Lil Nas X, The Media Echo Chamber, & Shane Morris’s Vile Past
On March 11th, when Billboard released its Hot Country Songs chart with Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” placed at #19, the press paid no attention to the event aside from a quick blurb in the trade periodical Music Row Magazine. There were no think pieces published about the significance of the moment, no celebrations about the breaking down of racial barriers in country’s traditionally white environment. In fact the placement went curiously unnoticed and unaddressed aside from country music chart nerds on social media, and perhaps industry professionals who keep tabs on such things.
When the next chart was published on March 18th and “Old Town Road” had been removed, similarly no press reaction or even acknowledgement accompanied the decision since nobody had been paying attention that “Old Town Road” was on the country chart in the first place. The first member of the press to address the issue was Grady Smith two days after the move by Billboard to remove the song, and then Saving Country Music addressed the issue three days after that, on March 23rd. At this point, it was five days past when Billboard had decided to take “Old Town Road” off the chart, and there were no accusations of racism, no involved think pieces about the move, and no wringing of hands about what this said about race in music and America. It went mostly ignored as an anomaly on the charts that was eventually corrected.
It wasn’t until Rolling Stone published an article called Lil Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road’ Was a Country Hit. Then Country Changed Its Mind on March 26th—a full nine days after the removal of the song before anyone questioned the legitimacy of the move. In fact a whole new weekly chart cycle had passed and been published when Rolling Stone chose to address the issue. However with the misleading headline of the article blaming “country music” as opposed to Billboard for the removal, and with the insinuations by Rolling Stone that the removal had been racially motivated, it started the discussion on if Lil Nas X was a victim of racism in the media in earnest. Within days, the biggest story in all of entertainment media was how country music had removed Lil Nas X from the country charts because he was black, with little context or counterpoints being offered about how and why Billboard had arrived at their conclusions.
Soon, entertainment and political media outlets were scrambling to take advantage of the viral story by posting news articles, think pieces, and other coverage to suck up their fair share of the attention being paid to Lil Nas X and “Old Town Road.” One of the first of these such pieces appeared in Pitchfork by writer Sheldon Pearce, published on April 1st. Saving Country Music is quoted in the Pitchfork article, and it expressly states that Saving Country Music’s criticism came before Billboard removed “Old Town Road” from the Hot Country Songs chart.
However this was completely untrue. As stated above, the first Saving Country Music article on the subject was posted five days after Billboard had made its decision (and happens to be based in Austin, not Nashville). In fact in the Saving Country Music article that Pitchfork linked to, it clearly states, “In the latest chart update, Billboard appears to have switched Lil Nas X and “Old Town Road” to the Hot Rap Songs chart. The song does not appear at all on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart dated March 23rd, and instead appears on the Hot Rap Songs at #24 with a ‘New’ tag slapped on it, meaning it’s a debut entry on the chart.”
This incorrect timeline of how and when “Old Town Road” was removed from the country charts, and who was to blame then began to be parroted incorrectly as a media echo chamber began to form in the quick rush by many outlets to cover the story. Few writers or editors were checking their work, or independently sourcing their material. An article posted on April 9th by Salon states, “The [Billboard] move followed this op-ed published on the website Saving Country Music, ‘Billboard Must Remove Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” From Country Chart.’ ” once again establishing a false narrative and presenting an incorrect version of the “Old Town Road” timeline.
This is not a trivial point. The result of Pitchfork, Salon and the nonfactual reporting of other outlets was a narrative and timeline where country music purists had pressured Billboard to make the move, as opposed to Billboard coming to their own conclusion independently after it was determined the song was not fit for the charts. As Lil Nas X’s own manager Danny Kang has admitted, Lil Nas X chose country as the genre for “Old Town Road” in metadata listings to game the system, and receive more traction since the song would chart better in country where there was less competition. Danny Kang told Rolling Stone, “There’s a way to manipulate the algorithm to push your track to the top. That’s favorable versus trying to go to the rap format to compete with the most popular songs in the world.”
At this point the curse was cast. Lil Nas X being removed from the country charts was the cause célèbre of the moment, and outlets were publishing stories about it left and right. Few, if any were written by journalists who cover country music, and they were often littered with misinformation or nonfactual details that all outlets were getting wrong in unison. None of these articles included country music journalists, artists, or experts being interviewed and/or consulted for objectivity, equal time, or to clarify important points. Even though it took nine days after the removal, and a misleading headline in Rolling Stone to start the public concern in earnest, the Lil Nas X story had now reached a boiling point.
But it wasn’t just the Rolling Stone article that sent the story off to the races, where now 100 or more articles populate the internet involving Lil Nas X, country music, and race. On March 30th, a Twitter user named Shane Morris posted a 16-part Tweet that has since received over 14,000 retweets, including from prominent celebrities, musicians such as Questlove, and blue checkmarked verified journalists (including some who eventually reported on the story). This thread is what sent the story of Lil Nas X, “Old Town Road,” and country music into hyper drive.
“Hi. Former country music label person here,” the first tweet read. “Lil Nas X was kicked off the Billboard country charts because the (mainstream) terrestrial country music market is filled to a surfeit with racism and bigotry. Allow me to explain…”
Shane Morris went on to enumerate the blatant racism he had encountered while working as a “label person” in the country music business, as well as the double standard of including pop stars like Maren Morris on the country charts, yet not “Old Town Road.” But the bullet point of the Twitter thread were numerous incorrect assertions and outright lies about the contributions, participation, and inclusion of African American in the country music genre.
Shane Morris said in one tweet, “This same week in 1963, Alabama Governor George Wallace delivered his infamous ‘segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever’ speech. Billboard started their Hot 100 in 1958. The Top Country songs started in 1964. A black man didn’t make it to #1 until 2008.”
