Lil Nas X’s Country Single Pulled From Billboard, Musical Genres Hurt Musicians


Lil Nas X’s single “Old Town Road” stirred controversy when it was pulled from Billboard’s Hot Country Songs list March 21. He has since collaborated with Billy Ray Cyrus on a remix of the song, which was released April 5.

By Peter Zemeske

Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” the latest viral hit, has made waves  in the music industry with its goofy imagery and subsequent remix featuring 1990s country music icon Billy Ray Cyrus.

The track was released in December 2018 on the rapper’s SoundCloud and YouTube accounts. While silly at its core, the song prompted a conversation on genre and how strict categories can be more harmful than helpful.

“Old Town Road” became an internet sensation thanks to the track’s country references and catchy hooks.

Lil Nas X added to the playful nature of the track by providing visuals to the song on YouTube from the Western-themed video game, “Red Dead Redemption.”

“Old Town Road” sparked a more serious conversation when Billboard removed it from its Hot Country Songs chart March 21.

Billboard claimed the track’s inclusion on the list was a mistake, adding that the song “does not embrace enough elements of today’s country music to chart in its current version,” according to a statement by Billboard.

In a statement sent to Genius, a song lyric database, Billboard added that taking “‘Old Town Road’ off the Country Chart had absolutely nothing to do with the race of the artist.”

The removal of “Old Town Road” from Hot Country Songs has less to do with race and more with the genre of the song.

Genre is a way for music listeners to categorize music by similarities between songs. Within genres are subgenres, which are more narrowly defined niches of a genre.

While using genre as a means of describing music and finding new music is great, it shouldn’t be used as such a rigid grid to say what music is or isn’t.

When people think of a certain genre, there are classic examples that come to mind, but not all music fits neatly into clear labels.

Music is crafted from influences of all kinds. Some of the most successful artists of all time combine genres people don’t normally associate together. Rage Against the Machine combined rap and metal to create high-energy blistering rock that earned it a nomination for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Such have other artists pulled elements from different genres and created something fresh.

“Old Town Road” may not be a song people think of first when they think of country, but its instrumentals, progression and lyrics make it a pretty even blend of rap and country.

With such heavy country tone, the track’s removal from the Hot Country Songs chart is unnecessary. While genres do have certain defined characteristics, there is no master rulebook saying what is or isn’t allowed in a genre.