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Life of a Song: Google Trends Shows the Rise of “Old Town Road”


Image of a sign taken outside of The End of All Music record store. Photo and story by Allen Brewer.

Story by Allen Brewer

It’s been a long road for “Old Town Road.”

The breakout song by Lil Nas X was MTV VMA’s 2019 Song of the Year. According to local experts, the song’s fame is thanks in part to its controversial mix of genres.

The Controversy 

Lil Nas X produced “Old Town Road” in December of 2018. The song was labeled both a country and a rap song. As the song began trending on TikTok videos, it quickly climbed the charts in both genres.

Headphones and cord
Photo by Allen Brewer.

“I think ‘Old Town Road’ was a popular song due to its fusion of country and hip hop elements,” Lauren Conley, station manager for the University of Mississippi student-run Rebel Radio, said. “The song does not stay under the umbrella of one genre but combines two to create a new fusion of country and rap.”

Billboard’s Hot Country, however, removed the song from its list in March, indicating in a statement to Rolling Stone that it was music inconsistent with today’s country. According to David Swider, owner of The End of All Music in Oxford, this reaction is common with songs that mix genres.

“Anytime you put labels on music, you are putting people in camps,” Swider said of the song that’s only available as a download. “If I could sell it in the store I would, but in both the country and rap section.”

The Effect 

According to Rolling Stone, the decision to remove the song from Billboard’s country chart caused some to criticize the industry’s lack of diversity. Billboard defended its decision stating that the song’s subject matter did not reflect country music. Skeptics, however, cite the country music industry’s lack of representation for black artists. 

Supporters of Lil Nas X from within both genres stepped up to defend the artist, including country star Billy Ray Cyrus, who co-starred with Lil Nas X in a re-mix of the song in April.

“Billy Ray Cyrus was the perfect partner for the song and introduced this new subgenre to his generation,” Conley said.

There’s a saying that no publicity is bad publicity and the controversy over this song may have caused a spike in Google searches for “Old Town Road” from March to April, about the time that Billboard’s Hot Country removed the song from its list and the Cyrus re-mix was released.

“I think that the controversy over Billboard’s Hot Country 100 could have increased the song’s popularity,” Conley said. “I believe that people wanted to be able to judge whether the song deserved to be on Billboard’s Hot Country 100 chart for themselves.”

However, Conley says there’s much more to this song than its controversy.

“I do not think it is the sole reason it gained popularity,” Conley said. “It is a song with awesome beats and catchy lyrics that would make anyone sing along to it.”  

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