I’ve had a theory for years, proffered in bits and pieces on this very site at opportune times, stating that one of the ways you can define country music is by envisioning the very dirt of the American South and West rising up in song, like when you take your hands and dig them deep in the earth and squeeze it in your palm, it is the very breath of the molecules exhaling in the sound of music. As Southerners and Westerners, and others who offer safe harbor in their souls to the genuine, exiled sound of country music, those same molecules coarse through their veins. And by taking these sounds and the sentiments they convey, ordering them as such by the rules of music so they’re pleasing to the ear, and offering the result up to neighbors and family in friendship and love, country music is made.
Because this song is from Florida Georgia Line is not the reason to hate it. It’s the exact reason to love it. Today, the 8th of July, 2014, is a victory for country music, and for the individuals and entities who wish to see a measure of balance restored back to the format—not based on taste, but on the theory of finding less divisive music that we can all enjoy together as country music fans.
Don’t worry, there’s no wool over these eyes. I’ve not been dipping into the cough syrup. We all know this is just one song, and very likely the major point of it is to pander to pointy-nosed critics and other vehement detractors, only to potentially have the rug pulled out from under them by the very next single from one of modern-day country’s most notorious repeat offenders. But the autonomy of a song must still be respected. The opportunity any open-minded listener must give a song if their opinion is going to be taken with any credence necessitates blinders be erected to whatever past or future circumstances may linger or transpire, and an open heart be offered, even if the heart immediately puckers back up at the tone of the first note. Because these are the attributes that make anyone a good listener, and gives that listener the opportunity to truly find the most from their musical experience.
Sure you can nit pick this song all to hell. The staircased tones in the vocals clearly denote the presence of Auto-tune. No matter where the lyrics go, they get there in a checklist manner, naming off many of the usual suspects commonly found in shallow country party songs like headlights, whiskey, and bonfires. The watery rock guitar lick is too prominently featured, though not offensive on its own. And the fleeting “dirt … dirt … dirt … dirt” is not going to do anything for many distinguishing ears.
But lo and behold, we found a song that doesn’t start off with a drum machine, features a steel guitar (as much as you can expect in a mainstream song these days), and a song that is about something. Even Brian Kelley, the heretofore silent member of the group, takes a verse. These things aren’t saving graces, they’re sincere efforts to make a song with substance. By God, Florida Georgia Line is listening to their critics, and making efforts to improve.
The question about this song is if it truly conveys a story, of if it is simply about a physical item (dirt) being ingratiated by adjectives. I’ve been going back and forth about this, and with it the determination if this song should be considered good, or great. On its surface, no, “Dirt” does not have a story, and this is tipped off by how the video for the song unfolds. But what “Dirt” does have is what every great song must have: the ability to mutate around the personal narrative of the individual listener until it becomes the soundtrack for memories that allow their own story to play out.
Florida Georgia Line’s “Dirt” is not good, it’s great. And another argument in its favor is that it shows vast improvement in the duo’s output, however fleeting that improvement may be. Songs shouldn’t just be judged by themselves or against their peers, but on the potential of the performer. One of the infuriating things about music as entertainment is that we know many of these artists have better in them. They just need the courage, and the incentive to prove it.
That’s why we’d be remiss to write this song off just because it’s from Florida Georgia Line. We clamor for country music to improve, and then when it does—when they make a concerted effort to reach out to the disenfranchised country fans—we obsess over the intentions, and continue to criticize from habit. And exactly how is this pattern of behavior going to lend to better music?
And unlike a song such as Maddie & Tae’s “Girl In A Country Song“, this isn’t direct baiting of negative sentiment.
Kudos to Florida Georgia Line for releasing this song. Angry listeners voiced that the duo were too shallow, and they listened. That’s why it’s important to let your opinions be known; why criticism isn’t just self-ingratiating or fool’s errand. And though I’m sure there’s many sparring matches still ahead for this duo and the decent people who love true country music, we are thankfully able to find some common ground with “Dirt.”
Two guns up.
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The video is quite respectable as well. The main character is played by legendary songwriter J.D. Souther.
“Dirt” is written by Rodney Clawson and Chris Thompkins.