Because of technology, we live in an age where, if you’re an artist, you can’t just be talented or hard-working. You also have to know how to work the system. A rapper from Atlanta, 20 year old Lil Nas X, did all of the above, and now he’s the topic of many a conversation in the music industry. How did a rapper get a song to the top of country Billboard before it was removed from country? Was this racist?
For starters, the kid is a genius. And the wails about his song being worthy of what is now viewed as country are laughable.
Lil Nas X (born Montero Lamar Hill) first established a presence on Twitter. He swam the cesspool effectively enough to build a very large follower base. He then began to make music and upload it. Early this year, he came up with the song “Old Town Road” and people participating in a TikTok meme—the “Yeehaw Challenge”—spread the word. The song climbed to the top of the chart in several genres, among them country.
Billboard removed the song from the top of the country chart, and across the land, people began to weigh in on the issue of what I call “country-worthiness.” Since that time, Twitter suspended Lil Nas X’s account and pundits in music continued to debate.
Saving Country Music has a long essay on the Lil Nas X controversy, alleging with substantial evidence the misquotes, outright lies, and slurs towards “Red State Country Fans”. One troll on Twitter whose name I will not help publicize appeared to be trying to capitalize on the controversy purely for attention and perhaps to beef up his own follower numbers.
Many in pop culture media came forth to hurl accusations of racism at those questioning whether the song was country.
SCM is one of the few outlets to point out a key aspect of Lil Nas X’s success with that song:
“As Lil Nas X’s own manager Danny Kang has admitted, Lil Nas X chose country as the genre for “Old Town Road” in metadata listings to game the system, and receive more traction since the song would chart better in country where there was less competition. Danny Kang told Rolling Stone, “There’s a way to manipulate the algorithm to push your track to the top. That’s favorable versus trying to go to the rap format to compete with the most popular songs in the world.”
What’s a country fan to do?
For starters, chill.
I spent some time this weekend suffering, and I do mean suffering, through a number of top “country” hits on a popular cable channel. If anyone has the right to call herself country, I do. I grew up in it, lived it, and breathed it. I won’t bore you with my bio, but country and gospel are provably in my DNA. The vast majority of those TV channel “country” songs I endured are not by a long shot country. They’re pop. Do I care? Not really. No one forces you to listen to music, people.
Did Lil Nas X game the system? Yep. Here’s the thing. He did it legally. And by using tools and resources available, a little known Atlanta rapper who is only 20 years old ended up with the luxury of being the prize in a bidding war for his music. His rise was not facilitated by a major label or patrons with deep pockets. Yes, this kid is a genius. Did I mention he just broke Drake’s streaming record?
As for the song, “Old Town Road,” I love it. I like the lyrics—“a cowboy hat from Gucci”—I like the voices and above all, I like the beat. Billy Ray Cyrus, whose long-ago hit I will not name because just hearing the title affects me like chalk on a board, does a nice solo in a later version of the song.
Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” is every bit as country as most of the songs on that allegedly country channel I listened to this past weekend. And it’s a better song artistically than most of them too.
Music is never static. I tell Rebecca and Jennifer constantly that music is like a carousel. Some get on, others get off, and it just keeps going round and round waiting for new riders to board.
You can scream “cultural appropriation” all you want to. This is America. You can do whatever you want in the realm of art as long as it’s legal, and your complexion, ethnicity, gender, or faith don’t matter at all. Charts mean very little to most of us who love music.
It’s the song that counts. Always.
Media fanned the controversy, and it doesn’t surprise me that much of what was printed was untrue. I doubt it surprised many of the media scribes who wrote those false claims either. Few media outlets know the difference between fiction and nonfiction these days.
[Featured photo of Lil Nas X from his profile pic on Facebook; @LilNasX]
(Kay B. Day/April 17, 2019)