Then Morris said in a second tweet. “Four black men in total have ever topped Billboard’s Country charts with either a single, or an album. Darius Rucker, Kane Brown, Jimmie Allen… and as of last week Lil Nas X. 25% of black men to ever top Billboard’s Country chart have been removed. Not a great statistic.”
As Saving Country Music first pointed out on March 31st, all of the information in these tweets is incorrect. The Billboard Hot Country Songs chart was implemented in its current form in 1958, not 1964. In fact 1964 does not correspond with any change or update with Billboard’s country song index whatsoever. Also, Lil Nas X did not “top” Billboard’s country charts, he only came in at #19.
However the biggest error in these tweets is the complete exclusion of the legacy of Country Music Hall of Famer Charley Pride, who had 29 #1 songs during the period Morris said no black artists had topped the charts. It also glosses over that Pride had 52 Top 10 hits in his career, and is one of the most successful country singers of all time. And this speaks nothing to the chart success other African American artists achieved during the era before 2008, including Ray Charles, Stoney Edwards, OB McClinton, Cleve Francis, The Pointer Sisters, and Anita Pointer.
In 1985, Ray Charles had a #1 on the Billboard Hot Country songs chart with “Seven Spanish Angels,” and had six other Top 20 hits between 1983 and 1985 over four separate records. Charles had a #1 record in country with Friendship in 1984. Anita Pointer had a #2 song in 1986 with the recently-passed Earl Thomas Conley called “Too Many Times.” Other African American contributions also pepper country’s Billboard chart past.
Though it’s a universal conclusion that the participation of African Americans in country music has been in the minority since the late 50’s when Billboard first started charting the genre, erasing the legacies of legendary and groundbreaking African American country artists not only offers a skewed perspective on history, it degrades the critical contributions of these pioneering and successful performers. It was also the gross misrepresentation of country’s black legacy that fueled the viral nature of the Shane Morris Twitter thread, and the increased perception among the public that country music was purposely excluding Lil Nas X due to race, including among journalists reporting on the issue, many of whom cited Shane Morris in their articles.
Shane Morris presented the perfect champion for the Lil Nas X controversy to the press, and his perspective was the proof they needed to declare that the removal of “Old Town Road” from the Hot Country Songs chart was racially motivated, even though current African American country artists such as Kane Brown and Jimmie Allen have enjoyed chart success recently. Shane Morris was the perfect specimen for the media to create a prevailing confirmation bias around—a turncoat from the country music industry, a whistle-blower from the inside who had unique perspective on the issue who was risking his professional career by exposing country music’s racist leanings.
Not only did Shane Morris and his bad facts benefit from a complete lack of vetting from the press as they were publishing excerpts from his Twitter thread and links to his account which swelled his follower numbers and retweets, the press even embellished his role in the country music industry to bolster the importance of his revelations. Even though Shane Morris claimed only to be a “country music label person”—and this was a rather ambiguous title that could mean Shane simply handled social media posts for a certain label or was doing web development services in a contractor status—he was specifically cited in scores of articles on the Lil Nas X controversy as a “country label executive” by some of the biggest media outlets in the world, meaning he was being given credit for being top-level manager and decision maker in country music.
In an April 5th article in The New York Times, writer Ben Sisario cited Shane Morris as a “former record label executive in Nashville.”
In an April 2nd article published by The Guardian and written by Hubert Adjei-Kontoh, Shane Morris is also cited as a “former country music label executive.”
Similar to mischaracterizing the timeline of when Billboard removed “Old Town Road” from the Hot Country Songs chart, this distinction is not trivial. Whether due to a media echo chamber, or purposeful embellishment to give a more forceful effect to Shane Morris’s claims, the media made Morris into a senior, executive-level member of the country music industry, when this wasn’t even what Shane Morris was claiming.
The Shane Morris Twitter thread, and many of its unproven, and outright incorrect facts were published by a dozen or more different outlets. Vulture quoted Shane Morris in their article on the subject, Huffpost cited the Shane Morris in their story, and so did The Daily Beast, none of whom did any background vetting on Shane Morris, nor put out any effort to verify his claims or former employment status in Nashville. Along with all of the quotations and links the Shane Morris Twitter thread received, NPR interviewed Shane Morris directly on April 5th for their nationally-syndicated program, “Morning Edition,” predicated off the idea that he was a country music insider with intimate knowledge on the subject. In the same segment, Saving Country Music was mentioned, but no effort was even made to get the proper spelling or annunciation of the author’s name, let alone being asked to speak on the facts of the situation.
For Shane Morris’s part, when confronted about the incorrect information contained in many of his tweets that went on to make it into numerous media outlets—and specifically the incorrect claim that no African American had charted on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart until 2008—his reply was, “Red State Country Fans: “Your thread missed Charley Pride. Everything you say is a lie.” Me: “You voted for a motherfucker who lied about where his dad was born, and who just yesterday said windmills fucking cause cancer. Miss me with the bullshit, aiight?”
Shane Morris has yet to correct or clarify any of the misinformation in his Twitter posts, nor has anyone in the media aside from Saving Country Music attempted to do so for him. His verifiably inaccurate posts continue to remain live, and are still receiving traction and retweets on the Twitter format, along with continuing to feed misinformation rebroadcasted in the press. Furthermore, the above tweet is representative of how Morris commonly illustrates contempt for “red state” dwellers, and is very active in commenting on politics, regularly with contempt for Republicans and conservatives, while labeling country music as a haven for these affiliations. Shane Morris has a very plausible motive for lying about the level of racism in country music since he clearly sees it as an institution allied with his political enemies. For a short period Shane Morris claimed he would run for Congress to replace retiring Tennessee Senator Bob Corker.
