Taking kids to the country
By Walt Mueller
If you grew up in the
Thirty years have passed and the times have changed. Kids growing up in a globalized culture laden with seemingly endless musical choices and outlets are more apt than we were to embrace and enjoy new and different genres of music. Knowing that there’s a tremendous amount of money to be made in the youth market, music companies are creating stars in a multiplicity of musical genres and hybrids—including country—and marketing them effectively to children and teens. When the fourth season of “American Idol” came to a close last spring, the two remaining finalists that had endeared themselves to Idol’s youthful audience provided evidence of this reality. Southern rocker Bo Bice squared off against country-singing farm girl Carrie Underwood for the show’s coveted crown. In the end, it was Underwood who walked off stage with the title and a recording contract.
No doubt, country music has become more than a blip on the radar screen of every place and every part of today’s youth culture. Country music is connecting with kids, and kids are connecting with country. A recent look at the Billboard album charts, along with a listen to Top 40 stations, shows a strong and growing country presence in the world of mainstream popular music with names like Toby Keith, Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban, Sugarland, Erika Jo, Tim McGraw, Gretchen Wilson and Dierks Bentley becoming familiar to our kids. But perhaps the country music performers who’ve done more to thrust the genre into the collective consciousness of today’s youth culture is the group that appeared live on stage with Carrie Underwood on the “American Idol” season finale to sing their hit song “Bless The Broken Road.” They’re known as Rascal Flatts and they’re loved by kids.
Because of their growing popularity and presence, Rascal Flatts is a band that deserves our attention. Their music and persona are directing and reflecting the heartbeat and worldview of contemporary youth culture. What is it about Rascal Flatts that’s established their place on today’s musical landscape? What’s the worldview and message communicated by the band’s music? How has their self-professed Christian faith influenced their music and lives, and what is that faith teaching our kids? Is there anything we can learn from their growing influence and rapidly expanding audience? Is there anything their music can teach us about the realities, hopes, dreams and pressures kids face in today’s world? And, does Rascal Flatts issue any necessary challenges or valuable insights to those of us who long to see young people embrace a relationship with Jesus Christ?
The Rascal Flatts story
Officially formed in 1999, Rascal Flatts has beginnings that go much further back. Music-loving second cousins Gary Levox and Jay DeMarcus would get together frequently for family gatherings during their childhoods in
Eventually Jay started playing in Chely Wright’s band. It was there that he met Joe Don Rooney, a native of
Nameless before signing the record deal, the band knew they needed a moniker. A friend suggested Rascal Flatts, as that was the name of his band back in the ’60s. Since they were in a pinch, the trio took the name on the spot and have kept it ever since.
The group quickly rose to fame as a result of their relentless touring. Yet in spite of their aggressive concert schedule, the group has vowed to never be on the road for more than 14 days at a time.
The Rascal Flatts that takes the stage all over the country today features 35-year-old Gary Levox, a former back-up singer to Michael English and a married father of two children, as the band’s front man. His married 34-year-old cousin Jay DeMarcus sings backup and plays a variety of instruments including bass, guitar, keyboards and the mandolin. The group’s only single member is 30-year-old guitarist Joe Don Rooney.
“Successful” is a perfect adjective to describe Rascal Flatts. The band has three albums under their belt and another on the way. Album sales have totaled well over 6 million copies. The trio has won numerous awards including the 2001 Academy of Country Music (ACM) “New Vocal Group” award, and three consecutive ACM “Vocal Group of the Year” awards.
Rascal Flatts’ music
The trio’s musical package is marked by a polished sound that features Levox’s voice in front of their signature tight vocal harmonies over a bed of catchy hooks and tunes. In the beginning, critics attributed the group’s popularity to their youthful “boy band” good looks and accompanying country version of “boy band” harmonies and sounds—a recipe for success that was being duplicated over and over at the time (without the country flavor) in the world of pop music. Listening to their music lends some credibility to this assessment.
Rascal Flatts plays a style of music marked by a combination of country and pop influences. While they write and co-write many of their songs, they don’t hesitate to use other songs as they are committed to recording and performing the best available music. The group’s songs are straightforward and easily understood, usually focusing on themes of the joy of romantic love found or the heartbreak of love lost.
rascal flatts (2000)
The band’s self-titled debut album was released on June 6, 2000, and has since gone platinum. The disc’s liner notes include overt remarks of thanks from each of the guys to their Heavenly Father, leaving the strong impression that an orthodox, biblical faith is very important to each. Levox writes, “First, I’d like to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who blesses me everyday of my life. I’d like to thank my best friend in the entire world for all of your unconditional love and support. Thank you for your wisdom and for being my Rock, always.” Jay DeMarcus writes, “Thanks to the Father. Without Him and His son none of this is possible, and all of it is in vain.” Finally, Rooney writes, “First, lastly, and in between, our precious God for the gifts of life, love and family.”
