It all happened so fast. On Tuesday morning (Feb. 2), Morgan Wallen was country music’s fastest-rising star, but come Wednesday (Feb. 3), you can’t even find him on the radio.
Per TMZ, Wallen returned home from a night out in Nashville on Sunday (Jan. 31) and was saying goodbye to friends outside in his driveway, when he was caught on video hurling the N-word at a buddy. An apology came swiftly, but so too did the consequences: In addition to most of country music’s major radio players, Spotify and Apple Music have pulled Wallen’s songs from their playlists.
In roughly 18 hours’ time, Wallen has been suspended “indefinitely” from Big Loud Records, his label home, and deemed ineligible for any ACM Awards this spring. He recently dropped a double album — the songs from which have been breaking streaming records.
Is this like what happened to the Chicks (formerly the Dixie Chicks)? What’s next for Morgan Wallen?
We’re answering the most burning questions, but catch up quickly, because the story is still moving fast. A few things seem clear: The “Whiskey Glasses” said something vulgar and offensive, the punishment has been severe, and he’s going to need to do much more than apologize to find his way back.
What did Morgan Wallen say?
In the video, Morgan and his buddies arrive at his house late at night, honking car horns and shouting in the driveway. As the singer is seen walking inside the house, he turns and asks someone to look after another member of the group, remarking loudly for one friend to “take care of this p—y-a– motherf–ker … Take care of this p—y-a– n—-r.” A neighbor caught the moment on video and sent it to TMZ, and within hours, it was national news.
Is there any precedent for this?
Not recently. Jason Aldean dodged similar fallout when he wore blackface as part of his Halloween costume in 2015, and songwriter Dallas Davidson admitted to being embarrassed after he used a slur for a gay person as he was being arrested while intoxicated.
You have to look outside of country for an example that’s close: Reality star Duane Chapman’s racist remarks in during a 2007 conversation with his son cost him his Dog the Bounty Hunter television series, though he eventually bounced back with more reality shows.
More recently, country music has been criticized for its systematic forms of racism and the exclusion of Black and Latinx artists from playlists and in behind-the-scenes roles. Many artists will would agree that Wallen’s remarks are much more emblematic of a prejudiced system than most would like to believe.
What has the fallout been like?
Absolute: Wallen’s record label effectively dropped him, and major radio groups have scrapped his music from rotation. CMT — one of country music’s largest video platforms — removed all Wallen-related content from their platform. The Country Music Association, too, took measures to distance themselves, and streaming platforms removed him from playlists.
Wallen was arguably on track for another No. 1 week on the Billboard 200 this week, plus a Top 10 radio single soon and more streaming records to come. Those opportunities have all but vanished.
Is this comparable to what happened to the Chicks?
Natalie Maines didn’t say anything vulgar or racist when she insulted then-President George W. Bush in 2003, but the punishment was similar. While it took longer for the trio’s music to disappear (days into weeks), it did happen. One key difference is that, 18 years ago, fans and radio listeners led the revolt. Today, it is the country genre gatekeepers making the immediate changes.
What’s next for Morgan Wallen?
If Wallen is going to enjoy anything close to entry-level radio and streaming success again, he has some major “show me” reconciling to do. That can take many forms, but his effort still may not be enough. He’d likely have no trouble selling concert tickets again once venues open up, although he may not fill arenas in 2021.
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