Saving Country Music did reach out to both Sony Music Nashville, as well as Sony Music proper to verify the employment of Shane Morris, as well as other public information and human resource associates throughout the Nashville and Music Row campus to inquire about the employment of Shane Morris either currently or in the past. Though both Sony and Sony Nashville said they could not discuss employment details for departing employees, they did verify that Shane Morris did work at Sony Music Nashville for a certain period. However they also confirmed that he in no way worked in an any sort of “executive” capacity, and that his employment could have been on a contract basis. One current Nashville professional told Saving Country Music that Shane Morris’s claim as a “former music label person” was even a stretch for the work he performed while affiliated with Sony, and that the idea that he was in any capacity to offer intimate knowledge into the inner workings of the industry were “as ludicrous as the information he posted about no blacks being on the country charts for 40 years.”
Shane Morris’s company is called Beautiful Majestic Dolphin, which operates as a internet consulting and fulfillment firm, and claims to have worked either currently or previously with Carrie Underwood, Kenny Chesney, and Cam, along with multiple other non country performers. Saving Country Music was not able to independently verify if Beautiful Majestic Dolphin has ever worked with these country artists, or if it is currently.
However there was much that Saving Country Music was able to verify about Shane Morris’s past. Though most had never heard of Morris before the Lil Nas X and “Old Town Road” controversy, Shane Morris is very well known among multiple fan bases for being one of the most aggressive and vile trolls on Twitter in all of music. He’s been accused of making death threats towards young girls, has been caught attacking and threatening to kill or harm the children of performers, along with making homophobic jokes, and jokes about AIDS, genocide, Nazis, 9/11, and the Holocaust, many of which have been verified and documented online. After Saving Country Music posted the initial rebuttal to Shane Morris’s Twitter thread on March 31st, numerous individuals reached out to say they had either been personally threatened by Shane Morris in the past, or knew individuals who had received threats from him, including people on message boards, Tumblr, Facebook groups based in Nashville, and especially on Twitter.
In a Nashville Scene article posted on October 9th, 2018 about Shane Morris’s offer to help potential progressive candidates with web design solutions, an update was added to the story that read, “Update: Morris allegedly has a history of using abusive and discriminatory language online. Read more here. When asked about the allegations, Morris responded with an image of a fabricated Pith tweet disparaging minorities.”
See the update at the bottom:
The link in the Nashville Scene update leads to a Tumblr account, but there is no content on the page. However Tumblr is one of the places fans of bands such as Fall Out Boy, 5 Seconds of Summer, Twenty One Pilots, and others would often aggregate screenshots of the death threats, discriminatory language, and other abuse they would suffer at the hands of Shane Morris. Sometimes the content was removed after Shane Morris would further threaten them if they did not comply.
But reporting on the issue wasn’t just confined to social media. In May of 2013 after Shane Morris sent out an especially vile barrage of tweets threatening violence against Fall Out Boy, lead singer Patrick Stump, bassist Pete Wentz, and their fans, SPIN and other outlets reported on lead singer Patrick Stump’s reply to Shane Morris.
“You suck at heckling,” Patrick Stump said to Shane Morris on May 8th, 2013 on Twitter. “We could start with how none of your insults have contextual substance. You’re all shock. ‘AIDS.’ ‘Dead Babies.’ ‘Emo.’ ‘Eyeliner.’ ‘Kill Yourself.’ It’s fluff. It’s lazy.”
Pete Wentz also replied on Twitter to a Shane Morris tweet in 2013, saying, “…you may be an attention seeking whore but u can’t threaten my kid and fans and not think there are repercussions.”
However at that point, Shane Morris had already deleted many of the threatening Tweets he sent to Patrick Stump, Pete Wentz, and their fans. But some were either screenshot, or rebroadcast by other Twitter users. A collection of the tweets can be found below.
Though some of the tweets could be chalked up to humor in poor taste, they certainly are not the work of an upstanding individual, or someone who stands for social justice as Morris professes, or someone whose opinion should be taken seriously by the press. Shane Morris is a long-time aggressive Twitter troll who has used death threats and discriminatory language to attack music fans over many years, and then deletes the evidence shortly thereafter to avoid repercussions.
Though few aside from Saving Country Music and mainstream country duo Brothers Osborne have confronted the Lil Nas X situation with a perspective counter to the Twitter and media mob, long-time music industry consultant and lawyer Bob Lefsetz did address the Lil Nas X controversy on Wednesday (4-10) in his well-circulated Lefsetz Letter.
“I’m not saying that you shouldn’t stand up when you’re unfairly treated. But this was an off-the-cuff ‘Billboard’ decision to exclude it, YOU’D HAVE MADE THE SAME CHOICE! … Which is why people are afraid of standing up and speaking their truth, they’re gonna be shouted down by the crowd. The tyranny of social media is what’s shutting people up … It’s just another blown-up story in the endless tsunami of crap we encounter online every day. That’s the internet, where that which matters is mixed in with that which doesn’t and people have no idea of the truth and based on these false/fake/fakokta reports, they’re misinformed and testifying wrongly.”
The truth is that country music does have a dubious past with race, some of the racial biases may still linger within the industry today. It’s incumbent on the press to help ferret these elements out, including some that may have resulted in Lil Nas X being removed from the country charts. However, publishing incorrect information and using notorious internet bullies as information sources and interviews subjects is of no help, neither is erasing the legacy of African Americans in country music to underscore a talking point.
“Old Town Road” is now the #1 song in all of music, and it will likely be re-added to the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in the coming weeks now that it is beginning to receive country radio airplay. Once reinstated, it will reside at the top of the country charts well into 2020, and challenge for the longest-running #1 song in the chart’s history.
However it wasn’t just the infectiousness of the track that got it there. It was also due to indisputably incorrect and biased reporting by major media outlets, from legacy music magazines such as Rolling Stone, all the way up to NPR and The New York Times in the increasingly pernicious trend of media echo chambers, Twitter influence, and confirmation bias that makes internet superstars out of individuals such as Shane Morris, and subverts the truth.