The disc kicks off with the band’s debut single “Prayin’ For Daylight,” the first song they ever recorded as a group. Listeners get a taste of Rascal Flatts’ talent as the song starts with the trio showcasing their tight acapella vocal harmonies. The singer expresses his regret for letting the object of his affections go, leaving him lonely and wanting her back. His loneliness intensifies at night, so he prays for daylight to come so he will feel better: “Prayin’ for daylight, waiting for that morning sun/So I can act like my whole life ain’t going wrong/Baby come back to me, I swear I’ll make it right/Don’t make me spend another lonely night prayin’ for daylight.” For the singer, “daylight” is ultimately the return of his lost love.
Themes of light and darkness continue on “This Everyday Love,” a snappy single release in which the singer celebrates the emotional reality of a romantic love that never gets old: “Each morning the sun shines through my window/Lands on the face of a dream come true … It’s ordinary plain and simple/Typical, this everyday love/Some ol’, same ol’ keeping it new/Emotional, so familiar/Nothing about it too peculiar/Oh, but I can’t get enough of this everyday love.” She is his reason for living. The song’s fun video features the guys in a bowling tournament.
Another single, “While You Loved Me,” is a countrified power ballad full of reminiscing about a lover who’s gone. The singer leaves no doubt that his lost love was his reason for living: “I was born the day you kissed me/And I died the night you left me/But I lived, oh how I lived, while you loved me.”
Levox describes the love song “Some Say” as “just a fun song” (rascalflatts.com). The singer celebrates a love that survived the odds makers’ lousy odds while answering naysayers who said their young love wouldn’t bloom and survive: “If it couldn’t be baby, how did we get there/Some say we’ll never get it off the ground/Some say we’ll never make it out of town/That someday we’ll end up a world apart/And some say we’re a couple of crazy kids/And some say that’s exactly what they did/And I say you got to go with your heart/And baby, look where we are.” This song that goes on to look ahead and dream about what life will be like when they get married is one that will resonate loudly with young, infatuated, starry-eyed adolescent lovers.
“See Me Through” is a song that sounds like it could have been made by any of the boy bands popular at the time of the album’s release. This love song is a plea for the girl to hang in there with him as he’s still learning how to love and relate. It combines a statement of long-term commitment with requests for forgiveness due to his shortcomings: “Before we met I was free/I never had to worry about anyone but me/Now that boy is gone and in his place/Is a man who needs to hold you night and day/So if I stumble, if I fall/Forgive me, I’m just learning as I go along … just look inside at all this love I never want to lose/See me through.”
The message of “One Good Love” (See lyrics on the following page.) is that love conquers all. The song reaches back into country’s roots to include the sounds of Gospel and blue grass music. DeMarcus says, “This tune, I think, wraps up everything we’re about. Love of family, love of God, love of life” (rascalflatts.com). The singer thanks God, his parents and the girl for their love. It’s about all the good that’s happened to them as a group and the one good love that’s brought them through it, “because if God didn’t have his thumbprint on us, none of this would have worked,” says Levox (rascalflatts.com).
The fact that relationships can be one-sided at times is the subject of “It’s Not
Romantic fulfillment and the wholeness that’s come in a relationship is the theme of “Waiting All My Life.” The singer celebrates the fact that he’s finally connected with the soul mate he’s yearned and wished for forever: “I’ve been waiting all my life to love you/All that time I was dreaming of you/Your love babe/I’ve been waiting all my life.”
“From Time To Time” is a post-breakup song of regret in which the singer wishes his love was still in his life. His love is expressed in emotional and feeling oriented terms. He thinks about her all the time and pledges his allegiance and faithfulness to her since she’s the one for him: “There’ll never be a minute of the day/I won’t think of you/My feelings are so strong in me/I feel it through and through/There’ll never be a night that’s so dark that we won’t shine/Or a dream that we’ve lost that we can’t find/You’ll always be, oh the one for me/I think of you from time to time and in between.”
“Long Slow Beautiful Dance” is another single release off the disc. In this love song the singer wonders if what’s getting started is going to go on. Love is described as a long slow beautiful dance that starts with a dream and infatuation, and then goes on to require work and commitment. The song recognizes that love includes both good times and difficult times: “Love doesn’t always look like a picture perfect storybook/Ah, but sometimes it does … but you weather a few storms and you pull out a few thorns/And together the garden grows and grows.”
