Florida Georgia Line, Backstreet Boys, and Nelly get their shine on at Target Field

Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley of Florida Georgia Line at TCF Bank Stadium in 2015. Their hair looks totally different now.

Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley of Florida Georgia Line at TCF Bank Stadium in 2015. Their hair looks totally different now. Courtney Perry/Special to the Star Tribune

Florida Georgia Line have traded up.

The last time the country(ish) duo visited Minneapolis, they were opening for Luke Bryan. Now, just two years later, they sell out stadiums and have the pull to add turn-of-the-‘00s stars Nelly and the Backstreet Boys to the bill. They aren’t even drawing the pure scathing hatred from country critics they once did.

But … why? How? Is Florida Georgia Line ... good?

The answer to that is: Maybe? The duo's sold-out Target Field show Saturday made it pretty clear they know exactly who their audience is and how to make them happy: Give 'em a bunch of giant Bud Lights, light some fireworks, and sing about partying.

Chris Lane, a moderately popular country singer, opened, but the crowd was way more excited for Nelly, who memorably appeared on the remix of FLAGA’s first hit, “Cruise.” Nelly is incredibly charming, and the crowd sang along with every big hit in his 45-minute set, from “Ride Wit Me” to “Just a Dream,” along with his remix of country star Thomas Rhett’s “Die a Happy Man.”

The Backstreet Boys, a throwback act that FLAGA has credited as a major inspiration, took the stage next for an abbreviated 30-minute set of their classics. The guys aren’t nearly as lithe as they were in their prime, and young dancers do most of the heavy lifting, but they’re clearly OK with trotting out the old moves and the old songs to pay the bills. They even chair dance, just like way back when. Their Vegas show is probably a good time.

Then again, BSB wasn’t the headliner. That was Florida Georgia Line, which, when you think about it, is kind of crazy. When they debuted in 2012 with “Cruise,” they basically blew up the country genre. They teamed up with a Nickelback producer, blended their country, rap, and pop influences, sang about driving around, drinking Fireball, and kissing hot girls, and country radio changed forever. It’s still recovering.

The guys whipped through their back catalog in a buzzy, streamlined set. There were a few hiccups: Instead of focusing on the presence of the Backstreet Boys, who appear in their song “God, Your Mama, and Me,” they made us watch weird wedding videos and clips of their wives, an unwelcome departure from the whole “let’s get drunk and fool around in my truck” thing. If you’re paying Nick, AJ, and the Boys to show up on your song, maybe flash their faces once on the big screen for the cheap seats.

But there were also signs of maturity. “Dirt,” a slow, thoughtful song about putting down roots and knowing where you came from, has earned the pair some grudging critical compliments, and their duet with country hero Tim McGraw “May We All” is solid too.

Unfortunately, it seems like FLAGA has taken a huge step back with two as-yet-unreleased songs: “Swerve” and something called “Turnt,” about how that's what “we're about to get.” Between those songs and “Smooth,” it seems like FLAGA is trying to figure out if they’re going to go the legitimate country route or stick with the country-hip-hop-pop thing. Their audience seems fine with either decision.

FLAGA closed the show with their catchiest songs, “This is How We Roll” and “Get Your Shine On.” Then, to the delight of a (very) buzzed crowd, Nelly showed up during the encore for “Hot in Herre,” Backstreet Boys trotted out “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back),” and of course, we got the much-anticipated “Cruise” with Nelly.

Reader, I sang every word.

Critic's bias: I pretend I hate FLAGA but actually, I like about 60 percent of their songs a lot. There. That felt good to get off my chest.

Random notebook dump: The guys threw a meet and greet to celebrate their whiskey, Old Camp, that was packed with fans who probably paid a good chunk of change for the experience. Also, the FLAGA dudes have changed hair! Brian has long hair now – IN BRAIDS – and Tyler has short hair. I was really confused for a while.

The crowd: If you took a shot every time you saw a girl in cutoff shorts and plasticky cowboy boots, you’d be dead a minute into the crowd. Lots of young white dudes who are probably experimenting with libertarianism.

Overheard in the crowd: “Should I get a Nelly sweatshirt? I should get a Nelly sweatshirt.”