Robert Carlton is Sr. VP of Development at SMACK, the Nashville entertainment company that now involves a successful publishing house (SMACKSongs), management firm (SMACKManagement), and a recently launched influencer marketing service (SMACKTok).
A Nashville native and MTSU graduate, Carlton began his career at Black River. In 2014, he moved to SMACK and has since ascended to run the artist management division, which represents Shane McAnally’s television projects (including NBC’s Songland), Monument Records artist Walker Hayes and UMG artist Kylie Morgan. Carlton also works with SMACK’s publishing roster.
Carlton and the SMACK team have had a whirlwind few months as Hayes has experienced monumental success with his hit “Fancy Like,” from his recent EP Country Stuff.
The tune, co-written by Hayes, Cameron Bartolini, Shane Stevens and Josh Jenkins, has charmed the hearts of listeners across the world with its lyrics about a cheap date night at Applebee’s. Hayes sings “We fancy like Applebee’s on a date night, got that Bourbon Street steak with the Oreo shake / Get some whipped cream on the top too, two straws, one check, girl, I got you.”
Once Hayes and his daughter Lela uploaded a TikTok of the two of them dancing to the song, “Fancy Like” took off, with other creators and celebrities sharing their own TikToks of the dance. Just a month later, the TikTok has been viewed over 30 million times and “Fancy Like” ventured into the zeitgeist, hitting No. 1 on Billboard‘s Hot Country streaming chart. On the country radio front, “Fancy Like” flew up the charts, making the biggest jump into the Top 10 on the Mediabase Country chart since Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman” in early 2004. It also hit No. 1 on MusicRow‘s CountryBreakout Radio Chart on Friday (Oct. 15).
“People just gravitated towards the ordinary with Walker,” Carlton tells MusicRow of the song’s success. “[Taking it to TikTok] was obvious from the jump. The dance idea was just him and his daughter… It wasn’t strategized in a real specific way.”
Now “Fancy Like” backs an Applebee’s commercial, a collaboration we all saw coming. Carlton says that the restaurant chain wasn’t interested at first, but once the song took off, they re-considered. After the release of the track, CNN reported that Applebee’s sales grew 102% in the months following. “It was a no brainer at that point, they just had to pay a little more than they would have on the front end,” Carlton quips.
Hayes also partnered with pop artist Kesha on a remix for the tune. “We were trying to find someone who made sense, that you thought might go to Applebee’s,” Carlton says. “Walker and Kesha had a call about it. She said ‘I actually got thrown out of an Applebee’s because my friend got in a fight there.’ He was like, ‘Perfect. You’re it!'”
Although Hayes has been experiencing what seems like an overnight success with “Fancy Like,” the singer-songwriter has been putting the work in for 10 years. Fans have long-gravitated to Hayes’ very specific musical style, with songs like the double-Platinum “You Broke Up With Me,” and popular “90s Country” and “Don’t Let Her” creating a buzz with listeners.
When it comes to the titanic success of “Fancy Like,” Carlton says that it’s been a long time coming.
“Walker has an incredible ability to connect with his fans and build his base 1 by 1 but having this massive moment happen so suddenly is sometimes hard to appreciate and accept,” Carlton admits. “I think I’m too close to it to really allow myself enjoy it although I’m constantly telling myself to do so. It seems like every day something else amazing happens with this song and Walker and I are in disbelief asking each other ‘WHAT IS HAPPENING?’ It’s really been special to see this happen first hand with an artist and individual that is as talented and as genuine as they come.”