Artwork for Bailey Zimmerman's 2024 single, ‘Holy Smokes’
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‘Holy Smokes’ by Bailey Zimmerman - Lyrics & Meaning

February 23, 2024 4:36 pm GMT

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Bailey Zimmerman - 'Holy Smokes'

Label: Warner Music Nashville/Elektra

Release Date: February 23rd 2024

Album: TBC

Producer: Austin Shawn

Songwriters: Austin Shawn, Bailey Zimmerman, Ben Stennis, Michael Tyler & Lauren Hungate

The Background:

It's safe to say Bailey Zimmerman enjoyed a tremendously successful 2023, securing a six-week Billboard Country Airplay No. 1 with ‘Religiously’ - his third chart-topper so far - as well as earning the biggest country streaming debut in history.

Coming off such a momentous year, the expectations are now sky-high ahead of the Louisiana native's follow-up record. With the release of ‘Holy Smokes’ on February 23 2024, it seems Bailey Zimmerman is officially entering his next musical chapter.

After sharing a cryptic 15-second teaser on Spotify in January, Bailey Zimmerman teased a longer snippet of the stormy, atmospheric ballad on TikTok at the end of month.

Unsurprisingly, it wasn't long before fans began calling for Bailey Zimmerman to make the full version available to stream. The ‘Fall in Love’ singer-songwriter obliged a few weeks later, with the wistful track setting the tone ahead of Bailey's sophomore album.

The Sound:

Sonically, ‘Holy Smokes’ dips into the ambient, hazy palette that Bailey Zimmerman utilised so effectively throughout Religiously, particularly on songs such as ‘Warzone’, ‘Chase Her’ and ‘You Don't Want That Smoke’. Bailey's now-signature, reverb-drenched vibrato brings additional gravitas to the track, with the first verse featuring the lead vocals alongside nothing more than a reflective, deliberate piano.

Even throughout the first iteration of the emphatic hook, the composition is kept relatively sparse, with the echo of each note being given space to drift ethereally into the distance. Following this weighty, measured opening, Bailey extends ‘smokes’ into a trickle of syllables which are mirrored by the cascading keys. The way he draws out this final lyric accentuates the elation he conveys throughout the chorus.

After this point, Bailey ups the ante with the help of an energising drum pattern, with the second hook being given an injection of newfound intensity and lucidity.

The Meaning:

“Well I was only scared of the devil and her dad

So we’d park somewhere we knew they’d never look

No I never seen nothing like her

Playing with the flame on her momma’s lighter

No it wasn’t very long ‘fore I was hooked”

‘Holy Smokes’ cleverly pivots around the juxtaposition between forbidden love and spirituality, with Bailey Zimmerman regaling the listener with a tale of a passionate teenage romance.

Bailey transports you back to when he was 17 and looking to find a quiet spot to spend time with his girlfriend. In order to avoid ‘the devil and her dad’, they decide to go to the last place anyone would suspect anything untoward happening...

“Heaven was a preacher’s spot

In that First Church parking lot

Her hanging on to me

Like the cross on a rearview does”

In the opening lines of the hook, Bailey Zimmerman uses a plethora of spiritual imagery to describe the euphoria of the romance they enjoyed in the backseat of his car, while hiding away in the preacher's parking space. He wittily likens it to ‘Heaven’, before portraying his girlfriend as clinging to him in a similar way to how the preacher's cross dangles from the rearview mirror. As for the name of the Church, a number of US institutions have ‘First Church’ in their titles, because they were literally the first churches of that particular denomination to be set up in the region.

“Her eyes were blue

The words were red

On that half pack of cigarettes

At 17 that’s what hallelujah was”

Bailey Zimmerman employs a vivid contrast here between the alluring blue eyes of his girlfriend and the dangerous, warning red of the cigarette pack - most likely a nod to the famous Marlboro logo. Again, Bailey intertwines the couple's supposedly ‘sinful’ behaviour with religious language, describing those nights in the Chevy as ‘hallelujah’ moments. There's an underlying implication throughout ‘Holy Smokes’ that this relationship offered Bailey a form of salvation, which he likens to the spiritual redemption promised in Christianity.

“Life wasn’t heavy

In the back of that Chevy

Me, her, and the Holy Ghost

Something ‘bout us

Hell of a rush

Falling in love

Lighting up them holy smokes”

Contrary to the suggestions that the couple's actions were sinful or forbidden, Bailey Zimmerman depicts the scene as the Holy Spirit being in the car with them.