The disc comes to a close with “I’m Movin’ On,” the song that won the “Song of the Year” award at the 2003
Rascal Flatts knew their popularity was intact when they released their second album in October 2002 and it quickly sold over 169,000 copies in his first week of release while debuting at #1 on Billboard’s Country Album chart. As with the liner notes in their first album, the band is unapologetic about their faith. “God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, enough thanks could never be given. Thank you for keeping our families safe while we’re away. Thanks for keeping us safe while we’re away. Finally, thank you for looking down on three boys and smiling on us for the past three years—wonders never cease,” writes DeMarcus. Joe Don’s thanks include these words: “Thank you God for all the truly awesome blessings in my life. Everything I do is in your name.” Finally,
Familiar Rascal Flatts romantic themes kick off the album on the #1 single and video release, “These Days.” In the song, a guy reminisces about a girl he once loved who has since moved out of town. He then runs into her in the airport as she’s waiting to catch a flight. Upon seeing her he asks, “Hey Baby, is that you?” They then converse and he confesses that her absence is a “curve” life threw him that he’s having a hard time getting over. He sings, “I wake up in teardrops that fall down like rain/I put on that old song we danced to and then/I head off to my job/Guess not much has changed/Punch the clock, head for home, check the phone just in case/Go to bed, dream of you/That’s what I’m doing these days.”
“Too Good Is True” is a toe-tapping, upbeat and happy celebration of the singer and his girl’s “too good” love. He sings, “That I have seen the light of day/Love is finally going my way/Is it too good to be true/Give me one more kiss/One more touch/Baby, I just can’t get enough of you/This time, too good is true.”
The ballad “I Melt” (See lyrics on the following page.) is a lyrical and visual celebration of sexual foreplay and physical intimacy. DeMarcus says, “it’s about preparing to love on your significant other” (USA Today, 1/14/03). The song’s video treatment sets a context that’s unclear. Are the couples married or unmarried? The song’s message will be applied in both situations by listeners who will adapt the message to their personal situation, married or not. The confusion is compounded by the fact that Rooney—since he was the only unattached member of the group at the time—appears naked and involved in sexual intercourse with a woman who is depicted naked in the shower as well. Viewers catch a shot of Rooney’s bare rear end as he gets out of bed. At least in the case of Rooney, it’s evident from the video that neither he nor the girl are wearing a wedding ring. Demarcus says of the video, “We just thought it was a great, steamy, sexy video. We didn’t realize that people we’re gonna be up in arms about it the way they have” (cmt.com). While the song and its video are somewhat confusing, it is only fair to mention that lyrically, lifelong commitment seems to be a part of the song: “What’s even better is knowing that forever you’re all mine.”
Ironically, the next song pines and longs for a more simpler day when things were black and white. The song’s title, “Mayberry” (See lyrics below.), conjures up images of the old and innocent “Andy Griffith Show.” Levox says the song is about how life’s gotten to be so fast-paced and “how busy you can get being caught up in the rat race” (rascalflatts.com). The singer looks back on his childhood and its simplicity with fondness. Notions of modern-day materialism are challenged. He laments losing what we were and becoming what we’ve become. In the end, he calls listeners to step back and view life from God’s perspective.
“Love You Out Loud” is a single and video release about a usually shy, reserved guy who rarely talks about love and feelings. In this case though, his love is so deep that he can no longer contain himself: “I’m gonna stand up on a rooftop/Climb up a mountaintop/Baby, scream and shout/I wanna sing it on the radio/Show it on a video/Baby, leave no doubt/I want the whole world to know just what I’m all about/I love to love you out loud … a love this true can’t be subdued/So I’m gonna let out a yell.”
In “Dry County Girl” the singer tells the story of falling for a preacher’s daughter who’s caught his eye. Right from the start he struggles with physical lust but she holds strong and sets him straight: “A tall drink of water in a cotton dress/That preacher’s daughter, she sure is blessed/As sunlight passes through the fabric so soft/You can imagine what goes through my thoughts/She says there’ll be time for all of that/When my dress is white and your suit is black.” Admirably, she takes the high moral road and says “no” to his lust. This song could serve as a good discussion starter on the very real battle teens face to maintain their sexual purity.
“Like I Am” is a ballad in which the singer expresses his gratefulness for her grace-full love. “This is a very special song for me,” says Rooney, “since I wrote it after a conversation with my girlfriend Kassidy. For me, like for a lot of men, when a woman says great things about you it can be hard to believe. I thought, ‘I don’t see everything you see in me, but since you see it, I’ll try to be that way’” (rascalflatts.com). While the song has a positive message, the opening lines reveal the unmarried Rooney is sleeping with Kassidy: “Lying here with you/I watch you while you sleep/The dawn is closing in/With every breath you breathe.” He expresses disbelief at the depth of her love for him as he sees himself as unworthy. In response, he promises to love her as she sees him: “I’ll try to be that kind of man/Because you love me like I am.”
Originally written for Tim McGraw, “You” is a love song that proclaims and celebrates love. The song’s lyrics speaks of this first good love after lots of bad love in salvific and redemptive terms: “Every road that I’ve been down/The only truth that I have found/There’s only one thing I can’t live without … You.” He goes on, “Just when I think that this life’s about to drive me insane/You take the reins/Every time I feel I’m drifting off course/You’re my compass, you’re my one true north … every road leads me to you.”
Love is celebrated again on “Fallin’ Upside Down.” In this fast-paced and happy song love is described as something that turns everything in life around and upside down: “You lift me up like a kite on a string/Like a bird on newfound wings/So high on you, I’m floating and flying around/Your love’s like fallin’ upside down.” DeMarcus says of the song, “Every record needs a song that’s just fun, where you don’t have to think hard” (rascalflatts.com).
