Billboard sparked controversy when it struck Lil Nas X‘s song “Old Town Road” from its country charts, but the 20-year-old hip-hop breakout from Georgia got his revenge when the song skyrocketed all the way to number-one on the Hot 100 singles chart, which tracks music from all genres.
Lil Nas X debuted on the Hot 100, Hot Country Songs and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs charts in March, but Billboard subsequently knocked it off of the country chart, commenting that “while ‘Old Town Road’ incorporates references to country and cowboy imagery, it does not embrace enough elements of today’s country music to chart in its current version.”
That sparked a conversation about who gets to decide what qualifies as country music and how issues of race are inextricably tangled up in those decisions. After all, artists like Florida Georgia Line, Taylor Swift, Sam Hunt and more have been welcomed into the country music space even when they have mixed genre influences like pop and hip-hop. Jason Aldean just rapped at the ACM Awards, where he was named the Artist of the Decade.
Despite Billboard’s objection to the song’s initial genre classification, “Old Town Road” jumped from number-15 to the top spot on the Hot 100, unseating Ariana Grande‘s “7 Rings” after it spent eight nonconsecutive weeks at number-one. And it could even improve on its chart performance thanks to a newly recorded version of the song with Billy Ray Cyrus, who defended Lil Nas X when Billboard decided he wasn’t country enough for Hot Country Songs. Like it or not, the old town just got some new blood.
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