For many in the music industry, what’s unfamiliar is often uncomfortable.
When Lil Nas X — a 20-year-old high school drop-out from Atlanta, Georgia — made his public debut with the release of “Old Town Road” on Dec. 3, it quickly rose to the top of the country charts. Soon after, it was pulled for not embracing enough elements of today’s country music, according to a statement from Billboard to Rolling Stone.
The “trap-country” hit quickly gained traction on social media as memes and parodies sprouted up on platforms like Twitter, Instagram and the short-video media app TikTok. It’s an amalgamation of contemporary trap music that appeals to avid listeners of both seemingly incongruent genres.
“Old Town Road” fuses a hip-hop beat with western lyrics in a play off Red Dead Redemption 2 — a popular action-adventure video game where characters roam the Wild West as cowboys. A music video of Lil Nas X’s unexpected hit was launched Dec. 2 and played over scenes of outlaws riding horses, stirring up trouble in small towns and getting into gunfights.
Recently, renowned country singer Billy Ray Cyrus joined Lil Nas X in a remix that’s currently the No. 1 song in the nation on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart. Whatever the “Old Town Road Remix” is or isn’t, the song is certainly popular with younger generations.
In recent years, country music has seen the emergence of “bro country” and “country rap” thanks to artists like Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line and rappers like Young Thug. With strict genre lines blurring, several people raised questions as to why “Old Town Road” was originally excluded from the country charts.
"I started to think about it, I was like, you know, why?” Lil Nas X said on Genius. “After like listening to other songs that's actually on that chart, it's like, wait a minute, something's not right, basically."
The ascendant artist said getting kicked out of his house after flunking out of school inspired the rebellious, self-sufficient theme of the song. Lil Nas X belts lyrics like “Can't nobody tell me nothin' / You can't tell me nothin’” and says the road described in the song is “where [he’s] at right now.”
In the song he says, “I'm gonna ride 'til I can't no more,” and with just two songs to his name, it’s fair to wonder how much longer that’ll be. If Lil Nas X is to be more than a one-hit wonder — two hits counting the remix — he’ll need to muster more novel tracks that create pop-culture waves or continue to go against the grain by carving out a “trap country” niche.
Whether or not Lil Nas X and the “Old Country Road Remix” stick around long-term, an underlying truth has been revealed — in the 2020s, music genre lines will continue to soften. It’s possible this song will be chewed up and spit out as the social media buzz dies down and the cowboy-hat emoji recedes from the “recent emoji” spot on millenials’ keyboards.
However, there’s an outside chance that by the time Lil Nas X hangs up his hat, he’ll be remembered as a trap-country pioneer and an artist who defied the odds by first challenging Billboard and its cookie-cutter conceptions of country.
Contact James Faris at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.