The meaning of the lyrics of the song: “Fancy” by Bobbie Gentry
Whether it’s in your regular rotation or not, “Fancy” is one of the greatest songs ever written.
Composed by country singer Bobbie Gentry and made famous by country singer Reba McEntire, the track is the meaning of the American dream in just over four minutes. There is restlessness, ambition, heartbreak, sacrifice and generations woven into its tapestry.
But instead of bootstraps, the song highlights a red satin dress as a mode of upward mobility.
Let’s dive in and find out exactly why and how all of this is the case.
Gentry wrote and recorded “Fancy” in 1969 for his album of the same name. The song was Gentry’s second and final solo single to reach the Billboard top 40.
The meaning of the fictional song is about upward mobility by any means necessary.
Born into poverty outside of New Orleans, the character Fancy, at the age of 18, receives a red satin dress from her mother who tells her, Here’s your only chance, Fancy, don’t let me down.
The mother, who is terminally ill, reluctantly gives her the dress, asking for forgiveness, simultaneously knowing that Fancy must help her baby brother who might otherwise starve. Because the implication with the gift is that Fancy must be “hijacked” and find men to take care of her and earn money, Fancy puts on makeup, finds those who will pay for what she can give them, and leaves the shreds and “plain white trash” in which she was born in order to have a possible better life.
Here’s your only chance, Fancy, don’t let me down.
Fantasy charms a king, a congressman, the occasional aristocrat. And to her origins of poverty, she “did not return”.
Said Gentry of the story’s significance, “‘Fancy’ is my strongest statement for women’s freedom, if you really listen to it. I wholeheartedly agree with this movement and all the serious issues it brings.” defends: equality, equal pay, child care and the right to abortion.
be true to yourself
This is the meaning of the song. It doesn’t matter what others say, how they judge, what they believe. The purpose of life is to know yourself and to rest in that knowledge.
So, Fancy puts on the perfume and makeup that her mother gives her, as well as the heart-shaped locket that contains the phrase. With this understanding, Fancy leaves alone.
Just be nice to the gentlemen, Fancy, his mother told him, and they will be nice to you.
For Fancy and her mother, it’s the only way out of the cycle of poverty. Shortly after, his mother dies. And the social workers take Fancy’s little brother.
But the wheels of fate have turned and Fancy continues to work in her red satin dress.
A Georgian mansion
After working with these men, including a “benevolent man”, Fancy owns her own mansion in Georgia and a townhouse apartment in New York. Since then, she “has not returned” to her poor roots.
His mother would be happy. It’s all that matters. Especially more than the judgment of certain “well-meaning hypocrites”.
The beginnings of real life
The song had parallels to Gentry’s life.
She had grown up in poverty in the south and less than a year before releasing the song, she had married a casino magnate, Bill Harrah, in a marriage that would last less than a year. Gentry also cited the film, ruby nobility, as a source of inspiration. She got her last name from the movie, which itself is about an upcountry woman looking to improve her status.
Fancy The Scrapbook
The Scrapbook Fancy earned a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Pop Vocal Performance, Female. The album and song were crossover hits in the early 1970s.
In the early 1990s, country superstar Reba McEntire covered the song, including an elaborate movie-like music video. McEntire’s rendition reached No. 8 on the Billboard National Charts. The song became McEntire’s signature, who would sing it as an encore for his live gigs throughout the decade.
For years since the mid-1980s, McEntire reportedly wanted to cover the song, but her producer at the time, Jimmy Bowen, said she was too closely associated with Gentry. Later, however, when McEntire changed producers to Tony Brown, she took a plunge, recording it for her 1990 album, Rumor has it.
In McEntire’s version, which is shown in the video, Fancy Rae Baker is a famous singer who takes a taxi to her old house. We see her story in flashbacks as she received her mother’s dress and worked her way up to the stardom we see at the start with a fur coat and sunglasses.
As the video, which was filmed on a cold, rainy January day in Nashville, ends, Fancy leaves, but the camera shows a sign that the plot that was her former home is to become Fancy Rae Baker Home for Runaways. Baker forgives his mother. A happy ending.
Stephen King, the legendary novelist, refers to the song in his book, Duma Key. In the book, Edgar’s character says he named his doll “Reba” because his car radio played McEntire’s “Fancy” when he had an accident.
Although the entire song is a masterpiece due to its storytelling prowess, highlights from the long lyrics include:
I remember it all very well looking back
It was the summer I turned eighteen
We lived in a ramshackle one room shack
At the gates of New Orleans
We had no money for food or rent
To say the least, we were in a hurry
Then mama spent every last penny we had
To buy me a dance dress
Mom washed, combed and curled my hair
And she painted my eyes and my lips
Then I walked into the satin dance dress
It was split sideways to my hips
It was red, lined with velvet
And it suits me well
And look back from the mirror
Was a woman where a half-grown child stood
“Here’s your only chance, Fancy, don’t let me down
Here’s your only chance, Fancy, don’t let me down
Lord forgive me for what I do (please)
But if you want to go out, it’s up to you
Now don’t let me down
Your mom will help you move to town”
(Don’t let me down, don’t let me down)
Openly gay singer Orville Peck also covered the song, genre twisting the track to include the idea of a young boy growing up and learning about femininity and enjoying it to gain upward mobility. Peck’s version is stellar and definitely worth a listen.
Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images