‘Old Town Road’ sparks controversy over genre

Rosa Esposito, Staff Writer

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Everyone has a favorite music genre, so sometimes it’s hard for people to accept new music that pushes boundaries by mixing genres. Most recently, fans of rap music and of country music have had a difficult time understanding just where Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” lies when it comes to its genre.

On April 8, previously unknown 20-year-old rapper Lil Nas X’s song “Old Town Road” became the number one song in country music. The song originally gained popularity on the TikTok app, and it has subsequently become a social media phenomenon. The song quickly turned into a viral meme and eventually worked its way on to the charts.

“Old Town Road”is a mix between country and rap and is bridging the gap between musical genres. While some country artists and executives were excited about the crossover tune, others were confused as to why the trap hit was on the Country Airplay chart at all.

Billboard then decided to remove the song from the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, because it “does not embrace enough elements of today’s country music.” This led to controversy regarding what qualifies a song as country versus rap and vice versa.

The resistance to the song resulted in the release of a remix featuring Country music star and multi-platinum selling recording artist Billy Ray Cyrus, which as of the release of this issue, has 43 million views on YouTube. This version of the song has gained airtime on country radio stations which landed it on the Billboard Country Airplay chart. It is still difficult to tell if this clear sign of approval from Country legend Billy Ray Cyrus is enough for Lil Nas X’s blending of genres to be embraced by the mainstream.

“The way he was able to combine country and rap isn’t something you see like at all, I think,” sophomore Kathy Nguyen said. “It’s kind of a combination you never thought would go well with one another but ends up being amazing. I think Billboard only accepted it because other celebrities and fans came at them for not accepting it.”

As the song begins, it could be interpreted as any other country song; it’s a lament delivered to us with an exaggerated southern accent and a ukulele. The content of the song itself and its subject matter is classically country; the references to horses, tractors, cowboy hats and bull-riding feel no different from something many other country songs entail. The rap style along with mentions of extravagant things, like Gucci and Porsches, by both Lil Nas X and Cyrus, provide the trap music element.

“It’s great to see a young black artist breaking the mold as to what’s expected in the country genre and bringing a mesh of urban/country so that people outside of the country genre can listen and admire as well,” junior Natalie Fernandez said.

This isn’t the first country-rap crossover by any means. Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” featuring Nelly is a very popular crossover hit. In the late 90s, Will Smith’s “Wild Wild West” pushed the genre boundaries as well. Pop artists Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus are probably best known for their tendencies to dabble in the country genre but still switch back to pop.  Thus, the initial resistance to the trap country song could be considered unwarranted given the history of crossover hits.

“Old Town Road” is the shortest song to be the Billboard Hot 100 number one since 1965, as the entire track is under two minutes. On social media the song has been embraced, so it’s just a matter of seeing how the industry will react to Lil Nas X’s attempt at changing the game.