I’ll be honest with you, it makes me chuckle a little bit when I see some traditional country fan get hot and bothered over Kenny Chesney. It’s not that Kenny Chesney and his flowery shorts and flip flop songs don’t deserve a spirited berating every once and a while, but the exercise seems so out-of-touch with the current trends in popular country music. Chesney may still be one of the few country acts who can consistently sell out stadiums, and maybe he has a song tickle the Top 10 every so often. But his tenure as one of country’s top influential artists has long since passed.
It was Taylor Swift who broke Chesney’s streak of four CMA “Entertainer of the Year” awards in five years when the young songstress shocked the world in 2009, stimulating real country fans to take to the internet en masse to proclaim country music dead. The man behind Taylor Swift’s success was the Country Music Anti-Christ Scott Borchetta, herr führer of Big Machine Records; the same man behind the success of the sizzling hot pop country duo Florida Georgia Line. Similar to Taylor Swift, the Florida Georgia Line sensation has sprung out of nowhere, and threatens to downright dominate the popular country music landscape for the near future.
These dudes are on the mother of all tears. Their song “Cruise” threatens to be the biggest country song in 2013, and has already set multiple records, including spending 12 weeks at the top of Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart—the first time this has happened by a duo in the 69-year history of the chart. It’s also the first time a song has spent over 12 weeks on the chart since Buck Owens “Love’s Gonna Live Here” did it in 1963-64. “Cruise” has charted for a whopping 43 straight weeks stretching back to 2012, and has hit #1 on three separate occasions. It hit #1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart as far back as December 15th of last year, and the song is still going strong, now with a remix featuring hip-hop’s Nelly allowing the song to re-enter Billboard’s all-genre Hot 100 chart at #8.
“Cruise” has already been certified triple-platinum, and is showing no signs of slowing down, and Scott Borchetta and Big Machine have already released the second Florida Georgia Line single “Get Your Shine On,” which has also been very successful, hanging steady at #5 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, and having spent a total of 31 weeks on the chart so far.
And the scariest part is, these may not be the biggest singles from Florida Georgia Line’s Here’s to the Good Times album. The record is jam packed with catchy songs ripe for radio. Florida Georgia line can’t just be laughed off as some flash-in-the-pan overnight sensation, or some gimmicky country-rap outfit riding a trend. Current songs competing with “Cruise” like Jason Aldean’s “1994” or Blake Shelton’s “Boys ‘Round Here” reek of desperation, and just downright reek as songs. As much as it pains me to admit it, Florida Georgia line’s Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard have an ear for catchy melodies, and make writing popular country hits look easy. Will it last? Time will tell, but right now they are positively dominating the mainstream country format.
And it’s not just country purists who seem slow on the uptake to Florida Georgia Line’s success. The country music industry seems a little lethargic to recognize that they have their next superstars on their hands. At the ACM Awards in April, the duo was only given one minute to perform “Cruise.” They reside on a subsidiary imprint of Big Machine Records called Republic Nashville, usually meant for smaller, developing bands, but there’s a good chance in six months they could be selling out arenas. Or maybe this is a sign that Music Row still doesn’t know about the long-term viability of this band, worried that there’s not enough substance to sustain their success moving forward. If this is the case, I think they’ve underestimated the shallowness of the mainstream country fan base.
Either way, Florida Georgia Line is here, and will be eroding the purity of the term “country” and terrorizing the ears of traditional country fans potentially for years to come. When the next round of CMA Awards come around next February, it may not be Taylor Swift winning the Entertainer of the Year award over Kenny Chesney, it may be Florida Georgia Line winning it over Taylor Swift.