EDITORS NOTE: Due to the history of Shane Morris deleting tweets, and coercing others to delete them, screenshots of the tweets have presented to make a permanent record in the interest of public safety. Many of the below tweets are still active on Twitter, and can be found via search. This is just a selection of the many Tweets Saving Country Music discovered.
April 12, 2019 @ 10:53 am
Wow. Excellent journalism!
(Me and) Paul
April 12, 2019 @ 11:31 am
If/when this song is re-added to the Billboard Country Charts it will probably mark one of the significant moves towards the mono-genre that we have ever seen before. Your article from 2010 about the development of the monogenre is still my favorite on this site. Independent regional and underground artists continue to increase in popularity while Garth Brooks and George Strait are pulling record touring attendances, Stapleton and Combs lead the album charts, and Musgraves/Stapleton sweep awards shows. Meanwhile radio and Nashville execs continue to shove down our throats songs that become less and less country by the day. Country Music has become just as polarized as everything else in America.
April 12, 2019 @ 2:41 pm
Can you link the 2010 article?
April 12, 2019 @ 2:51 pm
I wrote a bunch about this years ago, and not to toot my own horn, but it’s all pretty much coming to fruition. Here’s the definitive article on it:
April 12, 2019 @ 5:51 pm
You can toot your own horn all day long. I’ve had a feeling about it, but I never knew how to phrase any of it. It’s a fairly political subject anyways
April 15, 2019 @ 10:42 pm
I’ve been in agreement with you for years except on the point that I believe mono-genre has been for a while now like 6-7 years in all formats (within the mainstrea,).
June 18, 2020 @ 4:05 pm
That song was removed because it’s rap, not country. Not because country mainstream is racist. It’s a simple fact that would be nice if most people would recognize it.
April 12, 2019 @ 11:48 am
April 12, 2019 @ 12:38 pm
Sparkle Rainbow Unicorn Narwhal Magic Mermaid Dolphin
April 12, 2019 @ 12:20 pm
Meanwhile, the new Aaron Lewis album is AWESOME.
April 12, 2019 @ 11:31 pm
Didn’t know there was a new album. Thanks for letting me know!
April 13, 2019 @ 5:35 am
Yeah, but he still wants you to shut the fuck up!
April 12, 2019 @ 12:23 pm
Again a great article on the topic.
What an ugly mess & shady Shane Morris is only the icing on the cake.
Billboard is done. The Billboard charts are done. The system is done.
Old white men who deny a black young man the entry to the hillbilly-charts.
The winner is Lil Nas X with a world wide hit & guaranteed (country-)award nominations.
The gate is open now. The monogenre charts are coming.
The story reached Germany a couple of days ago too.
The headline on “zeit.de” & the weekly liberal/left Zeit Magazin: “Cowboys auf Codein” (Cowboys on Codein).
April 12, 2019 @ 12:40 pm
Not mentioning Ray Charles or Charley Pride in his original thread was enough evidence to show that Shane Morris was full of crap. Anybody who pushed his narrative doesn’t know anything about country music to begin with. It’s impossible to argue with such a level of prideful ignorance.
April 12, 2019 @ 12:45 pm
I don’t know who any of these people are. I do know the passing of Jim Glaser has gone largely unoticed.
April 12, 2019 @ 12:49 pm
Trig – when can the world expect your apology for being the mastermind behind Billboard’s move??
For my part I’m willing to apologize for twice viewing “Old Town Road” on YouTube, as those views may have been misconstrued as “popularity” in the statistics.
Regarding windmills causing cancer, I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of components going into windmills bound for California are subject to Prop 65 labeling…
April 12, 2019 @ 12:51 pm
So according to Pitchfork, you’re a “Nashville type.”
April 12, 2019 @ 2:58 pm
90% of these journalists are uniquely unqualified to be commenting on country music whatsoever. Most of actual country music media has mostly ignored this story, or only covered it from a basic news perspective because they know all of this is wrong, but they don’t want to be called racist for saying so. Yes, making this site synonymous with Nashville is about as misguided as calling Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell country purists like we’ve seen previously from this crowd.
April 12, 2019 @ 3:28 pm
The slip shod journalism here still shocks me even though it shouldn’t. Did NPR, NYT, The Guardian etc. look into this Morris guys background to check if he really was a ‘former country music executive’ or did they take his self description as gospel because it helps the narrative. The days of layers and layers of fact checkers are long gone if they ever existed.
It’s the old ‘fool or knave’ question. Are they incompetent or are they devious in pursuit of a cause?
April 12, 2019 @ 4:18 pm
Heck, they didn’t even take his self-promotion at face value – they embellished upon it.
The Musical Divide
April 12, 2019 @ 6:23 pm
You know, it’s disheartening enough to see how the country music media is handling all of this, but it grinds my gears to see so many people thinking they can cover it from the outside.
And it’s not that I’m saying they can’t discuss country music, but with issues like this when there’s a chance to paint country music in a negative light, these writers always jump on board. Even vloggers like the Needle Drop hopped on board with this, and at the end of the day, their lack of knowledge regarding the genre shows.
April 12, 2019 @ 7:03 pm
I am reminded of the ‘Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect’ so named by the late author Michael Crichton which basically states that most people are knowledgeable on certain topics and when they read articles about them they see many factual errors and erroneous assumptions and realize the author does not know what they are talking about.
But then that person looks to another article about a topic they don’t know well and assumes it’s accurate instead of wondering if this author also doesn’t know of what they write.
Seen a lot of this the last few years as journalists have become less experienced and far, far more ideological.
April 12, 2019 @ 11:18 pm
I would never go wading into the affairs of hip-hop and start throwing my weight around about what I think about the genre. I may give casual observations from the outside looking in, but I would always preface it with saying I don’t really know the genre. All of the articles linked in this story with factual errors were written by people who don’t cover country music.
