Florida Georgia Line
Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley are trying to sing the praises of a healing, loving, beautiful, romantic relationship.
But what they're actually doing isn't even close to that positive or simple.
This duo has been at the forefront of the so-called "bro country" movement, a subgenre that focuses on brews, babes 'n' bikinis even more than the rest of the country genre does. For instance, the last Florida Georgia Line track I reviewed, 2014's "Sun Daze," prompted me to write, "It's a portrait of what we might call Florida Georgia Line's ideal day, one that involves, well, sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll."
Since the release of the band's last album, however, Hubbard has tied the knot, following the matrimonial path his bandmate paved a couple of years before. And it seems that perhaps marriage agrees with them both, if this track is any indication. There are no bikini-ogling or drink-yourself-stupid refrains on tap, for starters. Instead, these guys have penned a praise song to the wonder of a good woman and the power of her love.
So that's awesome, right? A movement in a more mature direction compared to the unabashed, unashamed hedonistic excess we've seen on previous material?
When I labeled "H.O.L.Y." a "praise song," it was a very intentional description. Because this song is not just about loving a good woman or being the blessed recipient of her reciprocal affection. Instead, it's about flat-out worshiping her and ascribing salvation to the power of her love.
Can You Love Someone Too Much?
The first verse of "H.O.L.Y." talks about a time "when the sun had left and the winter came," when "I sat in darkness, all brokenhearted." Obviously, this guy knows he's lost and needs to be found. He knows he needs salvation. And he does indeed find it … but not from God.
"Somehow, baby, you broke through and saved me."
Of course that little word saved has been used in romantic poems and songs for a long, long time, but it's rarely come across as replacing God's Good News. This song, however, shifts into a chorus that sounds a lot—and I do mean a lot—like one of the most cherished hymns in Church history. "You're holy, holy, holy, holy," we hear. "I'm high on loving you." (Note that the first letters of the words in that last line form the song's titular acronym.)
Of course the phrase "holy, holy, holy," is taken from Revelation 4, describing how the angels respond when they're in God's presence. And so Hubbard and Kelley haven't merely done something cleverly inappropriate with these lyrics. By so intentionally triggering a spiritual reaction from listeners, they've crossed into the territory of attributing the glory due divinity to a mortal.
How big of a deal is that? The Apostle Paul issues this stern warning about confusing the Creator and created things in Romans 1:24: "Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen."
Hubbard and Kelley aren't yet done with their spiritual symbolism spinning. They sing, "You're an angel, tell me you're never leaving/'Cause you're the first thing I know I can believe in/ … You're the river bank where I was baptized/Cleanse all the demons that were killing my freedom/ … You're the healing hands where it used to hurt/You're my saving grace, you're my kind of church/You're holy."
And even though they've relinquished their swimsuit-leering ways—for the length of this song at least—we still get a religiously rapturous roll in the hay: "Let me lay you down, give me to ya/Get you singing, babe, hallelujah/We'll be touching, touching heaven."
Unpacking, But Not Staying
I could spend a long time unpacking the layers of theological confusion here. But suffice it to say that the worship these guys are devotedly proffering to a beautiful woman, perhaps even a wife—as romantic and pure is it might seem—is in the end still idolatry. (Because if they can use old-school religious terminology, so can I.)
The problem with all of this is so evident that even Rolling Stone calls it out. Contributor Jon Freeman writes, "It's an interesting way to frame a relationship, particularly in the process of courting continued support from a radio format that has long emphasized/scrutinized the Christian values of its artists. It's hard not to wonder if the FGL guys—both of whom have publicly proclaimed their faith on numerous occasions—will get some flak from religious listeners."
I should hope so.