Morgan Wallen Music Sales Skyrocket Amid Cancellation

For all intents and purposes, Morgan Wallen’s mainstream country music career is over. After being caught on camera using the ‘N’ word on Sunday evening (1-31) outside of his house in Nashville in an exchange with a friend, the country music community quickly distanced from the troubled performer.

Country music’s two major radio station owners—Cumulus and iHeartMedia—pulled all of Morgan Wallen’s music from their rotations, along with many other mid-sized and local radio outlets doing the same. CMT said they will not longer air Morgan Wallen media. The CMA released a statement distancing from Morgan Wallen, and the ACM Awards have declared Wallen ineligible for the upcoming round of 2021 awards. And perhaps most devastating to the 27-year-old, his label Big Loud Records has suspended his recording contract.

However, amid the effort to cancel Morgan Wallen and distance from his music—including many of the major digital music services such as Spotify and iTunes removing him from playlists and recommendations—current sales for his albums and songs are skyrocketing. Stimulated by fans both looking to support the performer, and from fears his music may be pulled off of streaming services entirely, sales of his songs and albums are dominating music.

Right now, four of the five top titles in all of music on the iTunes charts are Morgan Wallen selections. His recent release Dangerous: The Double Album, which was already the #1 album in all of music over the last three weeks, remains in the top spot. But more surprising, his previous album If I Know Me from 2018 is now in the second spot. Even more surprising, sales of a “clean” version of Dangerous: The Double Album are also spiking, bringing it into the 3rd spot, while his 2015 EP Stand Alone is currently in the 5th spot.

On the iTunes songs chart, it’s a similar situation. Morgan Wallen titles account for seven of the Top 10 songs at the time of this post, with #1 being Morgan Wallen’s “More Than My Hometown.” Granted, the iTunes charts are more a snapshot in time than they are a long-view version of sales and interest in titles. But it’s very plausible under the current trajectory that Morgan Wallen will absolutely dominate the all-genre charts when they are published next week, especially with the way sales and downloads are measured heavier that streams.

UPDATE: According to Billboard, sales for Morgan Wallen’s music have increased 339% since the incident, while radio play for him has fallen 71%.

It’s unlikely this torrid sales pace will persist beyond the next few days or, perhaps a week or two. But the fact that fans are purchasing a clean version of his current album to where it’s the 3rd highest-selling album in all of iTunes at the moment means there is something going on much deeper than a fire sale. Before Morgan Wallen was shut out of the mainstream, he was arguably the most popular artist in country, and one of the most popular in all of music. And with the stifling of Wallen’s voice, this is how fans are responding.

What also might be happening here is a musical version of The Streisand Effect, where censoring Morgan Wallen, or making him taboo, or forbidden, or hard to access is having the opposite result, similar to what we saw when Twitter and other big media platforms censored news from The New York Post on Joe Biden’s son Hunter right before the American Presidential election. The censorship resulted in a massive spike in traffic and interest to the outlet directly, specifically due to the effort to suppress it.

What this reaction says about the scruples of the individuals that would use the revelation of Morgan Wallen’s personal behavior to purchase his music is one thing. But it also should perhaps cause a re-evaluation in how we go about dealing with individuals who fall out of favor with societal norms. Often not allowing them to participate only pushes the individuals and their followers further towards fringe ideologies and extremism as they search for communities that will validate their opinions as opposed to refute them, all while not injuring the bottom dollar of the banished individual, but sometimes padding it.

Many Morgan Wallen fans have been pointing out that what he said is commonplace in hip-hop and among black people. Of course with the history of the ‘N’ word and it’s use to systemically demean others along racial lines, there is a reason it has become forbidden for white people to speak it, and not black people. Correcting these false notions is imperative. But you can’t, and won’t reach those people with that reasoning—or any other reasoning about racism—if you banish them from the public discourse. In fact, you’re likely to just codify and further entrench their ideology through this censorship and isolation.

As people are cheering on the cancellation of Morgan Wallen, it’s important to see the bigger picture. You can win the battle, and lose the war. Neither Morgan Wallen, nor his fans are going anywhere. They number in the millions, and will demand their voice be heard. And attempting to stifle it just might result in its amplification, as it has done so many times in similar scenarios, and as it has done so far with the sales for Morgan Wallen music.

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