April 13, 2019 @ 8:33 am
‘All of the articles linked in this story with factual errors were written by people who don’t cover country music’
Yes, that’s my point. Most people for a variety of reasons don’t care or don’t have the knowledge base to know when they are reading an article filled with errors and false assumptions so when they see something they assume it must be true.
And I was not referring to you at all. A person does not have to be an expert on a topic to write about it if they are up front about it and come at it with some humility. Unfortunately that is in short supply in our current times.
April 14, 2019 @ 10:30 am
Just because a “journalist” is an outsider doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be able to cover a story about Country music or any topic. It does however mean that they would need to put in some work doing deep research to actually understand the topic before they could write an informed article that deserves to be taken seriously. Obviously none did that work on this issue.
The internet has largely been blamed for the decline in journalism. Ironic that a “blogger” works harder to do enough research to get the details right than the so called “professionals”.
April 13, 2019 @ 7:52 am
I am so looking forward to the Ken Burns Country Music documentary. Given the snippets I’ve seen of him talking about it, the fact that Duncan Dayton is the writer AND Marty Stuart’s involvement, I’m fairly optimistic that it will largely be a celebration of the music and on a deeper level than we’re used to seeing.
April 13, 2019 @ 9:00 am
Before this whole Lil Nas X imbroglio, I was expecting the Ken Burns documentary to be the biggest story in country music in 2019. I think he will do a good job laying out the critical contributions African Americans have made in the genre, and won’t gloss over some of the racist elements that country did include early on. My guess is many of the journalists writing these stories on country music will not be wasting their time on it though. If you don’t even know who Charley Pride is, what’s your interest in an 8-part documentary?
April 14, 2019 @ 9:23 pm
This phenomenon of people reviewing and commenting on things they don’t know, like, or understand is also happening in video game culture and sci-fi (Star Trek and Star Wars, specifically). It’s as if there is some kind of plan to vilify the traditional, historical audience of these various cultures and then replace them with politicized “normies.” Gender and racial politics are being pushed into arenas they don’t belong and the results are devastating.
April 12, 2019 @ 1:00 pm
I’m absolutely sick of the double-standards when it comes to race in this country and the media scumbags who help perpetuate them. Nobody would ever throw a fit because, “I wanna talk about me”, or Dirt Road Anthem didn’t make the Billboard for hip hop but because we’re white and Lil what’s his fucking face is black, we’re supposed to pretend a straight up trap song is country just because he says the word tractor. Fuck these people.
April 12, 2019 @ 1:24 pm
And I guess Salon didn’t bother to figure out the specifics on how Billboard charts work AND think you are so powerful that you can make Billboard turn on a dime and immediately remove a song from the charts.
April 12, 2019 @ 2:59 pm
Yeah, I would like to think I hold some sway over Billboard, but my 9 articles imploring them to remove Bebe Rexha from the charts didn’t slow them down whatsoever.
April 12, 2019 @ 1:42 pm
You know we have all been fighting at what is country, over bro country and stuff like that…looks like we really should be defending ourselves against groups and “journalists” like this.
Some of this is just so gross. Normal, center of the road people do not want to engage with some of this stuff.
April 12, 2019 @ 1:44 pm
The fact that anybody would even give this argument any weight at all says loads about what people truly know about country music: absolutely nothing. This is the natural conclusion of Kane Brown, Sam Hunt, and their ilk. Keep pushing it further and further until at some point somebody releases something that in no way, shape, or form could be construed as country. However, since we’ve tolerated so much until this point, it begs the question: what the hell is country anyway? For the uneducated who listen to “radio country,” Lil Nas X isn’t far off. It’s ridiculous this whole controversy got started to begin with, but hopefully it gets those in power to step back and think what they’ve done to get us to this point where this controversy can even exist.
April 12, 2019 @ 2:11 pm
” those in power to step back and think”- this is a result of their thinking. I’d hope they don’t think anymore- kinda like hoping for gridlock in congress as it is the only time citizens win.
Then too I didn’t realize Rolling Stone or this idiot exposing himself in public were in power- it’s a crying shame that social media is in power- I thought they had agreed, collectively, to remove and/or ban hateful rhetoric- I guess since these ass wipes are obviously anti-Trump they get a pass- and no, I didn’t voter for Trump.
Atomic Zombie Redneck
April 12, 2019 @ 1:52 pm
Rolling Stone might as well hire Shane Morris. It couldn’t damage their credibility or lower their standards anymore than their current staff already has.
This whole debacle is stomach turning.
April 12, 2019 @ 2:13 pm
It’s a shame they get themselves into these holes, they have some good writers and do publish some good articles- but then they also let idiots have a lot of lee way too.
April 14, 2019 @ 11:52 am
Rolling Stone has jumped the shark sadly.
April 12, 2019 @ 2:10 pm
Even if this clown was an executive, which he clearly never was he holds no moral authority over country music, country fans, or people from red states until he’s willing to mention a lack of diversity in places like the NBA and the world of hip hop. He’s clearly just another butt hurt, far left progressive using identity politics to create a false narrative to paint a picture of white country people as a knuckle dragging racists. Shane Morris is garbage personified.
April 12, 2019 @ 2:54 pm
i still haven’t listened to this song
April 12, 2019 @ 3:41 pm
Here’s an thought piece posted on Slate a couple of hours ago. I think the writer did a nice job. Even has some nuance and an admission that he’s from outside of the genre.
