Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley 'Support Each Other on the Next Chapter' as Duo Celebrate Opening of FGL Museum Exhibit

Proud of their decade of accomplishments, Tyler Hubbard says, "We're in an interesting phase right now. We get a new perspective on life"

florida georgia line Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley. Photo: John Shearer/Getty Images

Florida Georgia Line's Tyler Hubbard did something on Sunday that he hasn't done in a long time: He listened to Here's to the Good Times, the album that started it all for him and bandmate Brian Kelley back in 2012.

Hubbard and his family cranked it up on their way to see a brand-new Nashville museum exhibit honoring FGL's career. It was his wife Hayley's idea to play the debut music, Hubbard said, "to just get us in the mood for this day."

So how did it sound?

"It sounded good," Hubbard told PEOPLE, "but it's also funny because I hadn't listened to that album in years, and a lot's changed even since then. I mean, that was 10 years ago. Sonically, production-wise, our voices — everything's changed so much."

A quick view of the new Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum exhibit offers even more ample evidence of that. Indeed, everything has changed over the past decade for these two men, Hubbard the Georgian and Kelley the Floridian, who started out, in 2009, as college buddies with a crazy Nashville dream.

The richly detailed exhibit celebrates the story of their meteoric rise, propelled by the irresistible force of their genre-shifting hit "Cruise." It was just the first of two songs that turned them into the only country act to ever earn two diamond awards (for 10 million sales and streams) for singles — and those two glistening trophies, the second with Bebe Rexha for "Meant to Be," are on display in the museum. So are the two Triple Play Awards, from 2014 and 2018, that the duo earned for achieving an astonishing three No. 1 songs in a 12-month period.

florida georgia line Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard. John Shearer/Getty Images

Over the years, as the exhibit shows, Hubbard, 35, and Kelley, 36, have kept evolving, as artists and as people — so much so that rumors have been swirling for more than a year of an FGL split, prompting the two to take to Twitter in early 2021 to try to tamp down the talk.

Still, it's been tempting to read the tea leaves: a brief, politically tinged kerfuffle on social media between the two men in 2020, a tour canceled in fall 2021 over COVID-19 that was never rescheduled. Now permanently relocated to his native state, Kelley has branched out into his own recording project, Sunshine State of Mind, and he's touring solo this spring; last year Hubbard released a single, "Undivided," with Tim McGraw. Both men also have been stretching far beyond their artist roles as label heads, song publishers, and business entrepreneurs.

But standing in front of their exhibit on Sunday, Hubbard and Kelley exclusively offered to PEOPLE new clarification about this unfolding career phase.

"I think 'taking a break' is the proper term, as opposed to breaking up," said Hubbard.

"We're not going our separate ways," Kelley said, adding more details. "We're taking a break from recording our music. We're being artists. We love creating. And so a couple years back, we started writing without each other and trying different writers, and now we're both doing that with our music."

Hubbard pointed out that the duo is still looking forward to a dozen upcoming festival dates. "We're sort of using these last 12 shows," he said, "as a time to celebrate FGL, celebrate the fans, celebrate each other, and then support each other on the next chapter of our musical and creative journey, which is gonna be individually for a while. So we're excited."

And both men obviously relished reviewing an exhibit that highlights everything they have already accomplished together.

"I'm blown away," Hubbard said after seeing the artifacts, including his first guitar, behind glass for the first time. "This is a really cool time capsule. It's our journey, our story. To think that this happened in a short span of time is really just mind-blowing."

Kelley added: "To be a part of it is just a huge honor and really humbling and inspiring and overwhelming." He pointed out, as an exhibit favorite, his well-worn Garth Brooks Takamine guitar that he used to co-write "Cruise."

florida georgia line Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
The FGL exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame. John Shearer/Getty Images

Earlier Sunday, Hubbard and Kelley reflected on both their past and their future in a wide-ranging public interview with the museum's executive senior editorial director Michael Gray in the CMA Theater.

The two artists reveled in trading stories about their lean years after they graduated from Nashville's Belmont University and decided to form a duo.

"There wasn't much of a Plan B," Hubbard told the sell-out audience, "and if there was a Plan B, we didn't know what it was yet. ... There were a few good years, really, of riding the ''struggle bus,' if you will."

"We were driving the struggle bus," Kelley corrected.

"Pulling a struggle trailer," Hubbard added with a laugh.

Kelley remembered surviving on Vienna sausages and just "trying to figure it out." Hubbard remembered surviving the summer of 2012 — while on the Country Throwdown Tour — with ample assistance from Adderall and baby wipes.

"Hey, you gotta shower somehow, right?" Kelley interjected, in case anyone missed what those baby wipes were for.

But that summer tour also proved fateful for the duo as "Cruise" was just hitting country radio.

"Every week we were playing, more and more people would show up for the early set for us," Kelley recalled, "and they were singing. And more and more people knew the other songs, too ... Dreams were coming true that summer, for sure."

The duo's unique blend of rock, hip-hop and country quickly drew in whole new audiences to the genre, and their feel-good anthems to the party life helped launch a wave of "bro-country" — a term that soon turned controversial in the profoundly male-dominated field.

Hubbard revealed the duo first heard the label only when reporters started asking them about it. "We're like, I don't even know what you're talking about," he said. "But sure, if they want to call this a new genre because of some crazy music we're putting out, then go for it."

He soon realized, however, that the term wasn't always a compliment. "But for us, we were just ... making music that was us and that we loved and that set us apart from what we were hearing or what was on the radio," Hubbard said, adding that he wished the term hadn't been so exclusionary to women artists.

Kelley pointed out that their song lyrics soon evolved far beyond bro-country themes: "I think we moved past that, you know, with songs like 'H.O.L.Y.' and 'Meant to Be' and 'Music Is Healing.' I mean, it's easy to pick out a couple singles and call them that. But if you look at the wholeness of our work, I think it's more than that."

florida georgia line Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard. John Shearer/Getty Images

Looking ahead, the two men both expressed their desire to continue to grow creatively, and Hubbard also alluded to their shifting priorities.

"We're in an interesting phase right now," Hubbard said. "I think we get a new perspective on life right now. We kind of had our blinders on for 10 years of just ... more songs, more hits, more shows. And now obviously due to the pandemic, we've sort of gotten to step back and have a different perspective and enjoy family time ... and thinking about our future outside of music, which has been great and really exciting. ... What I plan on channeling, and I think BK [Kelley] is on the same page, is the next decade really diving even deeper into our passion for the craft of songwriting ... I think we want to invest in younger artists, and we want to create a legacy that's beyond just making records and touring."

Later, in their PEOPLE interview, the two men affirmed that one thing won't change between them, no matter whether they are working together or apart in the future: They will always consider themselves brothers.

"When you live with somebody on the road and you go through everything, there's a connection," Kelley said. "You don't lose that. You have history. We've built something that's way bigger than us — because of our fans, because of our team. And it'll always be."

Hubbard added: "We've created so many memories and laughs and stories that I picture being 85, sitting on a porch with BK, telling stories to our kids. And I think, even through the next chapter of us doing solo things, that brotherhood remains ... I'm genuinely so excited for BK, and vice versa ... What we've built together allows us to have the foundation to do different things and to be able to create whatever we want to do. But that brotherhood — that'll always be there."

"Florida Georgia Line: Mix It Up Strong" runs through Jan. 1, 2023, at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville. FGL's public interview and three-song performance was filmed, and it will premiere on March 1 as part of the museum's Live at the Hall digital program series — available to stream on the museum's YouTube channel, Facebook page and website.

Updated by Nancy Kruh
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