Romantic love is redemptive in “Shine On.” The song’s title originated in a banner that the 7th to 12th graders in Joe Don Rooney’s hometown put up after the group won their first ACM award. The banner read, “Shine On, Joe Don.” DeMarcus says, “This is a testament to the way somebody, when they truly love you, can turn your life around” (rascalflatts.com). The song speaks of love in such redemptive/salvific terms that it could almost be sung as a prayer of praise and supplication to God: “I was lost in darkness and sinking sand/Well I was barely nothing, a broken man/But you picked up the pieces of my heart in your hand/Then you came and showed to me love’s second chance/Shine on, shine on, shine on me/Whenever something’s missing/You’re exactly what I need/Your love has shown me the light and now I finally see/So shine on, shine on, shine on me, yeah.”
The album ends with the popular single and video release, “My Worst Fear.” DeMarcus says this song about the story of love gone sour is his favorite song on the album. The singer expresses his desire to leave his girl, but she beats him to it, even after telling him the night before (in bed) that she loves him: “Last night you gave me a kiss/You didn’t know it/But I was awake when you did … you didn’t know I could hear/And the words ‘I love you’ never sounded so sincere.” The singer expresses his dilemma in the song’s last lines: “being alone is my worst fear/And staying here is my worst fear.”
Feels Like Today (2004)
Released in September 2004, it was no surprise that Rascal Flatts’ third album was met with open arms and jumped to immediate success. The disc sold 201,000 units in its first week, debuted at #1 on the Top Country and Pop album charts, and hit #1 on the Billboard 200 chart for all albums, marking only the second time in history that feat’s been accomplished by a country group. DeMarcus says of the double-platinum project, “What we wanted to do is maintain the same plan that we had always had—to find some great songs and cut them the best we could” (Billboard, 10/2/04).
True to form, the band thanks God in the liner notes. “Jay wishes to thank our Heavenly Father for watching over us and for blessing us far beyond what we deserve.” Gary Levox quotes the words of Psalm 108:3: “I will praise thee O Lord among the people; and I will sing praises unto Thee among the nations. Lord, thank you for the wonderful gift of song. I give you all the glory.” Finally, Joe Don Rooney says, “thank you God for this ‘experience’ called life.”
Analogies from nature are enlisted in “Where You Are” to describe and celebrate the singer’s relationship with the object of his affection: “There you are standin’ strong/I’m a leaf holdin’ on … You’re a waterfall, washin’ over me/I’m a thirsty man, let me drink you in … You’re a mountaintop/When I reach for you your love lifts me up … I’m the frozen ground/You’re the warm sunlight.” His one desire is this, “all I want is to be where you are.”
Perhaps the best known song on the album, “Bless The Broken Road” (See lyrics on the following page.) expanded the band’s youthful audience through its heavy radio and video airplay. The video went to #1 on CMT as the network’s most played video and the song stayed at #1 on the country single charts for six weeks. Another celebration of love, the singer expresses his happiness with being led to the girl who he sees as his destiny. He thanks and credits God with leading him to her and recognizes God’s sovereignty in the midst of brokenness as he uses bad circumstances for good. This song could be used to spark discussion about God’s will, sovereignty and plans.
“Then I Did” is written to a girl who said “goodbye” to him when he left her a year ago to pursue his dreams. At the time, she had encouraged him to leave to follow his dreams. He misses her, he thanks her and he tells her that he regrets leaving. All he wanted was love and now she’s gone. He finally tells her that he’s learned that the unfulfilled dream he was pursuing was ultimately her: “Love was what I wanted all along/And now you’re gone.”
The album’s title cut hit the charts as a single and video release. “Feels Like Today” depicts a variety of broken, sad and lonely people stuck in the reality of their aloneness. In the video, a photographer comes and snaps a Polaroid of each, which when it develops, shows them pictured with the person/people who they need in their lives to make them whole. Lyrically, the song is one of expectation: “I woke up this mornin’ with this feeling inside me that I can’t explain/Like a weight that I’ve carried, been carried away, away/But I know somethin’ is comin’/I don’t know what it is/But I know it’s amazing, can save me/My time is comin’/I’ll find my way out of this longest drought.” He goes on to sing that “the one thing that’s missin’/The one thing you’re wishin’” is “the last sacred blessing.” He confesses that in the midst of life’s storms, he’s running to “the light at the end of the tunnel.” Ultimately, this is a song about spiritual yearning and the desire to experience redemptive wholeness. Rooney says of the song, “It’s got a different feel and a different message, a way of presenting today as the day to get over that struggle in your life. It’s a positive spiritual song, and being passionate about music and spirituality, we always tend to gravitate toward songs like that. It’s one of those that hit us right between the eyes” (rascalflatts.com).
