Quick question. Have you been to Old Town Road? Have you ridden till you can't no more? Well, get ready because until further notice we are all headed to Old Town Road, atop a horse, wearing Wrangler's on our booty.
If you're on the Internet, or pay attention to viral songs, then you already know that "Old Town Road," by 19-year-old rapper Lil Nas X (real name Montero Lamar Hill) is everywhere. And if you don't know that I am talking about, then allow me to explain how a meme-able song became the catalyst for a wider conversation about what it means to be "country."
It all started when the fairly unknown rapper first released "Old Town Road" on SoundCloud, as one does. At first, Lil Nas X tried to promote the song as a meme as much as possible, which basically means he knew that his song should (and would) eventually go viral for its brevity and catchy lyrics. His wish finally came true after it took over TikTok as part of a #Yeehaw challenge. (If you don't know what that is, it just means a lot of Gen Z-ers became obsessed with the song and danced like this to it). Coming in at only 1 minute and 53 seconds, the short single was an addictive slice of a different kind of country.
After it went viral, the track was released as a single by Columbia Records in December 2018. It trotted to the top of the charts, both Country and Hip-Hop, until Billboard said that it was not eligible to be on the country charts. Many felt that Billboard's decision was unfair, and highlighted and larger (and well-known) race issue within country music. The song is a country bop — why deny it the privilege of becoming the anthem for the Yeehaw Agenda?
Rolling Stone looked into the matter, and found that many industry insiders were split on the subject. Some felt X was clever to enter the charts as a "country" artist, where it's less competitive to stand-out as a new artist with his sound, than say, as an up-and-coming rapper. Others said that his exclusion was reminiscent of Beyoncé's "Daddy Lessons," which was reportedly not permitted to be considered for country awards by the Grammys.
But one man saw the country heart in the track. When word got out that Billboard had yanked the masterpiece from its charts, legend Billy Ray Cyrus entered the ring to collaborate with X.
The two remixed "Old Town Road," and added a Billie Ray intro and outro, where he raps about diamonds and Maseratis. It's a wonderful mesh of country, rap, and trap, and it all came together really quickly. The 57-year-old first teased the collab on his Instagram on 27th March writing, "Don't try and think inside the box. Don't think outside the box. Think like there is no box." (This post came two days after Justin Bieber endorsed the song, writing on Instagram stories that "this shit bangs.")
“I loved the song the first time I heard it. Country music fans decide what they like. Not critics or anyone else," Cyrus says in a press release for the remix, according to Taste of Country. "Waylon Jennings once told me every once in a while the industry outlaws someone because they’re different. Country music fans don’t need to be defined by critics. I’ve always said, don’t think inside the box, don’t think outside the box. Think like there is no box. So, I’m honoured to collaborate with Lil Nas X on 'Old Town Road.'" All that's left is to see if the remixed version is added back to the country charts.
Lil Nas X honoured Billy Ray Cyrus by adding him in the original visuals for the single. Where there once was a lone black horse, there's now a tan friend.
Immediately after the remix was released, and I mean, immediately, the song went viral all over again, leaving X speechless, and leaving the Internet with endless opportunities to meme the song, which is all he ever really wanted. :')
In a year where country has been pushed and pulled in different amazing directions, this is only the latest unexpected moment from genre. Kacey Musgraves, an acid-dropping rebel in the world of country, won the Grammy for Album of the Year for Golden Hours, and Solange's When I Get Home was a beautiful and delicate homage to Black cowboys and country life. The Yeehaw Agenda is strong, and only getting stronger.
Now that we have an actually good hip-hop-country crossover, can we please bury Nelly and Tim McGraw's "Over And Over" forever. It does not slap.