Cute, Florida Georgia Line, cute. Call your latest album Can’t Say I Ain’t Country and act as if this somehow insulates you against what any country music fan worth their salt already knows inherently. I can, and will say you ain’t country if I damn well please, as will the rest of us. Because you’ve earned the right to face the harshest criticisms and most severe concerns for your music by crafting a career out of blurring the lines of the country genre with efforts of poor quality, weighted down by shoddy white-boy rapping and other reprehensible activity that has besmirched the proud legacy of the country genre, and put its integrity on perilous footing moving forward.
What I can’t say exactly yet is what Florida Georgia Line’s new record out February 2019 will sound like because I haven’t heard it. But if their latest single “Talk You Out Of It” is any indication, labeling it “country” will be a stretch to say the least. The title of the new album feels like a very similar play to what Luke Bryan did with the title of his latest album What Makes You Country. Yes, try to head off any criticism by emblazoning a patently false affirmation on the front of your record, and hope folks fall for it.
One reason these pop guys are naming their records like this is due to pandering to the demographics of the people that make up their fan base, namely country radio listeners who aren’t from the country at all, and instead dwell in the suburbs and live this romantic backroad bonfire life vicariously through country radio. Don’t misunderstand, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying country music even if you’re not from the country. Music is for everyone, and country music has always been just as much about blue collar people as it has been rural dwellers. Even if you live in the city and are rich, you have a right to enjoy country music. But when it becomes a self-affirming exercise that is detached from the reality of things like much of modern Bro-Country, it’s just unhealthy.
But the other reason Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan have chosen these self-affirming titles for their records is in response to the protestations of true country music fans who regularly and fervently question just how country they are. The fact that these performers feel the need to respond should be taken as a positive sign. As the groans from disgruntled country listeners continue to grow, it’s something that can’t go ignored. The cultural divide running through the center of country music has never been wider, and the numbers of people on the opposite side from artists like Florida Georgia Line have never been bigger. Where before critics of people such as Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line could be shewed off as gadflies, now acts like Florida Georgia Line are giving up market share, and losing awards to artists like Chris Stapleton, Kacey Musgraves, and Brothers Osborne.
Who knows what Can’t Say I Ain’t Country will sound like. There probably will be a couple of country tracks on it. Even some of the worst mainstream country records have a few good songs on them. Luke Bryan’s What Makes You Country did, and probably was his most “country” record in his last few, even if that’s not saying much considering the low bar he’s set for himself. The new Florida Georgia Line record deserves to be considered upon its own merit, and without bias for whatever has come before from them.
But if your music is truly country, you don’t need to go around telling everybody about it, let alone making the answer to your critics into the title of your record. It’s patently clear as soon as someone hears the music if it’s country or not.
There are many different ways people define country music, but the most common and accepted is, “I know it when I hear it.” And with Florida Georgia Line, we know what we hear.