Another single release, “Fast Cars And Freedom” is, says Demarcus, “a cool way to tell your woman that she still looks as good as she did when you first met and she doesn’t need makeup. She is still as beautiful and you love her as much as you did the first day” (rascalflatts.com). The singer tells her, “Starin’ at you takin’ off your makeup/Wonderin’ why you even put it on/I know you think you do, but baby, you don’t need it/Wish that you could see what I see when it’s gone.” When the singer recalls that “first-time feelin’” listeners are left wondering if he’s thinking back to the infatuation he felt as an adolescent, or to their first adolescent sexual encounter with each other. The lyrics seem to point to the latter interpretation: “A t-shirt hangin’ off a dogwood branch/That river was cold but we gave love a chance/Yeah, to me you don’t look a day over fast cars and freedom/That sunset, riverbank, first time feelin’/Oh, oh, oh.”
“When The Sand Runs Out” is a contemplative and thought-provoking song about life’s purpose, how we live and the legacy we leave. The singer is standing at the fresh grave of a friend who “spent his whole live spinnin’ his wheels.” The experience leads him to think about his own life: “And I stood there thinking as I said good-bye/Today’s the first day of the rest of my life/I’m gonna stop lookin’ back and start movin’ on/And learn how to face my fears/Love with all of my heart and make my mark/I wanna leave somethin’ here/Go out on a ledge without any net/That’s what I’m gonna be about/Yeah, I wanna be runnin’ when the sand runs out … And when they carve my stone they’ll write these words/Here lies a man who lived life for all that it’s worth.” The song could be used as a discussion starter on life’s purpose, calling, vocation, legacy, etc.
Rascal Flatts toasts their fans in “Here’s To You” (See lyrics below.). In this thank-you song the band reveals who they ultimately perform for. It’s the fans as they are “the heart and the soul and the reason we do what we do.”
“The Day Before You” is a love song looking back in hindsight on how empty life and love were before she came along. He sings, “I had all but given up on finding the one that I could fall into on the day before you/I was ready to settle for less than love and not much more/There was no such thing as a dream come true/Oh, but that was the day before you.” Her presence has changed his life: “Now you’re here and everything’s changin’/Suddenly life means so much/I can’t wait to wake up tomorrow/And find out this promise is true/I will never have to go back to the day before you.” Still, he’s thankful for “the day before you” because it shaped his heart “for the day I found you.”
“Let’s disappear/Gotta jet out of here/Feel the wind across our face/We’ll have some fun/Gonna dance on the run/It’s a perfect day to break away … It don’t matter what we do as long as I’m with you,” they sing in “Break Away.” This driving song is all about getting away from the routines of life and taking a Sunday drive that goes through the rest of the week.
“Holes” is a post break-up song telling the stories of the holes left in the singer’s life as the result of her absence. He sings of holes in the walls from the pictures that are gone, a fist-made hole in the wall “from that night that I lost it,” holes in his heart, and holes in his hands and feet from carrying the cross of his guilt. He laments, “Holes in and around me/I keep fallin’ back into/Holes dig in and surround me/God knows what I’m gonna do/To fill in these holes left by you.”
The last listed track on the album is “Oklahoma-Texas Line.” This fast and catchy love song penned by Rooney was written about his home state and the house back there that holds the one he loves: “She’s got long blonde hair and big blue eyes/I got all I ever need when that girl is by my side/Everything I love is there inside a little brick house on the Oklahoma-Texas line.”
The disc ends with a very touching hidden track about a teenager who faces cancer and the 60 percent probability of a cure: “Sara Beth is scared to death to hear what the doctor will say.” Her illness dashes her hopes and dreams for a normal high school experience. In the song’s story, she fears no one will want to take her to her prom in her current hairless and sickly condition. The moving little song gets emotional at the end as she is asked to the prom and the guy comes to pick her up with his own freshly shaved head.
What’s the draw?
Rascal Flatts has effectively crossed over from a purely country audience to connect with a larger audience of kids with a wide variety of musical tastes. Why are they so effectively connecting with today’s youth culture? There are several reasons.
First, country music has moved into the mainstream. The genre has steadily expanded its listening audience beyond the typical country strongholds to catch the ears of people of all ages living in all places. Increased radio and TV airplay along with the willingness of country artists to expand beyond the visual, sonic and thematic stereotypes give the genre increased appeal to a wider and more diverse audience. Gary Levox says, “People are hungry for something new and fresh besides cheating and drinking. Nowadays, you don’t have to wear a cowboy hat to be country, and I think these changes are appealing to the younger kids. There are so many kinds of country out there now; you have your choice” (Billboard, 3/3/01). Because they’re lovers and consumers of music, it’s only natural that our children and teens are more prone to catch the “country bug” and embrace groups like Rascal Flatts.
