By Erin Caine
20-year-old Lil Nas X has been making waves lately in a music genre that, for a while now, has been relatively wave-less.
The Atlanta-born singer put out country rap single “Old Town Road” last year in December and it wasn’t long, thanks in part to the social media platform TikTok, before the song reached viral status.
The song peaked at number one on Billboard’s Hot 100 list, and reached number 19 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs list until it was controversially removed from the running.
According to Chart Data, “Old Town Road” would have eventually hit the number one spot on the Hot Country Songs chart had it not been disqualified.
Billboard’s reasoning? In a statement to Rolling Stone, they said, “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.”
Many take issue with what seems very much to be a classic case of gate-keeping in the industry. Those “elements,” after all, seem to favor established modern country acts and discourage experimentation.
The Guardian’s Hubert Adjei-Kontoh pointed out that “other black artists who have written country-inspired songs have struggled to be recognized. When Beyoncé submitted ‘Daddy Lessons’ to the Grammy Country Committee for consideration, she was rejected.”
Perhaps most baffling about Billboard’s decision is the assumption that a music genre has a set of sacred, non-transgressable “elements” which distinguish it, or that songs can’t encompass more than one genre.
It’s the songs that defy the rules, after all, that seem to most grab our attention.
A 2015 study by Ypulse found that millennials are a “genre-less generation,” with more eclectic taste than past generations.
Other country stars, such as Billy Ray Cyrus and Florida Georgia Line, have come forward in support of Lil Nas X.
Cyrus tweeted to the rapper in early April that the song getting removed from the chart “means you’re doing something great. Only Outlaws are outlawed. Welcome to the club!”
The two recorded a remix of “Old Town Road,” which was released April 5.
In an interview with Time, Lil Nas X said, “The song is country trap. It’s not one, it’s not the other. It’s both. It should be on both.”
He added, “I believe whenever you’re trying something new, it’s always going to get some kind of bad reception.”
Fans and music-lovers, at least, know that sometimes the industry is in dire need of some “outlaw” behavior.