This Florida Georgia Line Hall of Fame Exhibit is Unfortunate

John Shearer, Getty Images for Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

If you love country music, then you have to love the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville. Sure, maybe you have a high level of frustration with the CMA committee that presides over the inductions themselves for being so stingy over the last many years, only allowing three new inductees in annually, which has kept a lot of deserving legends on the outside looking into official induction.

But you won’t find a building housing more country music artifacts, nor an institution doing more to preserve country music history and making sure it remains alive in the modern consciousness than the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Over the last few years, the Country Music Hall of Fame has also made the effort to make sure it’s relevant to all country music fans by commissioning revolving displays on more contemporary artists, so as mom and dad, or grandma and grandpa oogle at all the nostalgic artifacts from the artists of yore, younger fans can perhaps find something that interests them in the here and now.

But this extensive “Mix It Up With Florida Georgia Line” exhibit that the Hall of Fame recently opened on February 6th really is an unfortunate, and frankly shortsighted move by the museum, overlooking the widely-polarizing nature of the Bro-Country duo, the continued erosion of their popularity, their pretty much universal condemnation among critics, and now, the implosion of the duo itself.

As much as it may anger the blood of actual country music fans, historians have an obligation to tell the story of country music in its complete and unabridged form. And when the history books are written about the era of country music between 2012 to about 2016—and lingering for years after all the up to the present—Bro-Country will and must be given credit for dominating the era in popular country, because it did, and thanks in large part to the popularity of Florida Georgia Line, and specifically their song “Cruise,” which was very much the catalyst for the Bro-Country era.

But when it comes to the broader reception for the duo’s music and how history judges it, that’s certainly up for more interpretation and dispute. “Dubious,” “disappointing,” and “embarrassing” are some of the adjectives that currently accompany Florida Georgia Line’s reign and influence in country music—one marked by the lyrical quality of the genre degrading, the sonic boundaries of the genre eroding, and women virtually disappearing from the charts as one Florida Georgia Line copycat after another came out of the woodwork to secure radio #1’s.

Of course, this is just some people’s opinions on the era, but not everyone’s. Florida Georgia Line does have fans. But their lack of quality and authenticity was quickly codified as they began to be shunned by award shows despite their commercial prominence, and then that commercial prominence began to quickly dry up as they fell out of favor with fickle fans. Their reign of #1’s really only lasted about five years, and by 2018, they were more of a punchline trying to hold onto relevancy than an influential country band. Florida Georgia Line’s version of Bro-Country burned bright, without question. But it also fizzled quickly.

And maybe most unfortunate about this new Country Hall of Fame exhibit is the timing. Parallel with the unveiling of the Hall of Fame display, Brian Kelley of the duo told People that he and Tyler Hubbard were “…taking a break from recording our music,” and that they will “support each other on the next chapter of our musical and creative journey, which is going to be individually for a while.”

Florida Georgia Line is committed to performing at six country music festivals this summer, but aside from that, haven’t really been an active duo for the last few years, even before the most recent “taking a break” announcement, so this news shouldn’t be a surprise to the Hall of Fame or anyone else. In November of 2020, friction between the two over the U.S. Presidential election and COVID-19 stoked breakup rumors. By January of 2021, they were searching for more freedom from each other. Brian Kelley has since released a solo album.

It’s fair to question if Florida Georgia Line is even a going concern at this point, so why put forth the effort for a Hall of Fame exhibit? The money is probably still too good for them to call it quits entirely, and it will probably will continue to be. But Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley have been on the outs now for over a year. They’re just not current, which is supposed to be the whole point of exhibits like this.

And what does the Hall of Fame exhibit entail? Some designer ripped jeans, a pair of Timberlands, a baseball cap one of them wore in a music video, and a box of Wheaties with their picture on it. Not just Florida Georgia Line, but many of the exhibits for more modern artists really helps display just how generic and uninteresting many of today’s country music stars are, especially when displayed beside the rhinestone suits, the cowboy hats, the iconic instruments and garish artifacts of country music’s past greats.

Looking bigger picture, will massive commercial artists whose careers spanned across the Bro-Country era such as Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean eventually be in the Country Music Hall of Fame as permanent inductees? Even the idea might make some repulse, but they probably will be due to their protracted and undeniable commercial success, though hopefully not before many more deserving artists have had their opportunity.

But as for artist such as Florida Georgia Line, Sam Hunt, and some others whose legacies were more flashes in the pan and tied to trends that quickly faded, it will pose a much more interesting question. Sure, they will have the sales stats and chart numbers to at least be considered. But Bro-Country may also be regarded similar to baseball’s steroid era, with asterisks and sincere questions about authenticity, and if these artist really deserve to be enshrined in country music’s most hallowed institution.

And when the complete story of Bro-Country is told, it will be one that is marked in large portions by criticism and ridicule. After all, the name is a euphemism itself. And specific to Florida Georgia Line, the story ends with an implosion, despite the inevitable Vegas residencies, and other nostalgic cash grabs that are sure to come in the future for the duo.

And also when telling the full story of Bro-Country, it will conclude with how it inspired a backlash and rebirth in country music that resulted in Chris Stapleton’s historic wins at the 2015 CMA Awards, Sturgill Simpson’s win for Best Country Album in 2017, the rise of independent artists such as Cody Jinks and Tyler Childers, and the insurrection of more authentic artists that turned the tables on the mainstream, exposing acts like Florida Georgia Line for the vapid and fleeting performers that they were that are probably not worthy of being remembered inside the Hall of Fame’s vaunted walls, not now, and not in the future, aside for historical context as a country music footnote.

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