When Luke Bryan’s sixth album, What Makes You Country, dropped last Friday, it immediately started climbing the charts. Not long after, it was sitting comfortably at number one on iTunes, courtesy in part to the viral success of the single “Light It Up,” which went to number one on the Billboard Country Airplay and Country Aircheck charts. Bryan won’t crow about that success for two reasons: It was almost inevitable given his massive popularity and he’s not that sort of guy, a fact that is key to his appeal. Bryan is a nice guy and also, these days, a good dad. And he’s starting to sing about that new identity in ways that are slightly unexpected.
“Pick It Up” was never going to be the biggest song on the What Makes You Country, but it may well be the most personal and, for dads, it’s certainly the most resonant. The song is an upbeat tribute to the sensitive balance engaged fathers have to strike in order to offer their sons opportunities to bond over shared interests and not smother them. The title refers to Bryan’s hope that his sons might pick up some of the stuff he’s left them around the house, including a fishing rod, a Bible, a guitar, and Ronnie Milsap records. But the refrain — and it starts to feel like a personal mantra — makes it explicitly clear that Bryan does not plan to thrust this stuff on anyone.
“I don’t know what you’re gonna be/but I hope you smile when you think of me/because I helped make ya/but I didn’t ever make you pick it up,” he sings.
Naturally, Bryan isn’t just leaving things around the house. He’s leaving memories for his kids. He puts an equal emphasis on that. He’s hoping that his boys pick up on the fact that he’s respectful (opening doors for strangers and saying “yes ma’am”), loving towards his wife (kissing her and treating her “like a princess”), and unafraid to get his hands dirty (literally, getting red dirt on his hands). But, again, he’ll love his boys whether they follow his example or not. He’d just prefer if they did for sentimental and family reasons, which feels about right.
Bryan recently sat down to have a longer conversation with Robin Roberts that, for dads trying to toe the thin line between setting an example and being overbearing, will likely strike a chord. (Yeah, sometimes dads are the ones who want to have a catch.) If his personal insights don’t resonate, the song will. It’s a good song.