Second, in today’s media-saturated world, massive marketing and publicity efforts are almost always surefire guarantees of success. Nobody knows and does marketing better than the Disney machine. Signing with Disney’s
Third, the girls love these guys and their youthful good looks. While Rascal Flatts may not have liked the boy-band accusations, there’s no denying the fact that the trio’s visual and singing style is less country, and more pop. Thus, the massive connection with younger mainstream teens, particularly females. As the controversy over the highly sexual “I Melt” video raged, USA Today reported that 13-year-old girls “have oohed over Rooney’s rear end” in their postings on CMT’s Web site (7/14/03). The band also connects easily with teenage girls as they say (in their love songs) the very things young girls dream about hearing from a guy.
Fourth, just as their fans love them, they love their fans. This is a band that appears to be less concerned with fame and fortune, and more concerned with loving and thanking their fans. They not only perform for their audience, but they let them know how much they appreciate them. In their song “Here’s To You,” the trio toasts their audience and lets them know that they are the reason they are in the music industry.
Fifth, the authenticity of the trio has fostered connections. Each member of Rascal Flatts comes across as a nice, down-to-earth, regular boy-next-door. Today’s emerging generations place a premium on genuineness and authenticity. While very few Rascal Flatts fans will ever get to meet the trio, they all feel like they know the guys as friends. Whenever that happens in the music industry, young fans are much more willing to embrace and become loyal to an artist.
Sixth, their songs are simple and easy to relate to. By telling stories about situations, experiences and feelings that are common to their young listening audience, connections are made. It’s no secret that Rascal Flatts focuses primarily on themes of love found and love lost. By doing so, they connect with the emotional and experiential reality of teens who tend to ride the relational love roller coaster through their adolescent years.
Seventh, these guys sing mostly happy and upbeat songs. Today’s children and teens are dealing with an unprecedented amount and level of relational and emotional heartache and breakdown. Life is increasingly complex and difficult. In this adolescent world marked by what Chap Clark has labeled as “systemic abandonment,” kids tend to gravitate to one of two kinds of music. Some choose to take the road of pessimism as they gravitate to the complex darker themes and genres that express their own personal pain and agony. Others choose the more optimistic path of music that tends to be simple, positive and upbeat. Rascal Flatts, their music and their personalities all lend themselves well to kids looking for a more lighthearted form of musical expression.
Finally, their faith has endeared them to young and old alike as “good guys.” For the most part, Rascal Flatts has maintained a relatively squeaky-clean image, particularly among parents looking for positive musical choices and role models for their kids. Because of their overt statements of faith, Rascal Flatts has become a darling of Christian parents.
How should we respond?
How, then, should parents, educators and youth workers respond to Rascal Flatts? Does their music give us insight into understanding and reaching today’s youth culture? What do they teach us about children and teens? Can their music help guide and shape the content of our discussions with the kids we know and love? And, how should we respond to our children if they express any interest in the band?
First, we can no longer assume country music isn’t influencing our kids. We must avoid the mistake of thinking that “our kids don’t listen to country music.” While that may have been the case for a long time, those days are gone. Country music has moved into the mainstream of contemporary youth culture and Rascal Flatts is one of the bands on the forefront of that charge. Consequently, Rascal Flatts and their country music-making peers deserve our attention. Even if your kids aren’t listening to country music—or if they go so far to express their disdain for the genre—country music will continue to influence them indirectly by virtue of the fact that it influences their peers. The genre and its stars warrant our continued monitoring and attention as a voice that both reflects and directs today’s youth culture.
Second, the rising popularity of country music among kids reminds us of their “globalized vulnerability.” It’s significant that kids from geographic and socio-economic pockets that would not have listened to the genre and its artists in the past are now embracing the music. This trend is a logical outcome of growing up in a globalized youth culture where multi-culturalism, diversity and tolerance are celebrated as virtues. In this environment, curious and vulnerable young people are increasingly embracing a variety of musical options that have opened them up to a variety of diverse worldviews. While this is not always a negative thing, it requires those who love and guide young people to be aware of the options kids consume so that we might be able to guide them through the process of thinking consciously and Christianly about the many new values, attitudes and behaviors trumpeted through these options.
Third, we must celebrate the positive themes in Rascal Flatts’ music. The band is fairly consistent in their positive and upbeat attitude toward love. They challenge their listeners to avoid the dangers of self-absorbed materialism and the consequences of out-of-control progress (“Mayberry”). At times they recognize the reality of youthful sexual lust and celebrate those who willfully avoid it (“Dry County Girl”). If we process their music through the filter of a biblical world and life view, there’s much to affirm and applaud in the Rascal Flatts’ thematic package.
Fourth, we must celebrate their commitment to family and community. There’s nothing in the band’s story or music that indicates their music flows from the place where so much of today’s popular music flows—that is, from a life marked by brokenness and bitterness. Instead, Rascal Flatts is a breath of musical fresh air as they affirm the role their families (parents) have played in their musical development. As a result, they provide a model of positive respect for kids. In addition, their commitment to each other and their Rascal Flatts community is as tight as their harmonies.
