“not country enough”: lil nas x removed from music chart

April 4, 2019
3.6K Picks

According to Chart Data, Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” would have hit #1 on the Billboard charts had it not been removed. X’s independently released song became popular in early 2019 largely in part to its success on the app TikTok. Before its removal last week, the trap-country song hit the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 and number 19 on the Hot Country Songs chart. When Billboard disqualified X from the country charts, citing his initial inclusion as a mistake, they gave the media the perfect reason to have a long overdue conversation on racism in country music, and racism exhibited via the top charts. This is not to say that people haven’t attempted to discuss these things widely and often. In fact, this is almost annually brought up around “award season” when we archaically divide our artists into separate categories based off of societally created genres, which often results in the under-appreciation of Black art.

In an article from 2017, the Los Angeles Times chronicled this very issue using Beyoncé as an example. “The numbers are particularly striking. She is the most Grammy-nominated woman ever, with 62 nominations and 22 wins, but her win rate of 35% is markedly low. Alison Krauss, the white country singer who has 27 wins for 42 nominations, is almost twice as likely to win when nominated than Beyoncé. “ 

This topic is often discussed in relation to Beyoncé, who is possibly our most celebrated modern artist. Can you believe it? Not even she has not been able to defy the rules of award celebrations or mainstream country music recognition because she is Black. This problem is representative of America’s refusal to celebrate Blackness in fear of whiteness losing its place in society. The deep misunderstanding of what equality means has created a tangled web in which Lil Nas X has found himself the latest catch. 

According to Billboard‘s chart police, X’s song was removed because “it does not embrace enough elements of today’s country music.” This is blatant discrimination. To mirror the Internet, how is it possible that artists like Taylor Swift and Bebe Rexha make it to the country charts, and an artist like Post Malone can lead the hip hop charts, but Lil Nas X has been exiled from the country community? This remix of “you’re not country enough” is translating a lot like “you’re too Black”. 

This message by Billboard exists to remind us of our place and ensure we “stay in our lane”. When I was 14, binge-watching 30 Rock in between violin recitals where I would play “Pon De Replay” to give the crowd a break from everyone else’s Bach (all due respect), I was hesitant to wear my interests on my sleeve. I was never ashamed — my parents and best friends celebrated what I loved — but I didn’t feel I could be loud at school, like my friends obsessed with how many goals Arsenal scored over the weekend could be. That was acceptable and common, and back in my day (2013) there was a quiet shame in loving the uncommon if you were Black because you were already societies uncommon. A few years later and every achievement I’ve ever had so far has been a direct derivative of my embracement of myself in all my complexities.

While this is completely unfair and undoubtedly racist, I hope X sees that he is doing something right. Those who push culture become categorized as threats by the gatekeeper of major industries, like Billboard. While this is a painful way to be shown your impact, it is just that nonetheless. X, your community is celebrating you for integrating more people into a genre we’ve often felt ostracized from. You have turned something that used to feel kind of like walking into a white hair salon, into walking into a screening of The Wiz. You did that thing that they call us “magic” for, you have transformed country music (that has often felt like it was not for us) into something not only for us and by us, but also just into something fun as hell. That is special. We could have predicted your successful, genre bending song and our joyful reaction to it to breed your removal from the charts -it’s in our history. When Black people laugh it is threatening to the white community who don’t love themselves enough.

Keep pushing boundaries and please continue to make the world question what they think is permanent. We’ll be right by you while you laugh your way to the bank in that #blackjoy way we always do. Also, we invented country. *Dab*.