I do not like Dan + Shay. I do not like Dan + Shay’s music, I do not like their Dan + Shay hair, I do not like the fact that they use a mathematical character in their name since that should forever be reserved for Joey + Rory (may the talented and beautiful Joey Martin rest in peace!)
Dan + Shay seems to be about the most superfluous band in country music at the moment. What function are they fulfilling in the country music space? Do we really need another male singing duo? Aren’t there already too many mouths to feed at the top of country music, while incredible talent remains crowded out? What does Dan + Shay materially offer to country music that country music couldn’t function without? Are they even filling a niche? What is their sound and contribution to the music? They feel like fluff, bunting, window dressing, the equivalent of country music doilies and trifles that if left in the linen closet, would not be missed.
But I promised myself that if this song went to #1, I would write a review for it. Not because I think it’s particularly great, and certainly not because it’s country. It’s because above all the other singles we’ve seen go number #1 recently that seem to be foretelling a serious shift in the direction of country radio—Lori McKenna’s “Humble and Kind” performed by Tim McGraw, John Pardi’s “Head Over Boots” to name a couple—this one might symbolize how country music has turned a page the most, and for the very reason that Dan + Shay feel like such a generic no-name country band.
In the previous few years, a band like Dan + Shay would use the opportunity of releasing a single to take advantage of some adverse trend roiling in country. That’s certainly what occurred when they released the acrid and misogynistic “Show You Off.” Dan + Shay are not leaders, they are followers. They have nothing to contribute to country music themselves. So if they are recording and releasing songs that at least try to exude a little more substance as “From The Ground Up” does, that means this trend toward better songs, and away from the music hyphenated with “Bro” is not just an anomaly, but has some breadth behind it.
Dan + Shay took a page out of the Florida Georgia Line playbook, and with the first single from their second album released a song that speaks to family and foundation, and does so in surprisingly adult language. “Dirt” was much better than “From The Ground Up” in both the production and writing, but it’s the effort, and how it’s found verifiable traction that make the song an interesting test specimen.
“From The Ground Up” is still sappy and saccharine as hell, but here’s a song that at least mentions grandma and grandpa, and asserts ideas of committed love. In the last few years previous, these things would have been non starters on country radio. So would a waltz beat, which continues to make a comeback in mainstream country, and why not? It is an age old, easy way to imbibe a song with a swaying, compelling beat.
The problem with “From The Ground Up” is that Dan + Shay’s voices are too light. This song needs some sandpaper or dirt rubbed on it. It needs some masculinity. Country sounds are virtually non existent in the composition, though at times they try to poke their head through. This is a song for pop adult contemporary radio, not country, yet few tweaks in the production could have taken “From The Ground Up” from mild to decent.
It’s what “From The Ground Up” and the success it has found symbolizes that make it yet another sign of hope. Just like Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind,” or Jon Pardi’s “Head Over Boots,” this is not a great song. Yet it sets the table for other songs making their way up the charts, like William Michel Morgan’s long-burning “I Met A Girl,” to have their own day in the #1 spotlight in the coming weeks and months.
Make no mistake, all of this is partially preordained by labels shoveling money around to radio. You think it’s coincidence that the day “From The Ground Up” hit #1 they also announced a Day + Shay tour? We shouldn’t be surprised when William Michael Morgan’s “I Met A Girl” pulls off a similar feat right as his debut album is being released in late September. But whether it’s by hook and crook, or an authentic appetite by country listeners for something more real, “From The Ground Up” hitting #1 symbolizes depth to the move to substance in mainstream country.