April 12, 2019 @ 11:24 pm
This is a pretty good article drawing this all back to the 2012 chart changes, which we knew would be disastrous, and they have been. I remember back in 2012, country music fans were so unified about rejecting the idea of the new chart rules. Traditional country fans were highly opposed to it, but so were Carrie Underwood fans, though it didn’t do any good. This time the situation is arguably more dire, and most of what I’m seeing from country fans is apathy. They just don’t care. Meanwhile the rest of the music world is united in solidarity against country music
April 12, 2019 @ 4:00 pm
FIrst off, I finally listened to the “song.” It was not a good experience. Second, it is not a country song. Rather, it appears to be an attempt to make a country song based on what he thinks it is based on his limited exposure to it. The equivalent was the attempt by pop musicians to make rap songs in the late 80s and early 90s – when the medium was new to the mainstream and still poorly understood – with the result being incomprehensible (to be kind).
But hey, this is what is going on. Right now among there is a thing going on with some hip-hop artists called “the yee haw agenda.” I will not explain what it is other than to say it IS NOT anti-American derogatory hateful garbage like Rednex “Cotton Eye Joe” but if you want to know what it is then search engines can be your friend. Most (nearly all really) of the artists into it are actually female, but as Lil Nas X is a huge Nicki Minaj fan – which is probably the only thing you can legitimately hold against him – it is clear that he was heavily influenced by it. In addition, Atlanta is the capital of trap music, some trap artists have dabbled in country to some degree and as a result of the “yee haw agenda” some of them have started referring to themselves as legitimate country music artists. So Lil Nas X, right in the middle of the “yee haw agenda” as a hip hop social media type and the Atlanta trap music scene, decided to contribute his own effort to the mix, citing metro Atlanta area rapper (trap artist? trapper?) “Young Thug” as a major influence, and calling his song an effort in the “country trap” genre. Which, of course, is not recognized by anyone as existing, so he states that the song should be recognized in the relevant “country” and “rap” genres.
The funny thing … everyone – including you – is listing this effort as “mono-genre”, both those and against such thing. That was never the intention of Lil Nas X. Quite the contrary! Instead, Lil Nas X believes that a “country trap” genre should exist and that he, Young Thug and some other southern trap artists should be in it. They DO NOT think that “country trap” is merely a cynical, commercially driven hybrid gimmick (like a lot of label-forced rock-rap and rock-R&B gimmicks in the early 90s) but something that has a legitimate musical and cultural history and influence that can be traced through a line of artists (which do not include Bubba Sparxx or Cowboy Troy incidentally) over a number of years.
So you may say “if they want to create a new genre fine but why call it country, an existing genre too”? Well that goes back to the yee haw agenda, which allows him to declare it as country as he and his fellow travelers define it. That it is different from traditional country is no big deal …jazz consists of “traditional jazz”, “modern jazz”, “classical jazz”, “Latin jazz” etc. genres.
So that is the ultimate irony … the agenda that Lil Nas X is pursuing is actually the very opposite of that of the media critics that are supposedly championing his cause.
April 12, 2019 @ 5:41 pm
That’s just crap. Yee-haw agenda? “Lil Nas X” can’t even carry a tune. He wouldn’t know country if it bit him in the ass. He’s making fun of country and that’s slime. He didn’t have an agenda.
April 12, 2019 @ 4:29 pm
To add a little bit more with respect to Anita Pointer, the hit she had with her sisters (all of whom, for the record, hail from Oakland, California) on the country charts was “Fairytale”, which hit #37 on Billboard’s C&W singles chart in the fall of 1974 (and #13 on the Hot 100). Not only did this get them the Grammy that year for Best Country Vocal Duo/Group, but because of it, they became the first Afro-American group to make an appearance on the Opry.
April 12, 2019 @ 5:35 pm
From Billboard Bulletin “But now, Sony Nashville CEO Randy Goodman tells Billboard his team has started testing the song in some country radio markets. “It would be negligent not to look at it,” Goodman says. “Can you hear it as country? Can you hear it as rap? Is it something we could have signed? Yeah, in the new world order. It’s No. 1 in streaming even if country radio isn’t playing it.”
Money-grubbing bastards. If Sony pushes this at Country, I’m boycotting them.
April 12, 2019 @ 6:52 pm
Any plans to review the new Aaron Lewis album?
Billy Wayne Ruddick
April 12, 2019 @ 8:12 pm
Staind was such an abomination of a band, that I still can’t inhear them every time Aaron opens his mouth. It’s a no go for me, and yes, I gave the new album a quick try.
April 13, 2019 @ 5:33 am
Ive never heard anything by Stained. Perhaps thats a good thing. I do like most of his new album.
April 12, 2019 @ 7:02 pm
Thank you for your important work in covering this story. I think this incident has raised some serious issues about the echo chamber of social media, particularly on Twitter (a place that I find increasingly toxic), the “objectivity” of mainstream journalists, and the ability of people to have a nuanced discussion online about anything anymore.
It’s a bit scary how quickly this story blew up, became distorted, and then everyone jumped on the same bandwagon without any critical thinking or fact checking or vetting. It goes beyond music for me. I am a leftist and progressive. I think racism is an important issue. Country music certainly has work to do to include more minorities, but there are many genres that lack racial diversity. Rock and roll comes to mind, for instance, but I don’t see people making comments that rock and roll as a genre should be destroyed. There is a level of vitriol that has come out that stuns me. Country music and the people who love it have been reduced to racist caricatures and idiots, fans of a genre that many of the commentators openly despise and think is worthless.
Something that also bothered me was that many of these think pieces were not written by veteran, experienced country music journalists with knowledge of the complex history of the genre. Much of the outrage seemed to come from people who already said they didn’t like country music and yet they want to be the ones to define the genre and what counts as country music. It makes no sense.
I am increasingly worried about the influence of social media on the way that people think and how it preys on emotions and people jump to conclusions without the facts, on both the left and the right. All these writers created a particular narrative about this song and what Billboard did and it became gospel. Every think piece just said the same thing, and if you disagree with the narrative, you are labeled a racist or bigot. It’s not productive. We should be able to disagree about things without being reduced to stereotypes.