Fifth, Rascal Flatts should prompt us to provide clear guidance and direction on the nature of romantic love. Because kids are thinking a lot about their emerging romantic feelings, they’re naturally attracted to the love-themed music of bands like Rascal Flatts. But one of the greatest crises in today’s youth culture is the pervasiveness of false notions and the resulting expectations regarding love. The breakdown of marriage and the family has left the majority of today’s children and teens with no clear model of true committed love. With so many kids relying, by default, on the world of music and media to define and model love, Rascal Flatts (like all other bands) send strong messages. Kids are especially vulnerable to the band’s idealized notion of love. We need to teach our kids that love is commitment. In addition, the band often leaves the impression that redemption, fullness and purpose are found in romantic love. The notion that romantic human love and relationships can replace the cross and empty tomb, is ultimately empty itself.
Sixth, we must teach our kids that the motivation behind what we do and why we do it should be to bring glory to God and God alone. There is great misunderstanding in the contemporary church regarding calling, vocation and purpose. Sadly, the words of Rascal Flatts “Here’s To You” seem to indicate their own misunderstanding. They tell their audience that they do it all for them. In God’s Kingdom economy, the chief end of man is—as the writers of the Westminster Shorter Catechism have said—“to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” Or, as Rick Warren says in the opening line of his best-selling book The Purpose Driven Life, “it’s not about you.” Our kids are growing up in a world where we get consumed with drawing attention to ourselves and pleasing others. We need to go out of our way to teach them that the proper way to live is to do everything solely for the audience of One.
Seventh, Rascal Flatts reminds us of our desperate need to teach and model the biblical sexual ethic. We’ve come to expect visual and lyrical expressions that celebrate fornication and adultery. MTV and popular music have been feeding viewers that diet for years. Now that many of those raised on and by MTV have come of age, there’s a belief that when it comes to one’s sexuality and sexual expression, sin is an archaic remnant of a less-enlightened time. This attitude has slowly found its way into the church. One must wonder about the faith-professing trio of guys in Rascal Flatts and where they come down on this issue. Judging from their video for “I Melt” and their comments in the controversy that followed the video’s release, these guys are promoting a sexual ethic that is anything but biblical. Sadly, Jay DeMarcus’ comments indicate a lack of discernment on the part of the band: “We didn’t expect it to be such a big deal. It was a sensual, sexy song that needed a sensual, sexy video” (Columbus Georgia Ledger-Enquirer, 11/6/03).
Eighth, Rascal Flatts remind us of the growing and pervasive nature of postmodern relativism in today’s culture. I increasingly hear kids justifying immoral or sinful behavior on the grounds that either this is just the way it is in today’s world and everybody’s doing it, or because it’s nowhere near as bad compared to what someone else is doing. Sadly, Rascal Flatts has, at times, bought into the same faulty manner of thinking. In response to criticism of their “I Melt” video, Gary LeVox says, “My daughter’s three years old, and I don’t mind if she watches it. I mean, she’s so young, it just goes over her head. If you look at pop and hip-hop, R&B and rap, it’s a million and a-half times racier than this little shot we did for ‘I Melt’” (cmt.com). We need to teach our kids that all values, attitudes and behaviors must be evaluated and judged relative to one standard—the unchanging truth of God’s word.
Ninth, the world of popular music is full of professing Christian artists who model a faith that fosters “Christianity confusion.” While there’s never been a follower of Christ who is fully consistent and never marked by hypocrisy, there are far too many in the public eye who wear both their faith and their bold sin on their sleeves. This confuses young Christians who are looking for models of the faith to shape their own understanding of what it means to follow Jesus Christ. It’s disappointing that at times, Rascal Flatts points young people toward the way and will of the world, the flesh and the Devil, rather than toward the way and will of the Father. As followers of Christ we must observe our kids’ faith-professing cultural icons carefully, celebrating where they are consistent and challenging where they are not. In effect, we must “think with them” by pointing out and discussing those inconsistencies that lead to confusion over the nature of the Christian life.
Tenth, bad things sometimes come in good musical packages. I realize that I might take some heat for what I’m about to say, but hang in there with me. I continue to run into parents, youth workers and kids who celebrate Rascal Flatts as a healthy music choice for the simple reason that these guys openly profess faith in Christ and their music is so simple and positive. While I agree with that initial assessment, it isn’t based on the deep and detailed look we should be taking as a result of our commitment to thinking consistently and Christianly about a band’s entire musical package. When that kind of assessment is made, one must wonder what makes music positive and what makes music negative. I’ve always believed the most dangerous music is not the stuff that blatantly and clearly promotes anti-Kingdom living, but the music that we so readily embrace that seems to promote Kingdom living. While there’s much to celebrate about Rascal Flatts, my evaluation experience has left me with a clear sense that because immorality has been wrapped up in what looks like a great package, it might actually be some of the most subtly dangerous music out there. Because of the package, parents and kids will either never see—or will overlook—the content that should cause concern.