It goes back to the classic country theme of discovering one's faith and spirituality outside of the typical, orthodox religious setting of a Church - epitomised on Jordan Davis’ ‘Church in a Chevy’ and Brian Kelley's ‘Sunday Service in the Sand’.

Bailey Zimmerman's titular lyric serves as the satisfying punchline to ‘Holy Smokes’, with the phrase concealing a double-meaning. On the one hand, ‘Holy Smokes’ is used as an exclamation of surprise and jubilance - representing Bailey's delirious, joyful feeling of being in love. On the other, ‘Holy Smokes’ also contains a reference to the cigarettes in the story, which are often referred to as ‘smokes’. The description of these as ‘holy’ cuts to the heart of the song, which marries spiritual images with traditionally ‘impure’ actions - such as smoking.

“They’d run us off but we’d come running back

And we’d pick up where we left off the night before

She said how pissed off would your momma be?

If we walked in there and you married me?

Even if we never made it through them old wood doors”

He transitions from the idea of disapproving Church-goers ‘running them off’ and forcing them to leave their spot into the image of the couple ‘running back’ into each other's arms.

He captures the untethered bliss and almost fantastical nature of young love, as he recalls how they'd discussed the possibility of one day walking into that Church and getting married.

The implication throughout is that the couple are no longer together, as Bailey wistfully shares that, even though they didn't end up striding proudly through those wooden Church doors to tie the knot, he still cherishes the memories of their romance.

“Nothing ‘bout those nights felt like sinning

And Jesus forgives but I can’t forget when”

Again, Bailey Zimmerman drives home the notion that, although the smoking and the passion he experienced in the back of that Chevrolet could be perceived as ‘unholy’ or ‘forbidden’, it always felt right. Bailey's a devout Christian, and he devotes an entire segment of his live shows to highlighting his faith and how far it's brought him in life, so it's important to underline that no part of ‘Holy Smokes’ is intended to be sacrilegious or anything along those lines.

He concludes with a nod to the forgiveness Jesus offers, suggesting that, even if what the couple were doing all those years ago was wrong, he'll be pardoned. But even if he gains forgiveness, he'll never be able to forget the happy times he shared in that parking lot, referencing the widely known phrase, ‘forgive and forget’.

What has Bailey Zimmerman said about ‘Holy Smokes’?

Bailey Zimmerman hasn't spoken in too much depth about ‘Holy Smokes’ just yet, leaving the visceral lyrics to do the talking for him. However, while promoting the song on TikTok, he did emphasise how much he enjoys performing it, writing, “‘Holy Smokes’ is so fun to sing live”. In the lead-up to its release, Bailey stressed across socials how excited he was for the new track to be made available.

For the full lyrics to Bailey Zimmerman's ‘Holy Smokes’, see below:

Verse 1

Well I was only scared of the devil and her dad

So we’d park somewhere we knew they’d never look

No I never seen nothing like her

Playing with the flame on her momma’s lighter

No it wasn’t very long ‘fore I was hooked

Chorus

Heaven was a preacher’s spot

In that First Church parking lot

Her hanging on to me

Like the cross on a rearview does

Her eyes were blue

The words were red

On that half pack of cigarettes

At 17 that’s what hallelujah was

Life wasn’t heavy

In the back of that Chevy

Me, her, and the Holy Ghost

Something ‘bout us

Hell of a rush

Falling in love

Lighting up them holy smokes

Verse 2

They’d run us off but we’d come running back

And we’d pick up where we left off the night before

She said how pissed off would your momma be?

If we walked in there and you married me?

Even if we never made it through them old wood doors

Chorus

Heaven was a preacher’s spot

In that First Church parking lot

Her hanging on to me

Like the cross on a rearview does

Her eyes were blue

The words were red

On that half pack of cigarettes

At 17 that’s what hallelujah was

Life wasn’t heavy

In the back of that Chevy

Me, her, and the Holy Ghost

Something ‘bout us

Hell of a rush

Falling in love

Lighting up them holy smokes

Verse 3

Nothing ‘bout those nights felt like sinning

And Jesus forgives but I can’t forget when

Chorus

Heaven was a preacher’s spot

In that First Church parking lot

Her hanging on to me

Like the cross on a rearview does

Her eyes were blue

The words were red

On that half pack of cigarettes

At 17 that’s what hallelujah was

Life wasn’t heavy

In the back of that Chevy

Me, her, and the Holy Ghost

Something ‘bout us

Hell of a rush

Falling in love

Lighting up them holy smokes”

For more on Bailey Zimmerman, see below:

Written by Maxim Mower
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