Every year various award ceremonies praise innovators in film, television and music. Crazy Rich Asians was the first big Hollywood film to feature an all Asian cast in 25 years. You probably will not see a white lead in any of Jordan Peele’s upcoming films because while it is “not like [he doesn’t] like white dudes, but [he’s] seen that movie.” The film industry is evolving, and thank god for that. Why should music be any different? Music is evolving, specifically country music. Lil Nas X’s Old Town Road has made waves in the music community, tying trap with country, he has integrated a new community into the country genre. People who did not listen to country music before are now embracing “yeehaw” culture shamelessly.
Despite the single’s debut on three Billboard charts (Top 100, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and Hot Country Songs) and its current ranking at No. 15 on Billboard’s Top 100 (as of April 6th), Billboard made the controversial decision to remove the song from its Hot Country Songs chart. The publication released a statement deeming the song “does not embrace enough elements of today’s country music to chart in its current version.” Given the song is about the modern cowboy, incorporates banjo strings, and has a catchy chorus about horses, the backlash following this decision was not at all surprising but extremely justified.
It is also worth noting that Billboard’s current top 50 tracks on the Hot Country Songs chart are all white. This is off-putting simply for its lack of diversity and inclusion especially because much of modern country music rests on the backbone of African-American influence.
Despite Billboard’s decisive judgement, if it were not for this decision, we may never have witnessed the epic dynamic between Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus.
The remix dropped on April 7 and already has over 12.5 million views on YouTube and is #1 on trending. As of April 7th, Old Town Road has also made its way to the top of the streaming charts. Cyrus explained his thoughts on the song, tweeting:
“It was so obvious to me after hearing the song just one time. I was thinking, what’s not country about it? What’s the rudimentary element of a country and western song? Then I thought, it’s honest, humble, and has an infectious hook, and a banjo. What the hell more do ya need?”Via Twitter
Now joined by a country music icon, one might think that would be enough to get the song back on the Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. Billboard has stated that they “[welcome] the excitement created by genre-blending tracks such as Lil Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road’ and will continue to monitor how it is marketed and how fans respond.” Hopefully, Billboard will revisit their decision and give the song the acclaim it deserves. However, its statement about “genre-blending tracks” is a bit unsettling/off-putting because so far, it seems as though that is the opposite of what they, among others, are doing. The scramble to define the song and confine it to one genre has been unsuccessful so far, sparking unnecessary debate. The song incorporates elements from various genres of music, and if anything, that should be praised and not act as a reason for exclusion. Our need to categorize should be replaced by an embrace for diversity and innovation on the musical landscape.
Above all, Lil Nas X is receiving well-deserved attention, and after dropping out of college, his rise to fame is impressive.