There’s a scene in the satirical (and often rudely crude) “rockumentary” This Is Spinal Tap in which lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel brags of his amplifiers, “These go to 11.”
He tries to explain to “documentarian” Rob Reiner why the Marshall amps he uses are so much better than any others: “If you can see, the numbers all go to 11,” he says, pointing to the dials. “Look, right across the board. 11, 11, 11, 11, 11.”
“Oh, I see,” Reiner replies knowingly. “And most amps go up to 10.”
“Exactly,” Tufnel replies proudly.
“Does that mean it’s one louder? Is it any louder?” Reiner asks, playing along.
“Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not 10. You see, most blokes are going to be playing at 10—you’re on 10 here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you’re on 10 on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?”
“I don’t know.”
“Nowhere!” Tufnel proclaims proudly. “What we do is that if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do?
“Put it up to 11.”
“Eleven. Exactly. One louder.”
Which brings us directly to “This Is How We Roll,” the second big hit by the country act Florida Georgia Line. I couldn’t help but think of that screwball scene from Spinal Tap as I watched the song’s video—which clearly was crafted to go all the way up to 11.
Big trucks have played a big role in plenty of country tunes over the years. So what can a band do these days to really stand out? Well, sometimes it’s by getting a cooler truck. Or maybe a monster truck. But Florida Georgia Line decided to torpedo the cliché completely, ditching the now-lowly pickup truck altogether in favor of a semi. Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard swagger and sway on top of the trailer as a party involving a few men and a lot of buxom, pouting, preening, scantily clad women takes place inside it. Of course there’s a full bar in there, as well as some cow skulls mounted on the walls, you know, for ambience.
I doubt that the video was intended as a self-parody of country music’s truck tropes, but it absolutely rolls into that territory nonetheless. We’ve got larger-than-life country stars “semi-surfing” up above and good ol’ boys pourin’ another tall one and ogling women down below—women whose only purpose, it seems, is to be ogled. So they compliantly and suggestively caress the big ol’ semi’s bumpers, among other things. But that’s not enough! Not nearly! This partying crew ends up at a motocross exhibition full of flying, flipping motorcycles and pyrotechnics. Somewhere I can hear David Lettermen yelling, “More ‘splosions! More ‘splosions!”—as if a bit of flame and fire will give the whole production its last “extra push over the cliff.”
“Eleven. Exactly. One louder.”
The bombastic song itself sports a synthesized blend of country licks, rock guitars and rap (yes, rap). The lyrics explain exactly how this band does indeed roll, which is by 1) singing, 2) driving a big truck, 3) getting drunk, 4) shootin’ off guns and 5) smooching all the little ladies crazy enough to come along for the ride.
Singing your lungs out while behind the wheel seems pretty self-explanatory, so I’ll jump straight to the booze (“The mix in our drink’s a little stronger than you think/So get a grip, take a sip of that, feel right”), an admiring female (“How fresh my baby is in the shotgun seat, oh/Them kisses are for me, though, automatic like a free throw”) and celebratory gunfire (“We’re burning down the night, shooting bullets at the moon, baby/This is how we roll”).
Guest vocalist Luke Bryan bluntly adds, “Yeah we’re proud to be young/We stick to our guns/We love who we love, and we wanna have fun/Yeah, we cuss on them Mondays/And pray on them Sundays/Pass it around, and we dream about one day.”
And for anyone like me who might take issue with the overall “rollin'” lifestyle Florida Georgia Line loves so much, we’re told, “This life I live, it might not be for you, but it’s for me, though/Let’s roll.”
Is this really country music in 2014 … or some sort of throwback rock ‘n’ roll hair band from 1984 … or maybe even a hip-hop act from the future? We do what we want when we want to, and you can’t say boo about it. That’s the message here. It’s a high horsepower obsession that takes a left turn onto back roads rutted with crazy drinking, reckless shooting and riding on top of semis for a good time—not to mention objectifying the woman sitting in the “shotgun seat.”
So when the band amps all that up to 11, well, we’re rollin’ into some real problems.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews.