Unfortunately for ERNEST, catching the listener’s attention and keeping it are two very different things, and just doing one isn’t enough.
Ernest Smith, known professionally as all-caps ERNEST because of course he is, is a Tennessee native who began his Nashville stint as a country rap artist before signing with Big Loud Records in 2019. His debut album and a few subsequent singles went absolutely nowhere, but he managed to find some success as a songwriter, most notably serving as the Scotty Emerick to Morgan Wallen’s Toby Keith (ERNEST scored eleven co-writes on Wallen’s Dangerous album). Nothing help raise an artist’s Q rating and recoups a label’s investment like a little coattail-riding, so ERNEST teamed up with the scandal-plagued-but-album-moving Wallen for his latest single “Flower Shops.” The ploy, however, isn’t executed well enough to seal the deal: There are a few things done right here to make the song stand out, but there’s no follow-up to hold peoples’ attention beyond the initial novelty factor. As far as “debut” singles go, it’s yet another failure from Music City to properly introduce a newer artist to the world and give the audience a reason to stick around.
Most of what the song does right is with its sound, as the production deviates from the guitar-and-drum norm just enough to stand out from the crowd. The guitars and drums are still here, of course, but much like Scotty McCreery’s “Damn Strait,” the song leans into its steel guitar and makes the instrument the defining feature of the mix. The use of 3/4 waltz time is another departure from the genre’s current 4/4 orthodoxy, combining with the steel guitar and slower tempo to give the track a decidedly retro feel and further distinguish it from its peers. The regular minor and slash chords pair with muted instrument tones to give the song an dark, unsettling feel that add to the sense that the audience is surveying the wreckage of a relationship that blew up in the narrator’s face. It’s a solid mixture of the novel and the familiar to draw the listener into the song, and it’s a bit of the shame that the rest of the song can’t hold up their end of the bargain.
Honestly, I think the marketing for this track is based less on introducing ERNEST and more on tricking people into thinking this is a new Wallen single. Wallen is only here for the name recognition: The song is not written as a duet, Wallen brings nothing of value to the performance, and ERNEST comes across as such a Wallen clone that it’s hard to tell which one is singing at times. (ERNEST is a shade less raspy than Wallen and he hasn’t been caught on tape throwing the n-word around yet, but otherwise they’re pretty much the same artist.) For his part, ERNEST doesn’t acquit himself well here: He doesn’t bring enough charisma to the table to come across as particularly sympathetic or likeable, and the way he winds up for a big finish and ends up stumbling through a weak, wavering line tells me he doesn’t have much power or range behind his voice. His tone is a bit too neutral overall to give me the sense that he cares all that much the relationship (although to be fair, the writing gives him zero support in that department). He simply can’t sell the story well enough to make this any more than yet another lost-love song, and the audience finds no reason to care about it as a result.
The lyrics here find the narrator searching for ways forward in the wake of a failed relationship, and settling on buying all the flowers they can get their hands on to try to get back in their ex’s good graces. Setting aside the weakness of the hook (“a bad day for love, but a good day for flower shops”? Come on, you can do better than that), the song fails to paint the narrator as a changed man, and instead highlights all the reason why the relationship fell apart in the first place. The core issue seems to be that “this bender’s been bending” and “my baby’s had all she can take,” suggesting that it’s completely the narrator’s fault that things went south, but instead of resolving to change, the narrator dives straight into another bender (“I took some pills,” “I took up drinking”) and decides that his best chance of making things right is “one million [flowers] to get you.” If the problems have been going on for as long as it sounds, a massive floral arrangement isn’t going to undo the damage—instead, how about you clean up, get sober, and start acting like someone who’s worth being in a relationship in? There are a few decent turns of phrase here (notably the way the “took” and “gone” lines are chained together in the second verse), but it’s not enough to cover up the inherent issues with the narrator’s perspective.
I’d like to like “Flower Shops,” but there’s just not enough here to keep me listening. The producer does some nice things with the sound and clears the admittedly-low bar of background noise that the rest of the genre aspires to, but neither the lyrics nor ERNEST and Morgan Wallen can stand up to the scrutiny that this invites, and you’ve pretty much forgotten the song a few minutes after it’s finished. What’s especially galling to me is the way ERNEST is reduced to being nothing but a Wallen understudy, so much so that the average listener won’t even realize that there are two singers here! The production may stand out, but the song’s ultimate goal is to blend in, and what’s the point of pushing ERNEST if the song is just an off-brand Wallen single? In the end, Scotty Emerick never established himself as an artist, and I fear that ERNEST is headed for the same fate.
Rating: 5/10. There are better ways to spend your time.