One of the big questions for country music in 2016 is if Florida Georgia Line and other Bro-Country acts will be able to extricate themselves from their destiny of being shuffled into the dustbin of history as the Nickelbacks of country, or if they will show up with some more depth to at least delay the inevitable erosion of their shallow music due to the corrosive and judgemental sands of time.
With the first two songs they’ve released off of their new album Dig Your Roots—first “H.O.L.Y.,” and now “May We All,” Florida Georgia Line has at least tried to pragmatically instill more organic and substantive elements and moments into their music. But this is strange ground for the duo because ultimately Florida Georgia Line is nothing more than a party band. They may want to be known as something more, but singing shallow, catchy songs is what they do best, even if it’s bad. Though some may want to applaud the additional efforts, what you have is a band that is trying to cover up their warts and failings with cosmetics instead of solving the inherent problems with their approach to country music. Because that’s all they can do. Florida Georgia Line doesn’t have the dexterity to be anything different than what they’ve always been.
Where in previous years country music radio singles employed electronic drum beats at the beginnings of songs to snucker in a wider audience, now the hip thing is to have a more organic opening … before the awfulness takes hold. Starting off “May We All” is some slide guitar with an acoustic compliment, and with the inclusion of Tim McGraw on the track, you hope just maybe you’re being led into the second coming of the duo’s one substantive hit, “Dirt.”
But ultimately, “May We All” fails in the lyricism, fails in the production, and fails to find any infectiousness for the masses to glam onto either. None of this may forestall the song becoming a hit, because today’s radio tastemakers all do what they’re told by the industry, but “May We All” just doesn’t have much of anything going for it.
The structure and mood of the song built from the instrumentation almost allows it to get off the ground a little bit, but producer Joey Mai doesn’t know how to get out of his own way. The 16th-note electronic hi-hat rhythm layered on top of the chorus is stupid, and will chase away any listeners with taste. The vocal tracks are so heavily processed—not just with Auto-Tune but likely an entire host of electronic enhancements—it squeezes all life out of the performances, including Tim McGraw’s, and the second chorus where it sounds like Brian Kelley, the oft-forgotten second member of the group, actually sings a rare lead.
It’s as if even when a band like Florida Georgia Line heads into the studio to record what they consider to be a more organic track, they still can’t help but blow $30,000 putting layer on top of layer of studio awfulness, and then running it through every single electronic enhancement at hand until you really can’t distinguish anything. Like the more money and time you spend on a track, clearly the better it is.
In the end you can barely understand the lyrics to “May We All,” which might not be a bad thing. There are a couple of decent moments, with lines like, “Nothin’ ain’t cool ’till you wear the new off, the sound of a quarter rolling down a juke box.” But what does this lead into? “Play the Travis Tritt right above the Tupac.” And once again, anyone with distinguishing taste, even if they happen to be a Tupac fan, is out. How in the world did we get to this point where it’s an essential trope of today’s country to name drop a country legend and a hip-hop artist right beside each other, and how can we bring this trend to an end?
The biggest failing of this song is the “May We All” payoff does not pay off at all. This is one of multiple songs in country music at the moment that tries to build itself out from a lyrical hook that has absolutely no weight behind it. Do you see putting “May We All” on a T-shirt and it conveying any meaning? What is this song ultimately about? Just like “Cruise” it’s about nothing. It’s just a self-affirmation of a lifestyle, strung together with little list items and signifyers about backwards hats and hair blowing in the breeze.
Florida Georgia Line is going to have to do better if they’re going to stare their fate square in the eyes and fake it out. “May We All” is feigned substance, and forgettable.