Morgan Wallen Backlash Not Just Ineffective, It’s Counter-Productive

As the criticism of the country music industry at large continues to pour in following the aftermath of Morgan Wallen’s N-word video, his Dangerous: The Double Album spends its now fifth week firmly atop the Billboard 200 for being far and away the best selling and streaming album in all of music at the moment.

This week the album earned an additional 149,842 units in sales and streaming equivalents, including 38,500 in pure album sales, and a whopping 134.8 million song streams. This far surpassed the closest competition, which was The Weeknd and his album The Highlights, which had 88,874 in sales and streaming equivalents, and 88.3 million song streams.

It’s also important to note that the Morgan Wallen rally isn’t losing steam whatsoever. These consumption numbers are roughly equal to what they were last week, and are actually up from the 1st week of February when the controversy first ensued. The Morgan Wallen post-backlash rally has legs.

But wait, what about Morgan Wallen being booted off of country radio and CMT, being shunned by the CMA and the ACMs, being dropped by his booking agent, and having his recording contract suspended, and being removed from curated playlists and recommendations on Spotify and other services? This should all hinder his sales and streams specifically, right?

And what about the incessant onslaught of think pieces, often authored by intellectual elites that look down their nose at a country music community they have no real world experience or connection with? That’s right, these actions aren’t only doing little to hinder Morgan Wallen’s continued success, they’re arguably continuing to fuel his now extended winning streak. Morgan Wallen is being made a folk hero from this moment, and it’s partly the fault of the reaction of the music community, and media specifically.

As Saving Country Music tried to explain two weeks ago, a lack of focus and understanding of the underlying problem is the reason the solution is being rendered not just ineffective, but counter-productive. By pushing away Morgan Wallen and continuing to harp on the subject, his music is being made into forbidden fruit, and his rally is continuing to be fed oxygen. But if you dare cross the musical intellectual literati with this logic, or attempt to offer nuance and context to an issue like this, you’re likely to be accused of racism yourself, or be called a Morgan Wallen apologist.

Well now noted music critic, lawyer, and guru Bob Leftsetz has weighed in, and he offers some very important insights into not just the Morgan Wallen situation, but specifically its interfacing with radio.

Maybe radio just isn’t that important. That has been the mantra of the major labels forever, especially in the country sphere, radio is everything and you move tonnage without it. But Morgan Wallen’s been off the airwaves for weeks and not only has his business held steady, it’s increased! … Top down has been dying for twenty years, ever since Napster, now it’s all bottom up. The purveyors don’t dictate, the public does! But Bob you say, Morgan’s fans are all racist rednecks! That could be true, well, not completely, but they’re also people sick of the politically correct police.

“So if the goal of the left is to punish Morgan Wallen to the point where he has no career, is wiped from the map, it is not working. If anything, his fan base is growing. Another strategy must be employed to eviscerate hate speech

But Mr. Lefsetz doesn’t allude to the half of it. The P1 Media Group conducted a survey in the aftermath of the Morgan Wallen radio ban to to gauge the effectiveness of the move. What they found was absolutely astounding. The group sampled 200 country radio listeners aged 18-54 in PPM markets. Participants were required to be primarily country radio listeners, and 100% of them were familiar with the artist Morgan Wallen. Despite that familiarity, only 18% of country radio listeners knew about the industry’s Morgan Wallen ban from country radio stations and streaming playlists/recommendations.

That’s right, 18%. That means for all the incessant think pieces, all the apoplectic media coverage, and still the permeation level for knowledge of the Morgan Wallen ban among radio listeners who say country music is their primary genre is only 18%. What is the underlying reason for this? It’s likely because mainstream country radio is an incredibly passive medium.

The people that pay attention to radio aren’t really paying attention at all. It’s simply background noise to their commute, or what’s on at their backyard party that barely anyone pays a mind to. They removed Morgan Wallen? Meh, didn’t notice. Or maybe they will turn to streaming, finding radio insufficient for their Morgan Wallen fix. And these listeners certainly aren’t going to have their noses stuck in deep dive think pieces telling them how racist they are for liking Morgan Wallen and country music. Meanwhile, as Bob Lefsetz says, streaming has become king. Listeners listen to what they want to, and whether they’re aware of the controversy or not, they want to listen to Morgan Wallen.

Along with the woeful ineffectiveness of the Morgan Wallen backlash, the other lesson this underscores is just how little relevancy mainstream country radio actually has with mainstream country listeners. If you remove arguably the largest artist on the format at the moment and only 18% even notice—while streams and sales don’t decrease, they dramatically increase—then what value does the mainstream country medium have in the first place?

“The times they are a-changin’,” Bob Lefsetz says. “Morgan Wallen never should have said what he did. He should pay a price for his words. But the point is to get the message to not only him, but those who listen to him. And I’m not sure that is happening in this case.”

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