Black Country Culture Made Morgan Wallen Famous
By Ava Miller
2021 should have been a good year for country music artist Morgan Wallen. On January 8th, Wallen released “Dangerous: the Double Album”, which broke Spotify’s all-time first-day stream record and, throughout that week, had the largest streaming week ever for a country album. Wallen celebrated his success with days of rowdy partying in his Nashville home. On Sunday, January 31st, Wallen’s neighbors recorded him asking someone to watch over one of his more inebriated friends. While doing so, Wallen said, “take care of this p**** *ss (racial epithet).”
The video was sent to the tabloid TMZ and, on Tuesday, Feb 2nd, went viral overnight. By midnight, the powerful Cumulus radio station sent out an email demanding that its 400+ stations remove his music without exception. According to “Country Air Check”, Wallen’s airplay went down around 80%.
I really felt that this was the end for Wallen. As a Gen Z media consumer, I have seen this scenario play out countless times. Almost immediately, most stars are “canceled” through news articles, tweets, and daytime television. One by one, their contracts and appearances are pulled and they diminish from the spotlight for a while.
However, Wallen’s sales revenue actually went up. His radio airplay decreased but the day after the scandal broke, his streaming sales actually improved. According to Billboard, his albums and songs had a 339% increase compared to sales before the incident. After the radio industry’s pushback, Wallen’s fans fired back by streaming his music in record numbers. A fan page on Twitter with the name @MWallenCountry said, “I will always support @MorganWallen True fans stay no matter what man just know I’m here still.” This is not an understatement, Wallen’s album sales went up 593% and his song sales went up 261% while the video was circulating.
The moral implications of Wallen’s actions should have transcended the popularity of his music. Wallen’s fans were way too quick to forgive him for his use of a racial slur. Such forgiveness is reflective of the deep racial divide in the country music genre. February 2021 should not go down as the month of Morgan Wallen’s downfall but instead, an opportunity to amplify Black country artists during Black History Month. Wallen’s use of a racial slur is especially disrespectful considering the history of country music.
Buzzfeed’s Black culture brand, Cocoa Butter, has noted how often listeners tend to only think of white people as the face of country music. However, the commonly used banjo, fiddle, and tambourine have origins in Africa and were brought to America through the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Black slaves in the south used these instruments to tell stories which became the foundation for country music.
Centuries later, Black country performers continue to pull the genre forward. Mickey Guyton, an African American female country performer, makes use of storytelling by writing songs about her experience as a Black woman in the country music industry. Guyton’s music has lyrics and soul that Wallen simply can’t replicate. Her ballads “Black Like Me” and “What Are You Gonna Tell Her?” highlight her encounters with racism and sexual assault. Even if you aren’t a country fan, Guyton’s vivid stories of growing up as a working-class Black female in Texas candidly highlight the barriers still apparent for Black Americans.
Ultimately, Guyton is just one of many black country artists who deserve more recognition. In the past and present, black people have always contributed more than they are recognized for. Their contributions made way for the popularity of country music that we see throughout the United States. Wallen will dig his way out of this and survive “cancel culture,” but considering the history of country music and the true extent of his actions, should we allow him to?