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Tim McGraw’s Undivided With Tyler Hubbard Is Country Music’s Latest Misunderstanding of Unity
One week after MAGA insurrectionists led by Donald Trump’s vile rhetoric stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to turn the results of a democratically held election, Tim McGraw and Tyler Hubbard of Florida Georgia Line have released a song called “Undivided.”
Here’s the solution the duo suggests in the song:
I think it’s time to come together, you and I can make a changeMaybe we can make a difference, make the world a better placeLook around and love somebody, we’ve been hateful long enoughLet the good Lord reunite us ’til this country that we love’s undivided
During the past week, members of the GOP have argued that we as a country should move on together. Even President Trump has said that an impeachment would only further divide this country. The idea of unity, in this moment, means that we forgive and forget our differences. But right now, our differences are between right and wrong. For McGraw and Hubbard to release this song, with this language, right now, shows an astounding inability to read the room—or a baffling disconnect with what is actually happening in America.
Written in November by Hubbard and Chris Loocke, this song was conceived long before Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol. It was written during a year defined by a global pandemic, a revolt against systemic racism, and the most important presidential election of our lifetime. The track is rife with vague notions of acceptance, moving forward, race, and a twangy banjo. Yet, it doesn’t address any of these specific issues (short of a flippant reference to being “all white or all black”). It is a vague call for unity that, even in November, would have seemed like a hollow, toothless gesture. But to release it right now feels at once ignorant and opportunistic—an effort to get some good press by cashing in on a moment of national anger and confusion. The language of the song also seems to imply that these issues our country faces (none of which are identified in “Undivided”) can be solved over a friendly glass of Mamma’s sweet tea.
Part of the problem is the lack of clarity in the writing. Throughout the Trump era, we’ve learned first hand how dangerous vague language can be. “Good people on both sides,” can and was read as a dog whistle to white supremacists. The same goes for this undefined message of unity. At one point in the song, they sing the lyrics, “Why’s it gotta be all white or all black?” Though the idea might have had the best intentions, it acts here as an ineffective sidebar about race that could read as an “All Lives Matter” message and discredits the thousands who marched for racial justice this summer.
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Don’t get me wrong: the idea of undividedness is a nice one. McGraw and Hubbard are also two of country music’s more liberally outspoken artists, with Hubbard coming to blows with the more conservative, Florida-half of Florida-Georgia Line following this year’s election. The two have since reconciled. Speaking with CBS This Morning, Hubbard said of the song, “It just felt like a message I wanted to say and it felt like it needed to be heard. Not just by the fans, but even by myself, I think.” The two were interviewed about the release of the song and its timeliness to last week’s events. “The Capitol thing was something I don’t know that I’ve processed well enough to put into words, it was so sad, ” McGraw explained. “But the song speaks more to the social contract we have with each other. It’s not about politics. It’s about how we’re supposed to treat each other.”
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That apolitical, unity song has been written though. It’s one that has been echoed in country music over and over in the past few years—odes to peace, God, and civility that simultaneously speak so particularly and so generally that it manages to say nothing at all. These songs are empty promises, drenched in emotion, devoid of substance. It’s the notion that we love reconciliation, so long as we’re not reminded what divided us in the first place. It’s an idea that does not work in this first month of 2021. But by not addressing anything specifically, it not only allows for listeners to fill in the blanks with their own perceived grievances—and let’s be honest, that’s what the songs are for—but it allows artists to market and sell their music without ruffling anyone’s feathers. To McGraw and Hubbard, it’s a song about being good to your neighbor. To me, it’s a song about acceptance of people from walks of life not like your own. To a far-right radical, it could be a theme song for excusing acts against our country. It’s a plug and play song, so long as it makes someone money.
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In “Undivided’s” second verse, Hubbard sings, “I just kind of wish we didn’t think like that. Why’s it gotta be all white or all black?” The bridge features the line, “I’m tired of looking left or right, so I’m just looking up.” This represents the struggle country music faces going forward—an inability to comment on our current times, while not alienating any listeners who support Trump. That notion is long gone. We are in a moment of unprecedented change in this country—one that Hubbard and McGraw don’t care to recognize.
The “come together” messaging is tired, if not dangerous. I never thought that any trope could topple the grotesque “Daisy Dukes in my pickup truck” notion, but vague songs about unity are getting close. Right now is not the time to live and let live. It’s time to come together and collectively point a finger at what’s wrong in this country. To recognize how some people are inherently given a hand that’s easier to play with in this poker game called life. To step into the light and loudly recognize that disgruntled Americans, under the sham of lies, Republican-stoked anger, and conspiracy theories, tried to dismantle a country we all claim to love. Until we’re willing to recognize that, there is no hope for unity. Unaddressed fractures have no chance of healing properly.
Justin Kirkland is a writer for Esquire, where he focuses on entertainment, television, and pop culture.
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