Your work on this is vital because it goes beyond just music. It’s about not letting social media manipulate what we think about things. It’s about not letting a few people craft the narrative before they have all the facts. I am shocked that all these outlets ran this story and cited Shane with absolutely no research into who he is. It gives one pause and makes you think about all the other things you read on these sites and how well-researched they are. This incident has shaken my faith in these websites and has deeply disappointed me.
You’re the only person who has made legitimate criticisms and raised important questions, and I commend you for that because I know it isn’t easy to go against the Twitter mob that thinks it’s so righteous when it’s really spreading lies and legitimizing someone who has made death threats against people. Your reporting throughout this shameful debacle has allowed me to keep my sanity.
April 13, 2019 @ 8:11 am
Yes. I’m a fellow left leaning country music lover and I completely relate to this comment. All of it. Well done, C.
April 14, 2019 @ 10:59 pm
Thank you, Jack. I’ve been struggling with this whole incident since it started and felt the need to say something. This whole thing is just so toxic.
April 14, 2019 @ 11:39 am
Thank you for so eloquently saying much of what I was thinking. I would add that this whole incident is a “boy who cried wolf” situation that will devalue reporting on any incidents of actual racism in the country music industry that might occur. This is true for many other issues of importance. There has been so much bullshit and “fake news” spread in mainstream media and social media by both sides of the political spectrum that anyone can disingenuously claim that any reporting they disagree with is such.
April 14, 2019 @ 11:16 pm
I also wonder why all this outpouring of support is going to Lil Nas X while actual African American musicians in country music, like the brilliant Rhiannon Giddens, or Mickey Guyton or even Yola, do not receive a fraction of this kind of attention. Where is the support for them? If all these commentators really want to have more diversity in country music, it would make more sense to raise the profile and put support behind people who are already in the genre, or to at least know about these artists. The fact that they don’t know about them speaks volumes. You can tell that many of the people fanning all this outrage barely know anything about country music, as evidenced by many of them thinking Taylor Swift or Maren Morris or Luke Bryan represent the genre when many country fans have complained about them for years. I’d actually be curious to know what African American artists in country music think of this debacle and what their own experience has been like in country music. I’m sure they’ve encountered racism and that should be exposed and changed. Instead of having a substantive conversation about race, we’re embroiled in this ridiculous media circus that accomplishes very little. I just can’t understand it.
April 15, 2019 @ 9:42 am
Completely agree. Such an amazing legacy is being forged by African Americans in country music right now, with arguably a better crop of artists than at any other point in the genre’s history. Do we really want Lil Nas X’s derivative booby song overshadowing their efforts, or being the representative of African Americans making country?
April 12, 2019 @ 8:16 pm
I hate to be the one to ask such an obvious question…
But, why does this Shane Morris guy still have a Twitter account when so many people have been banned for far less offensive threats?
Well, let’s just be honest here. Minorities and women are currently very underrepresented on country radio. REAL country artists who can’t get played. Is it because they are women and minorities? I don’t know, maybe that’s worth looking into. But the solution to the problem sure as hell isn’t putting any minority or any woman on the country charts just because they mention something in a song that MIGHT be mentioned in a country song or do a collaboration with an artist who has had some country “hits.” All that does if further shit out REAL country artists that happen to be women or minorities.
Just my opinion.
April 13, 2019 @ 6:11 am
It must be an exhausting endeavor trying to set the record straight on all of this. Thanks for taking the time to do it. Love your site — it’s helped me discover some beautiful *country* music I’d have never heard otherwise.
April 13, 2019 @ 6:56 am
I’m not sure what is the bigger problem here. Country radio for playing this song or the journalism or lack there of. Every article that I read about this controversy read the same. It looked like bad copy and paste. Thanks for shedding light on this.
April 13, 2019 @ 8:19 am
Thanks for writing this, Trigger. It was really educational and I’m sure it took a lot of time and energy to research.
April 13, 2019 @ 8:58 am
Diversity for the sake of diversity is the death of diversity. Weren’t we told our whole lives that the color of one’s skin does not matter? It has certainly become something the media and the so called “Twitter mob” focuses on without fail.
On another note how do we petition NPR to interview Trigger and get the whole story from a REAL country music journalist?
April 13, 2019 @ 9:48 am
The issue with most online “journalism” is that the talking heads of entities such a Rolling Stone, Buzzfeed, Vulture, and their ilk are not actual journalists. Instead, they are millennial bloggers that generally do not have degrees in journalism, frequently change companies, and may write for multiple companies on a per-piece or contract basis. They don’t adhere to “who, what, when, where, and how”; they aim for “click, click, click, click, and click”. Their social media engagement is also critically important to their clicks, so those blue checkmarks and retweets are crucial to grabbing eyeballs, lining their wallets, and stroking their egos. To them, feelings don’t care about your facts. Walter Cronkite they are not; Great Value brand Brian Williams they are.
April 13, 2019 @ 12:46 pm
“Great Value brand Brian Williams” !! Best comment and 100 percent spot on! Also, a huge thank you to Trigger for all the research this had to take. Please know so many of us appreciate what you are doing. And also, thanks for bringing great country artists to our attention that we’d otherwise never know due to the “mainstream” ignoring them!
April 14, 2019 @ 10:28 am
This is such an important point. One thing I’ve noticed is that there are “journalists” who belonged (and may still belong) to particular fanbases. Some even use stan language in their writing. It’s crept into all kinds of entertainment writing, including tv and film. Maybe it’s better to have someone’s biases laid out there, I don’t know. But this clickbait writing is about generating heat and drama.
