The curious case of Lil Nas X and ‘Old Town Road’

By now you’ve probably heard Lil Nas X’s debut song “Old Town Road” a few times. Hell, you may even know every word or even be listening to it right now. It’s undoubtedly a great song by an artist who has been able to capture everyone’s attention straight from the start.

Push play! You know you want to.

He’s also become a heavyweight on the charts as well. As of this week, the Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus collab “Old Town Road” is once again the top song on the Billboard Hot 100. The streak is now at eight weeks.

The problem with “Old Town Road” isn’t the song. It’s how the song is perceived within the music industry, specifically by country purists and even Billboard itself.

In a piece for Vulture, Craig Jones notes how black artists aren’t given the same benefit of the doubt to succeed like what artists are. One of his many examples in the essay is about how Elvis could be found on both R&B and country charts in the ’50s, but Ray Charles covering Don Gibson’s country hit “I Can’t Stop Loving You” wasn’t able to crack the country charts at all. Similarly, Nelly & Tim McGraw’s actual country song “Over and Over Again” never made country charts, yet Eminem showed up on “alternative songs” charts (for some of his biggest hits) multiple times during the time.

Later in the article, Jones discusses how artists, such as Taylor Swift and Thomas Rhett, who got their starts on country charts are still able to have their records qualify for placement on charts within their original genre despite teh songs themselves not being truly country. Meanwhile, black artists have to compete with one another for placements on charts where only black artists can be found. They don’t get the same benefit of the doubt that their artistitc comtemporaries do. Beyonce is no exception either.

Despite what charts say—it’s a sdifferent industry nowadays—one thing is ofr certain: “Old Town Road” is a smash hit thtat has transcended music and become a pop culture phenomenal.