Let’s be honest. Florida Georgia Line, the hitmaking country music duo, recording with passé rapper Nelly had something of a novelty flair to it, especially since it was a remix of the successful country hit “Cruise.”
Florida Georgia Line touring with Backstreet Boys, a passé boy band, sounded incongruous at first blush, but it somehow worked and filled Target Field and other stadiums.
Florida Georgia Line recently hooked up with Bebe Rexha, a hot pop/dance collaboration specialist who has her own reality show on MTV. And — boom! — their duet, “Meant to Be,” went to No. 1 on Billboard’s country chart.
How did FGL became the kings of mismatched collaborations?
“We’re eager to do it only when it’s right. When the song’s right and the vibe’s right with the other artist, then it’s a no-brainer,” said Brian Kelley, 32, the Floridian in FGL. “We’ve always been down about pushing the envelope and getting outside the box but not overdoing it. It’s about putting out quality music and quality songs, especially when you get with artists that you have a creative bond with.”
Unexpected partnerships have become FGL’s M.O., said influential country radio programmer Gregg Swedberg, senior vice president of iHeartMedia Twin Cities.
“They’re smart,” he said. “I don’t think they’ll ever win awards for their singing, but these two guys hear and write hits. They’ve had a ton of influences, but they’ve got country lyrics. It’s all good.”
FGL grew up listening to all kinds of music, said Tyler Hubbard, 30, the Georgia half of the duo. “It’s really fun to bring the worlds together even if the influences are outside our genre,” he said.
Rexha wasn’t planned
Sometimes these hookups are serendipitous. Like with Rexha, who has partnered on records with everyone from rapper G-Eazy and EDM god David Guetta to Louis Tomlinson from One Direction.
FGL was in Los Angeles for a week meeting with songwriters. Hubbard and Kelley were supposed to get together with one writer, but that fell through, so they met with Rexha at the last minute.
“We were on the way there and said if it’s meant to be, it’ll be,” Hubbard said. “That’s where the title came from. We just got in the room that night and started to write and hit it off. It’s fun to see that song take on a different life than anybody ever expected.”
Then there was the collaboration with Chainsmokers, the New York DJ/producer duo that has enlisted singers such as Coldpay’s Chris Martin and newcomer Daya for dance and pop hits. The duo connected with FGL through their managers, who were friends.
“They sent us a song this time last year, and we immediately thought it was a big old hit,” Kelley said. “For Tyler and me, I think it stretched our vocals and stretched us creatively. The Chainsmokers are good dudes. They’re super-creative, and they’re on fire.”
Not everyone was impressed. Writing on tasteofcountry.com, Mike Thiel called “Last Day Alive” one of the five worst country/pop collaborations ever.
“Did the Chainsmokers transform Florida Georgia Line into robots for this song?” Thiel asked. “Give the Chainsmokers credit for changing FGL lead singer Tyler Hubbard’s country twang enough to fit the flavor of the song, but the vocal effects also make the lyrics sound like they’re being sung by a computer. The vocals have such little character that it seems any artist who sings on this track would sound similar to what’s already there. Florida Georgia Line really just seem like a big name tacked onto the song, rather than an actual collaboration. … Time to call Nelly.”
Thiel had rated “Cruise,” FGL’s mashup with Nelly, as his favorite country/pop collaboration.
From ballpark to casino
Nelly was the first non-Nashville act to work with FGL. The duo also has recorded with reggae hero Ziggy Marley, R&B star Jason Derulo, pop singer/actress Hailee Steinfeld and even a few country colleagues, including Luke Bryan and Tim McGraw.
FGL has learned to be versatile and flexible. It may be the only act in any genre to make its first Twin Cities headline appearance at a stadium. That came last year at Target Field in Minneapolis after having opened for Bryan at TCF Bank Stadium and Jason Aldean at Xcel Energy Center.
The FGL guys couldn’t believe they had achieved that headlining distinction. “That’s something we couldn’t have even dreamed up,” Hubbard said.
This time around they will play the 2,100-seat Mystic Lake Casino showroom on Saturday after the 9,000-capacity temporary Club Nomadic outside the casino was scrapped. The FGL guys didn’t know about the kerfuffle that caused the switch. They just know that last time they played a place this small was three years ago.
“It’s nice to go sell out arenas and stadiums," Hubbard said, "but there’s something cool about a small room and creating a moment that’s special. B.K. and I started in a hotel lobby.”