When mainstream country artists start talking about how their upcoming music is going to be more mature, you can be assured this is a harbinger that it will be anything but. Even if you do get a deep song, like we did with Florida Georgia Line’s debut single the last go ’round, “Dirt,” it ultimately didn’t make a hill of beans worth of difference by the time their full album Anything Goes arrived.
All releasing one decent song proved was that the Beavis and Butt-Head of modern country knew better and were capable of more, but still insisted on releasing garbage. They’ll talk about how they’ve “evolved,” but the supposed “evolution” of country was the same argument they were making in defense of the awful music they released previously and they’re now supposedly “evolving” from. So even if this new lead single turned out to be stellar, it shouldn’t change any perceptions or expectations of what Florida Georgia Line might have in store.
But “H.O.L.Y.” is not stellar. It’s pretty subpar, and is especially disappointing from the expectations the band set from the rhetoric that preceded it, and the bar they set for debut singles with “Dirt.”
There is a very good chance we’re seeing the emergence of an all new trend in country music. We went from country rap, to Bro-Country, to the EDM-influenced Metro-Bro, to straight up R&B. And now when you consider that Tim McGraw and others are releasing their religiously-tinged singles to Christian radio, artists like Hillary Scott from Lady Antebellum and others are working on dedicated Gospel albums, religious-themed songs like Carrie Underwood’s “Something in the Water” and Maren Morris’s “My Church” have been quite successful, and Curb Records just bought an entire Christian music imprint, it appears country music has found its next trend, and what it thinks may be it’s way off the Bro-Country sauce now that it’s not nearly as commercially potent.
Florida Georgia Line’s “H.O.L.Y” is just the latest evidence, but don’t let anybody tell you this song is religious. If anything, it might be sacrilege. They had me intrigued with what appeared to be an acronym title, and how that may unfurl in the lyricism. But in the end, spelling “holy” out with periods in between was just artwork and marketing. [EDIT: Apparently it stands for “high on loving you”—part of the lyrics. But I’m not sure you would know that unless somebody told you]. Though all manner of religious tropes are evoked in “H.O.L.Y.,” they’re not done in reference to a higher power, but some girl these dunderheads have fallen for. It may be buried just beneath the surface, but “H.O.L.Y.” is just as shallow as any other Florida Georgia Line selection, if not more since it feigns reverence.
Only Florida Georgia Line could take what is supposed to be a religiously-themed song, and slip in a line filled with sexual innuendo.
Let me lay you down, get me to ya
Get you singin’ babe, hallelujah
We’ll be touching . . .
We’ll be touching Heaven.
And once again, even though Florida Georgia Line writes a majority of their own material, and many songs for others, the one “deep” selection is the intellectual property of someone else (Nate Cyphert, William Larsen and “Busbee” in this case). Meanwhile Florida Georgia Line has so many shallow songs, they have to offload them on Jason Aldean to comprise his last two terrible lead singles.
But “H.O.L.Y.” is not terrible, despite the above criticisms. It’s just not as good, or “deep” as many will say. Artists have been writing and performing songs that use religion as a parallel for love for many years. “H.O.L.Y” should be criticized for being formulaic, but that in itself is not enough to give the song a failing grade. Really more than anything, this song is adult contemporary schlock. It’s Luther Vandross, without the talent of Luther Vandross. It’s the type of music they use behind commercials for scented candles on the Oprah network. And it also has that whole R&B/soul vibe which is so hot right now in country and roots music, from the studio of Dave Cobb, to Sturgill Simpson’s latest album, and all the way to the roster of Big Machine Records.
“H.O.L.Y” looks to exploit both the R&B craze gripping country, and the upcoming Christian craze which looks to integrate loyal, spend-happy religious consumers into the mainstream country hoi polloi to plug the gaping hole left when Bro-Country fans moved on to the next hot thing.
But the worst part of this track, and where it goes from simply predictable and formulaic, to arguably unbearable to listen to, is the over-saturation of Auto-tune on the vocal signal. Why there is this insistence that vocals have to be so incredibly perfect that all humanness is scrubbed off the track is beyond me. By removing any and all potential imperfection, the words and singing of “H.O.L.Y” are so devoid of character or soul, they ring hollow, even if they had found some modicum of emotion through the pallidness and predictability of the writing.
“H.O.L.Y” is nowhere near “Dirt,” or the other current religiously-tinged songs like Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind,” or Maren Morris’s “My Church.” It’s not terrible, it’s just immediately forgettable. Florida Georgia Line is betting on this song helping to rescue them from becoming the king of the refuse pile in the post Bro-Country era—the Nickelback of country if you will—destined to be a laughing stock in the eyes of music history moving forward. But if this is the deepest thing the band can offer on their next record, they could be in deep trouble.