Billboard rejects “Old Town Road,” igniting genre controversy

Graphic by Kinsey Ratzman ’21

Graphic by Kinsey Ratzman ’21


20-year-old Montero Lamar Hill, better known by his stage name, Lil Nas X, has had an eventful few months. It all started with the release of his nowfamous single, “Old Town Road,” in early December. The song was released during the rise of what many call the “Yeehaw Agenda,” a meme that blends cowboy aesthetics with mainstream humor, and bends genres to create what Hill himself calls “country trap.” Aside from its trap beat, the song wholeheartedly embraces country; the lyrics reference genre staples such as riding horses and tractors, cowboy boots, hats and rural America. An immediate hit, the song quickly began to climb to the top of Billboard’s country chart. Then came the decision that sparked weeks of internet controversy: Billboard removed the song from country charts, issuing a statement saying “Old Town Road” did not “embrace enough elements of today’s country music to chart in its current version.”

The resulting backlash was immediate; fans of the song took to social media, criticizing Billboard for their choice and justification. “Billboard highkey racist for taking Old Town Road off the country charts but are we surprised,” responded critical Twitter user @ernestbaker. “Not trying to be that guy @billboard but you guys allowed Taylor Swift to cross genre chart with ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ even at Rhythmic Radio. So @LilNasX should be able to with ‘Old Town Road’ periodt [sic]” tweeted @RHYANBESCO. Some agreed with Billboard’s decision, but the general consensus seemed to be that the decision didn’t line up with their usual genre standards.

The controversy caught the attention of country legend Billy Ray Cyrus, who listened to the song, liked it and disagreed with Billboard’s decision. “It was so obvious to me after hearing the song just one time. I was thinking, what’s not country about it? What’s the rudimentary element of a country and western song?” he tweeted. “Then I thought, it’s honest, humble, and has an infectious hook, and a banjo. What the hell more do ya need?” He didn’t, however, leave it at just tweets. After speaking with Lil Nas X, the two created a remix that combined the original song with some of Billy Ray Cyrus’s more “traditional” country sound, resulting in a catchier product that even the most staunch genre purist would have to call country.

The remix was a hit that took the internet by storm. Artists and listeners alike praised “Old Town Road Remix” on social media, and encouraged followers to stream it. On April 9, Hill’s 20th birthday, the song reached number one on Billboard’s “Hot 100” chart. “As someone who is so prevalent and wellknown in the country industry, Billy Ray Cyrus’s decision to collab with Lil Nas X was a true gesture of allyship,” said Emilie Lang ’21. “As a white man he recognized his privilege and did what he had to do.” If anything, the Billboard controversy only seemed to make the song even more popular. “At first I was listening just to spite Billboard, but then I realized it slapped,” said Tumi Moloto ’20. Controversy aside, the song has raised questions about music genres and how they’re defined — and hopefully brought us closer to the answers.