A huge debate about what country sounds like has erupted after 19-year-old Lil Nas X’s song Old Town Road was removed from Billboard’s Hot Country Songs. Billboard said that the song ‘wasn’t country enough’ and that’s why they’d scrapped it, but many disagree with their ruling. What makes the song’s removal all the more upsetting for Lil Nas X and his fans is that had it stayed on the charts, it looked like it was headed for a number one spot.
Lil Nas X is a black musician from Atlanta and his song featured a lightly plucked banjo, programmed drums, an element of hip hop, and, in true country style, pastoral lyrics that tell a very clear story. The track was released by Columbia who had described it as a ‘country inspired rap track’, it is classified as country by Soundcloud, and has made it to the top of the Apple Music country chart. Many would say that this song not being country enough would be like saying online pokies NZ games are not really casino games at all!
Billboard initially agreed with Apple and Soundcloud and added the song to its Hot Country Songs chart, but a week later they backtracked and removed it, saying that although it incorporate elements and references to country and cowboys, it didn’t embrace “enough elements’ of today’s country music.
The problem is, today’s country music is blurring the lines in many ways, and a whole new generation of artist is emerging. The elements that actually make up country music are being hotly debated, and with the Hot Country Songs chart having listed songs like Kelsea Ballerini’s Miss Me More, which features a pop beat and heavily sampled guitar and Florida Georgia Line and Bebe Rexha’s Meant to Be that has sing song style rapping, pop production and repeating beats. Neither of these tracks sounds more or less country than Old Town Road, and some may argue they sound even less so.
Adding to the controversy is the fact that some people believe that removing the song was racially influenced and that country music execs believe there is no room in the industry for black stars. Fuelling the fire was Shane Morris; a former country music label exec that said that the reason Lil Nas X’s track was booted was because the mainstream country music scene was filled with bigotry and racism.
Previously, other black artists have faced opposition when trying to enter the market, and even Beyoncé was rejected when she submitted her song Daddy Lessons to the Grammy Country Committee for consideration for an award.
When asked about how he felt about his song having been removed from the chart, Lil Nas X said that his song had a right to be there and that it was country trap, through and through. He was also asked about whether he thought the removal had a racial undertone and he answered somewhat diplomatically, saying that when you try something new, there is always going to be backlash and resistance to it, and he thinks that’s exactly what happened here.