By Grady Smith
October 12, 2011 at 04:23 PM EDT

Toby Keith, what happened to you?

You used to be the biggest superstar in country music, selling millions of records and raising just as many eyebrows, but these days, rather than making music for the masses, it seems like you’re more willing to scrape the bottom of the buffoon barrel and simply pander to your “Trailerhood” audience.

Don’t get me wrong, I admire your audacity—you say what you think and you don’t care who you offend—but must you sacrifice your musicality in the process? I mean, your latest single is an ode to the “Red Solo Cup” and you claim that men “do not have testicles if [they] prefer drinking from glass.” Is that really single-worthy?

It’s tough for me to write this because I really liked your music growing up. “Should’ve Been A Cowboy”? Classic. “How Do You Like Me Now”? Delightful. “My List”? Touching. But I became a super-fan when you released your honest and honestly angry 9/11 response “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.”

Sure, the song pissed off a bunch of people (and a few Dixie Chicks), but it launched you into the stratosphere of country stardom, providing you with a platform to create political music that actually got listened to. Not many artists get that opportunity.

But instead of creating thoughtful, accessible follow-ups to your hugely listenable 2002 album Unleashed, you began to delve into self-parody, pigeon-holing yourself as an arrogant-and-proud Uhmerrican who loved beer, bars, boobs, and not much else.

Your albums quickly abandoned charming, moving cuts like “Huckleberry” and “Rodeo Moon,” and instead replaced them with dumbed-down, in-your-face rockers like “American Ride” and, now, “Red Solo Cup.” It’s like you and Jason Aldean have switched career tracks.

Mind you, I’m not deriding your songs’ lyrical content — just like Hank Williams Jr., you can say whatever you want. I just wish that you weren’t constantly alienating general audiences by releasing music meant only for your very specific redneck niche.

Not only does it hurt your mass market appeal, but it will prevent people from paying attention when you decide you have something interesting to say again.

At this point, you’re just preaching your very faithful choir.

P.S. Smoking a homemade bong on video? Come on. You know better, Eric Church.

Read more:

Hank Williams Jr. attacks Fox, ESPN in ‘Keep the Change’

Toby Keith also surprised by his own participation in Sarah Palin’s show.

Toby Keith, Ethan Hawke, Kris Kristofferson, and the ACM press-room fracas

Follow Grady on Twitter: @EWGradySmith