Taken on its own, Brantley Gilbert's "Read Me My Rights" isn't an especially noteworthy song.
A bro-country anthem extolling the virtues of fist-swinging vigilante justice exacted in the parking lot of an undefined establishment against a man identified only as "Ol' Boy," the testosterone-fueled track wasn't even included on the original release of Gilbert's 2014 album Just As I Am, instead popping up on the deluxe edition, sold exclusively at Walmart. It would seem that even those handling the release of the album knew well that the song is a b-side at best, and a shining example of the lazy, largely unlistenable songwriting that's clogged the pop-country airwaves for going on two decades now.
But in the hands of St. Louis singer/songwriter and social media sensation Matt F. Basler, "Read Me My Rights" is pure magic. Since March 2, 2019, Basler has uploaded more than 300 videos to TikTok using the song as a soundtrack, amassing more than 2.2 million likes and upwards of 52,000 followers as he endlessly lip syncs Gilbert's vow that there will be an "ass-whooping in the parking lot," sometimes as his nipples fall off, sometimes while wearing tiny gold shorts and frequently while executing a series of high kicks. The situation has since snowballed to include a synth-pop cover album of pop-country tracks, released over the Fourth of July weekend, all of whose lyrical content involves beating the shit out of people.
The long-running joke started innocently enough.
"One of the first TikToks I ever saw was a very tough country boy looking like a big tough guy to the song," Basler explains. "And you know, he's this guy who starts far away and then he walks up to the camera and is showing his muscles and punching and stuff. And it was funny to me to think of this very tough man, with no sleeves, setting up his phone on the bed of his truck or whatever and then setting the timer and running back to where he wanted to start to get into tough mode. That's funny. I wanted to do that." The joke, as Basler sees it, is that he himself is not a tough country boy.
"I'm more of a noodly armed bitch," he says.
And so Basler set about uploading near-daily videos of himself lip-syncing to the song, amassing a legion of followers. But then, in December 2019, tragedy struck.
"One day they pulled, there was like a copyright strike or whatever on that particular song, and all my videos went away," Basler explains. "Oh no, what am I gonna do?"
A video Basler uploaded on December 19, 2019, laments the unfortunate development with the words "Is this the end?" and "Has Old Boy won?" appearing over a continuous scroll of Basler's now-silent videos, each marked with "This sound isn't available" at the top. Over it, Basler recorded a mournful acoustic cover of "Read Me My Rights," serving to bring home the severity of the loss.
As it turns out, though, the solution was staring him right in the face. As March 2020 rolled around and COVID-19 lockdowns were put into place, Basler found himself with some extra time on his hands. He decided to make the most of a bad situation by recording several covers of the song — his acoustic cover hadn't been slapped down by the platform, so why not try a metal version? How about a ska cover? Crucially, why not a synth-pop version?
"The synth one — that was the most popular," Basler says.
Indeed, at the time of this writing, Basler's synth-pop cover of "Read Me My Rights" has seen more than 100,000 plays on Spotify alone. Soon, Basler's legions of fans were clamoring for an album featuring all of his covers of the song. But Basler was thinking bigger.
"That seemed more boring than just finding other country songs about beating people up, throwing on a little pair of shorts and covering them synth style," he says.
The resulting six-song EP, titled I'm Gonna **** Your ***, was recorded by Basler in his home and mixed by Matt Sawicki of Suburban Pro Studios. It features a selection of ass-kicking-centric tunes by the likes of Toby Keith, Trace Adkins, Eric Church, Justin Moore, Tyler Farr and, of course, Brantley Gilbert, delivered with none of the twang and bravado of the originals, subbing in bubbling synth lines and subdued vocal deliveries in their stead.
Accompanying the EP on the date of its release was a music video, shot by Basler's wife Courtney Jones on an old Magnavox Movie Maker, to the tune of Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (Angry American)," a 9/11-era track that is frequently lamented by frustrated fans of country music as the moment the genre began to devolve from its anti-establishment roots and toward uber-patriotism and hyper-masculinity. The video sees Basler sporting a pair of American flag short shorts and a leather jacket with "USA" on the sleeves, high-kicking his way through an undisclosed south-city location, hanging out on the hood of a Honda minivan and lounging on a mattress next to a dumpster. During the "We'll put a boot in your ass; it's the American way" line that graces Sean Hannity's radio show intro, Basler stares directly into the camera, looking tough in a close-up shot.
"There's nothing that makes you seem tougher than telling people how tough you are," Basler muses. "You must be very secure in that to have to very plainly state, 'No, I'm gonna whoop your ass! I can do it!'"
And that seems to be the theme that carries the album, whose remaining tracks include "Whoop a Man's Ass," "Keep On," "Redneck Crazy" and, literally, "I Could Kick Your Ass." That it was recorded and released by a self-described "noodly armed bitch" clad in short shorts only serves to drive home the absurdity inherent in the original tracks.
Oh, and speaking of absurdity, those hundreds of TikTok videos? They've all been put back online, making for a happy ending for our ass-kicking protagonist.
"Now Brantley Gilbert is officially on TikTok, and they have reinstated all my old videos, too," Basler says triumphantly. "So they're all back. The legacy is intact."