Forget that this is the most non-country song Luke Bryan has ever released, in a career elongated and clearly defined by its sheer non-countryness. Forget the obvious electronic drum loops, the urbanized cadence and annunciations of the moronic lyrics, which are enough to cause any true country fan to run for the hills clasping their ears. Though all these concerns with Luke Bryan’s new song “Light It Up” are troubling for sure, and are enough to anger the blood and run up marks against the substance of this offering in a country setting, they pale so demonstrably and feel trivial to what the true, underlying issue with this song is.
In Luke Bryan’s new single—his first in nearly nine months, and the first off his newest album—he goes in a direction that has certainly never been traversed in country music, and likely not even in pop, hip-hop, or EDM. This troubling turn, which takes the concerning trend of the rabid consumerism embedded into the lyrics of today’s popular songs, and brings it to a point that can only be described as Objectophilia, which by definition, is a form of sexuality focused on inanimate objects as opposed to human beings.
There’s no sarcasm here. I’m not trying to be funny, or edgy. Literally what Luke Bryan and co-writer Brad Tursi from the group Old Dominion have done here is write a song that conflates human sexual desire with interactions with your fucking cellphone.
Music Row in Nashville has run the truck/beer/tailgate lyrical train so far and irreversibly into the ground, any potency found in the pride super consumers feel for their full sized trucks, or loyalty they adhere to with their corporate beer has been so dramatically exploited over the last 7 to 8 years, there isn’t an ounce of life or vitality that can be mined from that barren, naked slag pit of a lyrical thread.
So now they’ve decided to move on to the one thing that has an iron grip on the psyche of today’s passive music fans and corporate culture zombies, especially young women and girls: their phones.
For years the references to cellphones in popular radio songs have not only been present, they’ve been virtually required, so this is not a new development in itself. What makes “Light It Up” so exceptional is how it sexualizes the features and actions individuals have with their phones. It draws a parallel with the “buzz” of vibrate mode with the reverberation the human heart feels when responding to affection. The “swipe” to unlock a phone is tantamount to a touch of one’s face. What Luke Bryan and “Light It Up” do is make it feel like the response of the phone itself is just important, if not more, than the human on the other side of it.
One interesting wrinkle to “Light It Up” is that it’s actually a heartbreak song. Usually Luke Bryan and mainstream country steer clear of anything that may be taken as somber. That’s not what Luke Bryan fans tune in for. They want a good time. But the lyrics trivialize the heartbreak of a breakup by making the technological notifications of texts seem more important than the resolution of the conflict itself, and in language that can only be characterized as obsessive.
Here are some sample lyrics:
I open my eyes, reach for the phone
It don’t leave my sight since we had that fight
I get so neurotic about it baby
‘Cause I know you’re reading your phone
I wake up, I check it
I shower and I check it
I feel the buzz in my truck and I almost wreck it
I always got it on me
Every time I unlock my screen
I hope I see one of them red lipstick “I miss you” pictures
I go to sleep, I check it
In the middle of the night, I check it
I feel the buzz in my bed
And I don’t get no rest
I always got it on me
This isn’t a song about a breakup that uses a cellphone to tell it’s story. This is a song about a cellphone that uses a breakup to tell its story.
As artists as far ranging as Kellie Pickler to Jason Isbell compel their audiences to not interact with the world through the 5-inch screen of their phones, especially when it comes to musical experiences, Luke Bryan is spurning people to lose themselves even more in the automated, dopamine drip of social interactions through technology, and a blind adherence to consumable goods as a path to happiness and social acceptance.
And can we once again point out that Luke Bryan is now 41-years-old, and happily married with multiple kids? Why does he continue to sing songs from the perspective of a younger 20-something? It’s almost as creepy as writing a song that’s basically about being in love with your cellphone.
“Light It Up” is not the worst country song ever. But it does play dramatically into the theory that popular country songs are becoming nothing more than aggrandized commercials for products to keep the lucrative demographic of mainstream country fans shoveling dollars to the companies that sponsor the big events, festivals, and tours. T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon salivate over these songs the same way General Motors does each time a Chevy is name dropped in a Bro-Country song. It’s just another surreptitious vehicle to keep corporate country fans rabidly consuming proffered as entertainment.