It’s official: as of the end of July 2019, Lil Nas X’s wildly popular ‘’Old Town Road’’, along with its official remixes, has beaten Mariah Carey’s ’95 collab with Boyz II Men “One Sweet Day” and 2016’s severely overplayed “Despacito” by Daddy Yankee and Luis Fonsi as the longest-running #1 song in Billboard history: 17 weeks as the one song the entire country is replaying over and over again (a fact Mariah celebrated with a weird photoshop meme of her ‘passing the torch’ to Lil Nas X, it’s hilarious).
“You are a legend and an icon and i’m blessed to even have you acknowledging me right now! growing up to your music & now having you talk to me directly is unreal!” Lil Nas X responded, deftly sidestepping the strange AF image.
But it’s not just America’s national songstress (yeah Mariah is the best, I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise) –a version or another of “Old Town Road” has topped national charts around the world, from Australia and New Zealand, to Canada, France, Germany, and most of Northern and Western Europe. To say that it has taken the world by storm would be an understatement, considering that it’s stayed in those countries’ charts for just as long.
It’s always been a banger, a rare mix of country, rap, and trap that doesn’t sound contrived or corny. Strangely enough, it didn’t gain traction from any of the main radio stations or music streaming apps out there: it became a viral hit after it became the TikTok “Yeehaw Challenge”. From there, it reached no.83 of Billboard’s top 100, where it quickly climbed the ladder to no.1, where it has stayed since. It got so popular so fast, radio stations had to download bootleg versions of ‘Old town Road’ on YouTube. By March of 2019, Lil Nas X gained the attention of Columbia Records, who signed him after one meeting and is now distributing the single around the world.
With no signs of slowing down, we’re hoping to see a Mariah × Lil Nas X remix. For now, though, here are some awesome things about ‘Old Town Road’ that you should know about:
Lil Nas X Requested for Billy Ray Cyrus Specifically for the Remix
Lil Nas X has always been a Billy Ray Cyrus fan, so it was no surprise that a day after the release of the original version of “Old Town Road”, Lil Nas X tweeted that he would love it if Billy Ray could come on down and do a collab with him. A few months later, Ron Perry, Columbia Records executive, called up Tish Cyrus, Billy Ray’s wife, and asked her to give “Old Town Road” a listen. Billy Ray loved the song, and the rest, as they say, is history.
For Billy Ray, there was plenty to love about “Old Town Road”: he mentioned that the song reminded him of Old Town Bridge in Argillite, Kentucky, a spot that Billy Ray frequently played on as a child. In fact, when Billboard decided to remove “Old Town Road” (something we’ll talk about later), Billy Ray Cyrus was one of Lil Nas X’s most ardent advocates, while also commenting that the song’s removal just elevated Lil Nas X to the likes of other great outlaws like, well, Billy Ray Cyrus himself.
In fact, Billy Ray and Lil Nas X actually share a lot in common: they were both looked down upon by country music purists with their debut singles, and they both tried to fuse their unique style with country standards and other musical influences (much to the chagrin of some critics). Both artists now have high-ranking Billboard songs, with Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” in 2019 and Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart” in 1992.
Real recognizes real, after all.
‘Old town Road’s Video is Hilarious
The song itself is both homage and parody of country music, and the music video reflects this accurately: the video starts with Cyrus and Nas as outlaw cowboys in 1889, being chased by a posse of black cowpokes, led by none other than Chris Rock himself (his ‘buggity buggity’ got me lolling so hard).
But the entire video, funny as it is, was also symbolic of Lil Nas X’s struggle for acceptance, both from his audience and from critics, who were equally wary of this young upstart the moment he started receiving pop media clout. The video featured many of his collaborators, from YoungKio, Haha Davis, and Rico Nasty, to Diplo, Vince Staples, and Jozzy, all of whom either contributed to the original version or created an official remix. Each of the collaborators played a hilarious role (with Diplo and his washboard being a personal favorite of mine).
The video is a little non sequitur, a little weird, with a whole lot of silly fun and subtle social critique, much like the song itself.
Billboard Took ‘Old Town Road’ Down From its Hot Country Chart
Aside from staying no.1 for a record-breaking 16 weeks, “Old Town Road” and its remixes also achieved something that was very rare in Billboard history by ranking in three different charts in March of 2019: Hot 100, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, and Hot Country Songs.
However, Billboard then made the very controversial decision of suddenly but subtly removing “Old Town Road” and its remixes out of the Hot Country charts, arguing that the song did “not embrace enough elements of today’s country music”. This was met with severe criticism from various artists because, had it not been removed, “Old Town Road” would have been the no.1 song on the Hot Country Songs for April 6, 2019. When asked about it, Lil Nas X reportedly said he felt “extremely disappointed” by the removal, following up by saying “The song is country trap. It’s not one, it’s not the other. It’s both. It should be on both [charts].”
“Old Town Road’’s removal from the Hot Country Charts was called out by Rolling Stone writer Elias Leight, who called the move racist and called into question the evaluation process of country songs written by non-white artists. Although Billboard claims that Lil Nas X’s race was no factor to the decision making process of removing “Old Town Road” from the Hot Country Songs charts, other critics also pointed out that, despite the appearance of black country artists like Darius Rucker or Kane Brown, country music was always going to be favorable to, and defer to, white artists. When asked whether he believes that the removal was racially motivated, Lil Nas X said, “I believe whenever you’re trying something new, it’s always going to get some kind of bad reception.” Classy AF, IMHO!
The Beat for ‘Old Town Road’ Sampled Nine Inch Nails’ ‘34 Ghosts IV’ and Cost $30
While writing “Old Town Road”, Lil Nas X went online to shop for a beat. He stumbled on a track by a Dutch producer named YoungKio and anonymously purchased it for $30. However, Lil Nas X didn’t hesitate to credit the young musician, with YoungKio finding out about his beat’s success through an Instagram meme.
Despite being a little bit country, a little bit trap, and a little bit hip-hop, the track is also a little bit rock n’ roll: YoungKio had sampled Nine Inch Nails’ track “34 Ghosts IV” from their album “Ghosts I-IV”. Trent Reznor, along with fellow composer Atticus Ross, are also credited as sample producers on the “Old Town Road” track.
Lil Nas X Came Out of the Closet While the Song was #1
On the last day of 2019’s Pride Month, Lil Nas X came out of the closet and declared to the world that he was gay through a tweet, saying: “some of y’all already know, some of y’all don’t care, some of y’all not gone fwm no more. but before this month ends i want y’all to listen closely to c7osure.”
Although many fans understood this to be a clear sign of his sexuality (the song is all about accepting yourself, growing up, and admitting to things, after all), some fans still kept themselves in the dark. The next day, Lil Nas X tweeted again, this time taking the opportunity to highlight the rainbow-colored buildings on the album cover, captioning: “deadass thought i made it obvious”.
To cast all doubt aside, he explicitly stated that he was gay on an interview with BBC Breakfast. He also took it as an opportunity to critique the country and rap communities for their non-acceptance of gay artists. Despite being out, his song is still no.1 in the charts, the only LGBTQI+ artist to ever do so.