The Florida Georgia Line Effect: Mentoring New Artists and Setting Sights on Pop Stardom (Certified Country)
By Sophie Schillaci
Five years, three albums and 13 No. 1 singles after making their major label debut, Here's to the Good Times, Florida Georgia Line's Tyler Hubbard humbly, reluctantly attempts to answer a loaded question: "Do you feel like you've made it?"
"Ah..." he trails off initially, with bandmate Brian Kelley jumping in to attempt a deflection. "We made it to these awards!" he says, referencing the CMT Artists of the Year event, where they have been honored alongside country royalty every year for the last five years. "We made it here!"
"It's hard not to think we've made it when you look out every night and see 30,000 people singing your songs," Hubbard allows.
"At the same time," he continues, "we're big dreamers and we kind of say, 'The sky's the limit, so let's see where this thing is going to go,' and we kind of continue that motto and see where it leads us."
Lately, that motto has led to a Platinum-certified hit with the Backstreet Boys ("God, Your Mama and Me") and mainstream pop crossover success with the Chainsmokers ("Last Day Alive"), Bebe Rexha ("Meant to Be"), as well as Hailee Steinfeld and Alesso ("Let Me Go"). This summer, FGL played a series of sold-out stadium dates with BSB as part of their Smooth tour with Nelly andChris Lane.
No strangers to a headline-worthy collaboration, FGL enlisted Nelly for a remix of their breakout single, "Cruise," back in 2013 and would later go on to team with country superstars Luke Bryan ("This Is How We Roll," 2014) and Tim McGraw ("May We All," 2016). Today, FGL is the first and only country act to achieve RIAA's Diamond certifications (10 million copies sold) for "Cruise." According to SoundScan, it's also the best-selling digital country single of all time.
Meanwhile, Hubbard and Kelley continue to keep themselves firmly planted in the songwriting community, founding music publishing company Tree Vibez Music (named for Kelley's treehouse recording studio, which was featured on a 2014 episode of Treehouse Masters) in 2015.
But before they hit it huge, FGL counted on support from stars like Jake Owen, Bryan and even Big Machine labelmate Taylor Swift, who brought them out on her Red tour in 2013.
"Everyone needs help, everyone needs guidance, everyone needs a mentor," Kelley tells ET. "I feel like the country music community, whether you're a solo artist, group, duo, or a band, whatever, everybody wants to give a helping hand or a little bit of advice here and there. It goes a long way."
With that spirit in mind, Hubbard and Kelley have been focused on taking on a new role, offering a boost to young artists that they feel passionately about. Tourmate Lane -- who, under the Big Loud company umbrella, shares a manager with FGL -- is certainly among them, as is The Voice alum Morgan Wallen -- who is currently working on his debut album with FGL's longtime producer, Joey Moi, for Big Loud Records.
"There's nothing that Chris can't do," Kelley says. "He dances a little bit, sings, entertains, and he's worked harder and harder each year on his craft. He's just stepped his game up. He's got amazing songs and a great voice."
As for Wallen, who competed for both Team Usher and Team Adam on the sixth season of NBC's hit reality competition, the 24-year-old broke out with last year's debut single, "The Way I Talk." This year, he's back with the infectious party anthem "Up Down" featuring, who else, but Florida Georgia Line.
"We're super proud of him," Kelley says, while Hubbard calls the single "a hit" that was "a no-brainer for us."
"I had no expectations of us even having a song together," Wallen tells ET. "I was just kinda trying to do my own thing and obviously watching them do their own thing, so to be able to get a collab going is really awesome and I feel like we have a good blend together."
The Knoxville, Tennessee, native, who originally had dreams of playing professional baseball, is quick to admit that navigating the music industry was something of a learning curve.
"That was not my dream," he says of music stardom. "I wanted to play baseball and that got taken away from me, and my mom signed me up for [The Voice]. ... I didn't even really know who I was as an artist -- I just kinda started writing songs and stuff like that, so I think [the show] helped me. I just grew up and figured out who I was.
"I'd never even been on a plane or anything," he continues. "They sent me to California and I'm out there for six to eight months, and I see how different the world really is out there and how different it is from what I know. It kinda helped me to figure out how much I love where I'm from and how proud I am of it, and how much I love that way of life."
On "Up Down," the guys celebrate down-home living, fishing and drinking out in "B.F.E." (Look it up.)
"It's an honest song and everything I put out is honest," Wallen explains. "We like to have a good time, we like to fish, we like to drink a little bit, you know, so I just want to be able to, when someone comes to one of my shows, to have a good time and [for them] to get to know me a little bit. This song does that."
In the video, Wallen joins FGL and their crew on Kelley's brand new boat for an afternoon of partying out in Orange Beach, Alabama.
"It was a pretty natural day, I didn't even feel like we were really recording," Wallen says. "[We] drank a little whiskey -- it was a great time. The hardest thing about the video was, they were filming a drone shot around the boat and I'm over there, kinda lit, standing on the rail of the boat and I jumped up to grab the drone. I don't know how I didn't fall off."
In addition to submitting him for consideration on The Voice, Wallen says his mother also, incredibly, had the foresight to predict his future with FGL in Nashville.
"This is kinda weird," he says. "My mom is my biggest fan and she started doing some research, and she was like, 'I love Florida Georgia Line, I feel like you could kinda mix with them. I looked up their producer and I think he needs to produce you.' ... It's kinda crazy now to see how it all came full circle."
With FGL's Smooth tour in the rear view, the guys are setting their sights on a fourth studio album and, it would appear likely, more genre-bending collaborations. If the Backstreet Boys have anything to say about it, we could be hearing Hubbard and Kelley on their upcoming album.
"We have an album we're working on right now, so we may ask those guys to return the favor, if you know what I'm saying," Kevin Richardson teased earlier this month, as the group paid tribute to FGL with a performance of their 3x platinum hit "H.O.L.Y." on CMT's Artists of the Year special.
"It's kinda unfolding," Nick Carter said. "We've been recording in Vegas, L.A., we actually came here to Nashville to record a song."
Responding to a pointed follow-up question, the guys scrambled to come up with an answer: "Is Florida Georgia Line involved?"
"Cannot confirm or deny," Richardson teased amid rumblings from the group, with AJ McLean quipping, "I plead the fifth on that one, sorry!"
For more on Florida Georgia Line, Morgan Wallen and an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at Chris Lane's new "Take Back Home Girl" video with Tori Kelly, watch the complete episode of Certified Country below. Luke Bryan also reflects on how he "won the lottery" with FGL back in the day.