Thursday, September 10, 12:15pm - 1:15pm (Roundtable)
"Can't Nobody Tell Me Nothin’": An "Old Town Road" Roundtable
No song defined 2019 more than Lil Nas X’s surprise smash “Old Town Road.” After being removed from Billboard’s Country charts, the song exploded into cultural ubiquity and eventually became the longest-running #1 on the Billboard “Hot 100” in chart history. (The song also topped Billboard’s Hip-Hop and R&B charts.) “Old Town Road’s” success provoked a larger conversation over the presence of African Americans in country music and rural culture – symbolized by the rise of the #YeehawAgenda – and illustrated how viral-age technologies can be used to defy industry gatekeepers in Nashville and elsewhere. A gleeful Gen Z disruption of old boundaries and new algorithms, “Old Town Road’s” mash-up of cowboy imagery, rock guitars and trap beats became an unexpected anthem.
Along the way, the song’s creator became an icon. Lil Nas X quickly and consistently demonstrated that he was more than just a lucky avatar for the zeitgeist – instead, the 22-year-old Atlantan used his moment to shape the narratives surrounding his breakthrough. He asserted his legitimacy as a country artist even as he also noted the limitations of genre as a sonic or cultural marker. He built and extended his brand through a meme-worthy mix of social media, live appearances, music videos and remixes with collaborators ranging from Billy Ray Cyrus to Young Thug to BTS. And, after publicly acknowledging his queerness in the middle of “Old Town Road’s” record-setting run, he insisted on new and broader understandings of the intersectional relationships between race, sexuality and pop music. By the time he appeared on the cover of Time magazine in August, resplendent in a red cowboy suit, Lil Nas X had earned the auspicious and daring headline: “It’s His Country.”
This 60-minute roundtable will consider the creation and cultural impact of Lil Nas X and “Old Town Road” from a variety of perspectives. The panelists will discuss its historical roots, contemporary resonances, and lasting repercussions as musical text and cultural phenomenon. They will contextualize the song’s success within larger trajectories of country, hip-hop and pop, as well as in the specific contexts of digital-age music economies. They will consider Lil Nas X’s role in debates over Blackness, queerness and “country”-ness in an age of resurgent white nationalism and new waves of LGBTQ assertion. And they will speculate on the possible futures embodied in this artist and his paradigm-shattering recording.