubble-gummy sweet.