In just a few years, Florida Georgia Line has evolved from self-proclaimed hillbillies to country-music superstars. They've shelved almost 20 music awards since 2013. Their debut single, "Cruise," is the best-selling country digital song of all time. And yet the band is among the most insufferable acts to ever muck up the stage.
Hailing from Florida and Georgia respectively, Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard first found their musical calling through church worship. This may be surprising, considering their emphasis on Jack Daniels and jean shorts over sacrament and rosaries, but the Lord works in mysterious ways, if he works at all.
Florida Georgia Line's road to success could inspire the plot for Joe Dirt 2. The duo met in Nashville in 2008, where they discovered shared interests in Jesus and a hunch punch of musicians like Garth Brooks and Lil Wayne. They self-imposed a two-year deadline for success as a country music duo and set their sights on stardom, starting at local clubs.
They may've faded into the dim light of dive bars if it weren't for Nickelback's producer, Joey Moi. He discovered Kelley and Hubbard at a county fair. No joke. They soon met at the studio to record. By 2013, Florida Georgia Line left tire tracks on the industry with Here's to the Good Times, that year's sixth-best-selling album.
Florida Georgia Line's music flops into a subgenre called "bro-country." At the risk of generalizing, bro-country themes can be broken down to three things: women, alcohol, and trucks. The women are generally objectified. The alcohol is typically hard and plentiful. The trucks better be pickups and preferably covered in mud. These lines from "It'z Just What We Do" demonstrate the three tenets of bro-country:
In verse one, we have the mechanical: "You know Tommy gonna trick his truck/Jack it up big time/Lift kit, chrome tips/Spit shining like a diamond."
And in verse two, we give praise to the physical and liquified: "You see Tommy called Jenny/And Jenny gon' call the hotties/To tell them about the party/So don't forget the Bacardi."
And if you're wondering, Where's the Jesus? Hubbard covers that at the end of verse two: "We all good with Jesus/Come Sunday morning that preacher, he 'bout to preach it."
Bro-country embodies everything that country-music haters hate about country music: forced drawls, offensively catchy chords, a fervor for reckless self-determination, hedonism, convenient religiosity, and backward conservatism with an undercurrent of racism.
It's also pretty much loathed by any artists who consider themselves authentic country musicians. These artists don't see bro-country as real country. The subgenre is simply not representative of the whole. Zac Brown even referred to Luke Bryan's bro-country anthem "That's My Kind of Night" as "the worst song I've ever heard."
Then why the hell is bro-country selling like chocolate-covered iPhones?
Because bro-country is catchy. It takes the appealing elements of different genres and blends them into a surprisingly refined remix. As base and predictable as Hubbard's lyrics are, he raps them with confident staccato. Drawing influence from his "Cruise" remix collaborator, Nelly, Hubbard's flows transition from crisp to fluid. He uses slant rhymes, internal rhymes, assonance, and consonance in an unspoken homage to Eminem. Meanwhile Kelley's guitar often shouts over the vocals like any good stadium rocker's should.
And bro-country is easy. Its lyrics pivot around those three key themes, rarely if ever breaking repetition. It doesn't challenge listeners to do anything but enjoy. The most significant crises involve stuck trucks and empty cans, not existential woes or social reform.
Bro-country might sell well, but it's bad music that justifies bad behavior. Its ethos lacks any regard for responsibility, respect, or moderation. Its lyrics condone misogyny, alcoholism, overconsumption, and that's about it. Music doesn't have to be progressive. It doesn't have to be ethical or political. But it shouldn't dumb down just to double dollars. It shouldn't be simple for the sake of convenience. Listeners deserve more than that, even if they're too busy stomping their boots and choking down whiskey to realize it.
Florida Georgia Line with Thomas Rhett and Frankie Ballard. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 28, at Coral Sky Amphitheatre, 601-7 Sansbury's Way, West Palm Beach. Call 561-795-8883 or visit cruzanamphitheatre.net. Tickets cost $40 to $375 plus fees via livenation.com.