Finally, parents and youth workers should make a habit of evaluating the music of all bands with the kids they know and love. We must be teaching our kids that their faith should be informing and shaping all of life, including the way they listen to popular music and their music evaluation criteria. While you might be tempted to act on my evaluation of Rascal Flatts by eliminating the band from your child’s music library, let me encourage you to take a different approach. Teenagers are at the point where they are learning to think for themselves. Sit with them to listen and think with them through the music of Rascal Flatts. Use CPYU’s How To Use Your Head To Guard Your Heart music evaluation guide (available at www.cpyu.org) to get them thinking critically and Christianly about their music choices.
The guys in Rascal Flatts are young, talented and full of energy. Their growing and loyal audience is enthusiastic and longing for more from the trio. With another album (and most likely many more) on the way, this is a band that is powerfully shaping today’s youth culture. Whether you like country music—and Rascal Flatts—or not, it’s here to stay. Get to know them, and help your kids do the same.
One Good Love
One good love erases all the bitter tears on an empty dance hall/All those lonely nights when she never called/It just don’t seem so tragic after all/With one good love/One good love/And daddy’s hands were strong and fair/And momma understands because she’s been there/And all mistakes were just because they cared so much/With one good love
One good love/You bless all my memories/You soften the fall of my tears/And in my arms you’re more than enough/You’re one good love
One good love/And born again means more than pass the plate and bow your head/Yes, you bury what needs burying, you raise it from the dead/The very best, you heal the brokenness, give grace to everyone/With one good love
Yeah, oh, one good love/Hey, hey, one good love/Yeah, I’ll give you one good love/Oh, give me one good love now, love yeah/Oooo, oooo, oooo, oooo, oooo, yeah/Lord, I feel born again, yeah/You got to give me one good love now/One good love
Sometimes if feels like this world is spinning faster/Than it did in the old days/So naturally, we have more natural disasters/From the strain of a fast pace/Sunday was a day of rest/Now it’s one more day for progress/And we can’t slow down ‘cause more is best/It’s all an endless process
Well I miss Mayberry/Sitting on the porch drinking ice-cold Cherry Coke/Where everything is black and white/Picking on a six-string/Where people pass by and you call them by their first name/Watching the clouds roll by/Bye, bye
Sometimes I can hear this old earth shouting through the trees as the wind blows/That’s when I climb up here on this mountain to look through God’s window/Now I can’t fly but I got two feet that get me high up here/Above the noise and city streets my worries disappear
Sometimes I dream I’m driving down an old dirt road/Not even listed on a map/I pass a dad and son carrying a fishing pole/But I always wake up every time I try to turn back/Bye, bye, I miss Mayberry
When you light those candles up there on that mantle, setting the mood/Well, I just lie there staring/Silently preparing to love on you/Well, I can feel the heat from across the room/Ain’t it wild what a little flame can make you wanna do?
I melt every time you look at me that way/It never fails, anytime, any place/This burn in me is the coolest thing I’ve ever felt/I melt
Don’t you know how you do it/I love the way I lose it, every time/What’s even better is knowing that forever you’re all mine/The closer you get, the more my body aches/One little stare from you is all it takes/Every time you look at me that way I melt, I melt
Bless The Broken Road
I set out on a narrow way/Many years ago/Hoping I would find true love/Along the broken road/But I got lost a time or two/Wiped my brow and kept/Pushin’ through/I couldn’t see how every sign/Pointed straight to you
That every long lost dream/Led me to where you are/Others who broke my heart/They were like northern stars/Pointing me on my way/Into your loving arms/This much I know is true/That God blessed the broken road/That led me straight to you
I think about the years I spent/Just passin’ through/I’d like to have the time I lost/And give it back to you/But you just smile and take my hand/You’ve been there, you understand/It’s all a part of a grander plan/That is comin’ true
Now I’m just rolling home/Into my lover’s arms/This much I know is true/That God blessed the broken road/That led me straight to you/That God blessed the broken road/That led me straight to you
Here’s To You
They got three in the front and four in the back of a Civic/Camped out all night on the sidewalk just to get tickets/With their hands on the fence in the back but the buses and the limousines/Just to get a glimpse of a drummer or a singer yeah, anything/And they come from miles around/For that moment when the lights go out and they scream
It’s the girls in the front row singin’/It’s the boys with the wheels that bring them/It’s the lighters in the air and you guys up there/You’re the heart and the soul and the reason we do what we do/Here’s to you, oh yeah
There’s a silver-tongued blonde trying to talk her way backstage/There’s a mom and a dad in the aisle not actin’ their age/There’s a wet, Corvette-red lipstick print on a Coors Light cup/And judging by the way she’s dancin’ I’d say she’s had enough/The guitars come alive/And you make us want to stay all night when you scream.
Here’s to you, oh yeah, come on
The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding grants permission for this article to be copied in its entirety, provided the copies are distributed free of charge and the copies indicate the source as the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding.
For more information on resources to help you understand today's rapidly changing youth culture, contact the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding.
©2005, The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding