Counterpoint: Florida Georgia Line Is the Most Influential Act of the Last 5 Years
There's not a more polarizing act in country music than Florida Georgia Line. There is also not one that has been more successful over the last five years. This is country music's most influential artist.
Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley defied all naysayers and historical examples that said they'd be a one-hit wonder with "Cruise." Country's only diamond-certified song in recent memory brought a tide of 13 platinum or multi-platinum singles that show no signs of ebbing. Eleven of the 13 hit No. 1 on Billboard's Country Airplay chart and the others ("This Is How We Roll" and "Anything Goes") peaked at No. 2 and No. 3, respectively.
Haters will claim FGL are a product of the modern Nashville machine that churns out bro-country like Twinkies, but cracks in that product typically show up during live shows. There's nowhere Hubbard and Kelley convert more critics and skeptics than from their amplified stage. Their concert is a thrilling 90 minutes of hip-hop, rock, R&B and country music, and it's usually sold out.
This column isn't about convincing you to like Florida Georgia Line or even about trying to prove the duo are any good. There is simply no one in country music who has changed the game more than FGL since 2012, when they began wearing out radios with "Cruise." Country music's strengthening traditional bend also has them to thank (looking at you Chris Stapleton).
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They hate hearing it, but Florida Georgia Line helped shape (if not invent) bro-country, an objectifying, masculine, stereotyping form of country love song that at first dominated and then became the scourge of country radio. That faucet turned off in about 2015 and since then Hubbard and Kelley have pivoted to writing and recording deeper, more sincere lyrics of life and country life. "Dirt" and "H.O.L.Y" are the signature songs from their last two albums. The genre has followed. While you'll still find a song or two inside the Top 40 that suggests a trip down to the end of the dirt road to sip something hiding under the front seat, these songs are rare weeds instead of kudzu. The tone has changed for country music's biggest hitmakers, as exemplified by hits by newcomers like Brett Young and the mid-career pivot Thomas Rhett made.
Note: The modern definition of bro-country is anything someone hates, which is unfair. Artists like Chris Young were unfairly lumped in this genre because some people didn't like Chris Young, and because Maddie & Tae mocked his song "Aw Naw" in "Girl in a Country Song," which was also unfair, but still funny.
Serious question: If not for Florida Georgia Line, is Sam Hunt one of the hottest things in country music? Does Chris Lane have a career right now if FGL hadn't opened a porthole to a more pop-friendly sound? LoCash were doing what FGL did before 2012, but only found success with songs like "I Love This Life" after "Cruise" took up permanent residence at radio. There's a dozen more on the horizon with a sound that's smooth, sincere and a thousand miles a way from your granddad's country. Luke Bryan had a five-year head start, but his music was undeniably shaped by what Florida Georgia Line introduced. Is he a multi-time Entertainer of the Year if a spoken-word style wasn't popularized elsewhere?!
Second note: All threads that tie hip-hop and country music together lead back to Colt Ford. Brantley Gilbert, FGL and Jason Aldean's "Dirt Road Anthem" all literally started with Ford who has not found equal commercial success in spite of his influence. He may be modern country music's Grandmaster Flash.
Earlier it was suggested Chris Stapleton should thank Florida Georgia Line, and that's, admittedly, a provocative statement, albeit one that's defensible. The strength of the modern, traditional country music movement (led by Stapleton, Miranda Lambert and several other country females) is an example of the pendulum effect of pop culture. It swung wildly toward pop in the mid-2010s, and now it's either coming back or splitting like the Liberty Bell. While Stapleton isn't getting as much airplay as other artists, he and Lambert have found the critical acclaim FGL have not. So the question has to be asked: If Florida Georgia Line didn't piss so many people off, would Chris Stapleton have found a crack in the door? Remember that his first solo single "What Are You Listening To?" was released in 2013 and nobody cared.
The Boot and Taste of Country’s collaborative Point / Counterpoint series features staff members from the two sites debating topics of interest within country music once per month. Check back on Aug. 21 for another installment.
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