(estimated read time: 6 minutes)
SONG MEANING: “H.O.L.Y.” by Florida Georgia Line is about a woman; the song describes her using religious imagery to suggest that there is something very special about the love being described here and that she may be better than actual religion.
Don’t forget to check out my podcast on this song!
“H.O.L.Y.” is the first single from Florida Georgia Line’s upcoming album Dig Your Roots. That album is coming out in August.
Even though the band’s fans are excited for that release, this single will be more than enough to tide them over–both for the band’s pop-country sound and it’s interesting use of religious imagery that will give pause to religious audiences. Even Rolling Stone notes, “The mix of Christian imagery and hooking up is most likely a little over-the-line for devoutly religious fans . . . .” This, of course, makes for an interesting analysis of the song and will give us plenty to think about as we study “H.O.L.Y.” and consider its greater significance.
“H.O.L.Y.” begins, “When the sun had left and the winter came / And the sky fall could only bring the rain.” The narrator is experiencing a dark time and needs relief. He sits in “darkness, all broken hearted” and “couldn’t find a day [he] didn’t feel alone.” Things are bad for him, but there is someone who can save him.
Florida Georgia Line sings, “I never meant to cry, started losing hope / But somehow, baby, you broke through and saved me.” This is the first instance of religious imagery, with the woman taking on the role of a Christ-figure who “saves” someone else from despair and “darkness.”
(For anyone who was wondering, we know that this song isn’t actually about God or Christ because of the “baby” that makes it irrevocably about a woman.)
The band sings, “You’re an angel. Tell me you’re never leaving.” In the Bible, God often used angels to save people from harm and from enemies. Here, the implication may be that God is using this woman to save this man. However, God’s so little emphasized that the woman might as well be her own deity and messenger in one. In fact, based on the coming chorus, her being like a “deity: may be a close guess.
The band begins to suggest this development with the other line of the pre-chorus: “‘Cause you’re the first thing I know I can believe in.” Keep this in mind as we delve into the religious imagery and wording to come.
Here, Florida Georgia Line sings, “You’re holy, holy, holy, holy,” to a melody strongly reminiscent of the song “Holy, Holy, Holy” by Reginald Heber composed in 1861. The chorus continues, “I’m high on loving you, high on loving you,” suggesting that “H.O.L.Y.” stands for “high on loving you.”
What is the significance of the parallels being drawn between this woman and religion?
The band is using religious imagery, so they have an obvious knowledge of religion, but this woman is “the first thing . . . I can believe in.” It may not be a direct insult to religion, but the presence of religious metaphor in this song strongly suggests that listeners should compare how the singers think of the woman and religion. The fact that the band is using this religious imagery to describe the woman (“You’re holy, holy, holy, holy”) suggests that they understood religion before they met this woman (otherwise how else would they have been able to describe her using religious imagery?). Therefore, considering the line about believing in her, they are implying that this woman is more trustworthy than religion (she’s “the first thing I know I can believe in”) and that religion is actually untrustworthy since they did not choose to trust in it when they discovered it earlier.
They’ve experienced religion, but it left something lacking, and they’ve finally found someone they feel they can trust: this angelic woman.
The second verse sings about how wonderful this woman and the narrator’s relationship with her are. He sings, “You made the brightest days from the darkest nights / You’re the river bank where I was baptized.” Christian baptism is a public declaration of one’s faith. It’s a full immersion into water and is symbolic of coming into new life. Florida Georgia Line is saying that through this woman the narrator has discovered a new aspect of life and changed dramatically.
According to the band, she can “[c]leanse all the demons / That were killing my freedom.” She’s liberated him from fear and made him powerful. After that line, the song takes a decidedly sexual turn as the band sings, “Let me lay you down, give me to ya’ / Get you singing, babe, “Hallelujah.” The sexual overtones are clear, and Christian audiences will likely perceive the repurposing of “hallelujah” as at least somewhat offensive.
The verse ends with the line: “We’ll be touching, we’ll be touching Heaven,” a reference to touching each other and to their shared experience of a “near-spiritual” sexual experience.
In the bridge, the band sings, “I don’t need the stars ’cause you shine for me / Like fire in my veins, you’re my ecstasy, you’re my ecstasy.” She inspires him and is enough for him. She empowers him and brings him joy.
Finally, the band sings, “You’re the healing hands where it used to hurt”–a vague reference, perhaps, to Christ’s working of healing miracles by touching people. The band continues, “You’re my saving grace, you’re my kind of church / You’re holy.” These last two lines cement the “she’s better than church” theory. Florida Georgia Line is indeed saying that church wasn’t for them and that the closest they’ll ever get to a spiritual experience will be being with this “holy” woman. She’s their kind of “church” since actual church isn’t what they were looking for.
“H.O.L.Y.” is two things: a praise for a near-Heavenly woman and a comparison of that woman to human religion. The band concludes that this woman is more worthwhile than religion based on her ability to rescue the narrator from darkness, the two’s sexual relationship, and the connection they share. “H.O.L.Y.” raises many questions, and my analysis above is only the beginning of the discussion that needs to be had about this song.
Please share your thoughts about this song. Were you offended by it? Or did it not bother you? What do you think about the religious imagery and descriptions? What’s going on here?
Clifford Stumme has his master’s in English literature and is a blogger and a college instructor/center-director at Liberty University. He likes juggling and reading/writing, and he is married to the wonderful and beautiful Wife April. He thinks pop music is awesome. Seriously awesome. Don’t forget to follow him on Facebook!