Had it not been for recent events, "Old Town Road" by Lil Nas X would have completely slipped past my radar. Sure, I feel like I listen to a fair share of music throughout the day but it really takes a lot for me to switch over to new artists, especially upcoming ones, simply based on the break-neck pace that music is released nowadays. Thinking on it now, my change in heart should be a testament to how these past few days have changed the conversation on musical privilege, gatekeepers in media and the role of the Internet in music today.
I don't think it's a fair shot to say that "Old Town Road" has become the hottest song out right now, especially the remixed version. How we even got to this point is worth explaining in of itself. As I mentioned earlier, "Old Town Road" was a relatively popular song before the media attention. It charted in three different categories, one of which being Hot Country Songs. Billboard, however, took the song off the country charts and issued a statement to Rolling Stone and there's a specific part in it that I thought was particularly troubling.
[Old Town Road] does not embrace enough elements of today's country music to chart in its current version.
There's a lot wrong with that thought process. To start, you only have to have a basic understanding of music history to know that the foundations of a majority of the most popular music genres today were built on the backs of black and other minority artists. This video from AJ+ explains a lot of that history and why the foundations of country music are more diverse than many might have originally thought.
That being said, music genres have never historically remained stagnant. Pop nowadays sounds nothing like Pop did 10 years ago and the same goes for almost every genre. Music changes frequently as new artists arrive in the industry with their own backgrounds, tastes, and inspirations. Many country artists have taken elements from other genres, even rap, without much protest. The message that billboard is sending, whether intentional or not, is that it's acceptable for other genres to borrow elements from rap, just not the other way around.
But enter Billy Ray Cyrus, the unlikely hero to this whole story.
He was very vocal about both his support for Lil Nas X from the very beginning. Kids my age may not remember, but Billy Ray Cyrus was a huge country star in the 90s country star in the 90s with many of his country albums peaking within the top five of the charts. That public display of support was not only a display of good faith but it helped "Old Town Road" get the credibility that billboard was apparently looking for. Two days later, the two teamed up and released the "Old Town Road" remix which has taken the world by storm.
Hopefully, this debacle gives billboard, and music consumers as a whole, something to think about. Thankfully, the story of "Old Town Road" had a happy conclusion.