April 15, 2019 @ 8:55 pm
You have brought up one of the more disconcerting trends among media (e.g., film, TV, music) “bloggerists”: the unabashed fanboying/fangirling that takes place. They don’t even make an effort to appear objective or to avoid groupthink in writing “reviews”. Instead, the positive press is what guarantees their access to various premieres, special screenings, listening parties, and other industry events. Further, the glowing reviews can net them advance copies of media, limited run merchandise, exclusive artist access, and the chance to write paid puff pieces for certain entities in need of a boost or particular spin ahead of a release. What incentive do the bloggerists have to write honest, analytical, and informative reviews when softball articles are what get you into all of those exclusive events with your bloggerist buddies? Hard-hitting journalism isn’t what the production studios and record labels desire; they want mindless keyboard cowboys that are easily placated into standing down.
April 13, 2019 @ 4:12 pm
I must be the only person on the planet who has never heard this song…
I literally just don’t give a shit.
April 13, 2019 @ 5:50 pm
Very sad and heartbreaking if it does become the biggest hit in Country.
I might as well sit down in a corner and cry- very sad to see a once mighty genre fall.
April 14, 2019 @ 4:03 am
Country music is forever screwed https://twitter.com/KeithUrban/status/1117207190367035392
April 14, 2019 @ 8:39 am
Trig, just keep addressing the fact that many great country music singers, regardless of race and gender, and their songs are consistently left off or fall off the Billboard charts and radio airplay. Love this website and your excellent articles. Keep up the good work.
April 14, 2019 @ 12:14 pm
For those of us who lean left and and are country music fans, like myself, this kind of thing is just a total embarrassment. Leaving out Charley Pride in your argument? The lack of research is appalling. It’s hilarious to me that some of these left journalists profess to know so much about country music, and they don’t know crap.
April 14, 2019 @ 11:18 pm
I was thinking the same thing. It makes me embarrassed to be on the left and to see how people with similar political beliefs as me are being so uninformed and engaging in a lot of the stuff that they accuse the right of doing, like stereotyping entire groups of people and spreading misinformation.
April 14, 2019 @ 12:34 pm
Good research, Trigger. Did you send a link to this article to the fellers doing all the independent, objective and open-minded reporting about this affair at NYT, NPR, etc., and if so, did they respond in any way?
April 14, 2019 @ 2:41 pm
I reached out to the individual who interviewed Shane Morris for NPR, as well as the host. The host didn’t respond. The interviewer basically blew me off, and then muted me on Twitter. I have some other inquiries out. I’m not done trying to tell this story.
April 14, 2019 @ 3:44 pm
He had to mute you, you were messing up his straightforward “Country Music is racist” narrative.
April 14, 2019 @ 4:25 pm
This is where Social Media sites need to take more responsibility in blocking hate speech and those who are using SM to express disgusting and vile points of view or just saying awful stuff that has no place on the internet. Seriously how is he allowed to continue to have an account, Lady Gaga was right twitter is the toilet of the internet.
April 15, 2019 @ 7:02 am
The thing that surprises me the most in all of this is that the song went from #19 on the country chart to #24 on the “most popular music in the world” rap chart. Apparently rap really isn’t that much more popular than country. This kid sold out for only 5 spots on a different chart!
There’s something else I don’t get in all of this. Why does Lil Nas X get no blame? His action here was blatant corruption. Corruption is fairness theft. “Gaming the system”, regardless of the game or system, is corruption, whether it’s manipulating charts like Lil Nas X did, or letting them walk right through the front door like the industry did with Sam Hunt and Rascall Flatts (and so, so many others).
April 15, 2019 @ 12:04 pm
This whole mess just about sums up the times we’re living in perfectly.
What a shit show it’s all become. Facts don’t matter anymore, there is minimal hope for humanity.
April 15, 2019 @ 10:49 pm
I woinder at the end of all this what we a music fans (specifically country music fans) do to battle this incessant and willful ignorance.
I know you are are swamped Trigger, but I would pay good money to see you go to head in a televised debate on the matter with who was writing at RS or these other outlets. Most people wouldn’t care they just shout their own echo chamber talking points after the debate was over but I mean just to have your points said publicly on the TV or someplace where we have full video and not a copy paste job of chosen words…
On a positive note in my local area nothern Ca there is some smashing local country music going round. Laura Benitez for starters. And of course a the legend that is Maurice Tani.
April 16, 2019 @ 8:54 am
As I’ve been saying about this Lil Nas X issue, there is an incredible enthusiasm gap between actual country music fans, and everyone else. I’m getting hell from a lot of country fans for even covering this story. Meanwhile the rest of society is mobilized and active in painting country music as racist and “Old Town Road” as some historically-significant master work of cross genre brilliance. This is part of the reasons these lies in the media have gone unchecked.
April 16, 2019 @ 9:24 am
This whole thing sucks for music but, worst of all, sheds a spotlight on the insidious state of “journalism” itself these days.
When the fortunes of corporate-owned media rest on real-time, minute by minute, clicks and web traffic, and there’s an army of biased ideologs eager and able to whip up fiction for them faster than anybody can properly process, I think this is one of the most dangerous eras in human history.
I hate to be melodramatic but, in my mind, world wars, terrorism, and nuclear threats pale by comparison. When civilization sells its soul willingly to absolute falsehood dished up by the mass media, in the service of politics and cheap ideology, we’re all doomed. Without truth and objectivity, we have nothing.
April 22, 2019 @ 6:48 am
Here’s an archived link to the Tumblr post about Shane Morris that the Nashville Scene article linked to:
April 22, 2019 @ 8:19 am
April 25, 2019 @ 9:14 am
“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? Then I thought, it’s honest, humble, and has an infectious hook, and a banjo. What the hell more do ya need?” – Billy Ray Cyrus
I don’t Billy maybe some actual country music.
UGH. And to think I had forgotten this debacle only to be reinfuriated when looking up Irish musicians.
April 25, 2019 @ 9:16 am
And when I ask people what makes this song country, they have no real answer. LOL! That to me says it all right there.