Music

Sorry Haters, Lil Nas X Isn’t Going To Be A One-Hit Wonder

Lil Nas X has set himself up for global domination for years to come.

Lil Nas X Old Town Road photo

Lil Nas X made history last week, with his debut single ‘Old Town Road’ breaking the record for the most consecutive weeks spent at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

It’s a record that’s been held — in part — by ‘One Sweet Day’ by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men. The track clung to the record for almost nearly 25 years, and since its release, the music industry has undergone monumental changes that have completely altered the way artists release music, and the way audiences consume it. Hell, Lil Nas X wasn’t even born when ‘One Sweet Day’ was released.

At first glance, ‘Old Town Road’ has one-hit-wonder all over it — it’s got the right amount of novelty balanced with an impeccably catchy melody. If we were in a different timeline, we wouldn’t be hearing anything about Lil Nas X after this year until he resurfaced as a contestant on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here!. But the rapper born Montero Lamar Hill is playing the long game — and he’s determined to stick around.

First of all, objectively speaking, he has other hits. His 7 EP dropped earlier this year, and features ‘Panini’, which has racked up over 128 million plays on Spotify. There’s also sure-to-be next single ‘Rodeo’, which features similar success story Cardi B. On top of that, being the hottest property in music right now also means, by business standards, he has huge guest verse potential.

‘Old Town Road’ has a history that gives it, and its maker, quintessential underdog status. It was made using a beat that samples a Nine Inch Nails instrumental ’34 Ghosts IV’ that Nas X bought anonymously for $30 from Dutch producer YoungKio. The song blew up through TikTok and Instagram, and completely accelerated the yeehaw agenda that was already in motion thanks to people like Kacey Musgraves and Young Thug.

It blew up so fast that radio professionals had to rip the song from YouTube to play it.

It blew up so fast that, according to Rolling Stone, radio professionals had to rip the song from YouTube to play it. But it only really became a headline-maker once it was removed from Billboard’s country charts, with the publication deeming it not “country” enough.

The removal sparked debate about why it was really removed from the chart, with some citing a level of racism, and it spurred Billy Ray Cyrus — an unlikely hero if there ever was one — to step in. Listening to the song and expressing his dismay over the song’s disqualification, Cyrus used his country cred and white privilege to boost Nas X’s numbers by lending his voice to a remix. It broke the internet; since then, no-one has known a world where ‘Old Town Road’ wasn’t number one.

It’s a perfect revenge story: the young, gay, black artist who released a country (ish) song, was rejected by country gatekeepers and returned to dominate the global charts with the help of a legendary country music star. But it shouldn’t be completely surprising, as Lil Nas X has a deep understanding of how to navigate the spaces which drive success in 2019, and that understanding is going to propel him long after ‘Old Town Road’ has faded from the speakers.

Nas X’s Twitter account is a modern-day Mona Lisa. He’s self-aware, isn’t afraid to troll, and memes like there’s no tomorrow. And, crucially, he’s been able to turn that meme into money. He leaned heavily into the ‘another remix’ meme, first with tweets leading people to believe there were ‘OTR’ remixes coming with Beyoncé and Dolly Parton (spoiler: there weren’t), and then by actually releasing three more OTR remixes — one with Diplo, one with Young Thug and Mason Ramsey, and one with BTS member RM.

He even dropped an animated, Area 51-themed music video (featuring Keanu Reeves) for one of these remixes just because of the meme — this kid works that fast. Whether it was a transparent attempt to boost the song’s numbers as to so it would beat the Billboard record or not, it doesn’t matter.

But, perhaps what’s most indicative of Lil Nas X’s potential longevity is that today’s music landscape simply doesn’t allow for one-hit wonders anymore. Once upon a time, it was the big companies that dictated hits and releases but now, the internet — accessible to everyone and anyone — is the real tastemaker. They decide what’s hot and what’s not.

The Soundcloud generation’s unprecedented accessibility makes it easier for artists to get their music out there, and it also gives them ways to game the system more than ever before. Danny Kang, the manager of fellow viral country star Mason Ramsey, first instructed Nas X to upload ‘Old Town Road’ as a country song on Soundcloud and iTunes instead of a hip-hop song — hip-hop being an incredibly crowded genre.

“He listed it as a country record,” Kang told Rolling Stone. “He was going to these spaces, gaining a little bit of traction on their country charts, and there’s a way to manipulate the algorithm to push your track to the top.”

This 20-year-old managed to actually manipulate how his $30 song charted on huge taste-making platforms, securing its success.

 

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Having gotten to this stage on savvy along, now Lil Nas X has big label money at his disposal, having signed with Columbia Records at the start of the year. He is still releasing music relatively fast and with very little pushback, with fans flocking to boost his streaming numbers.

It’s unlikely that any song Lil Nas X releases from now on will reach the heights that ‘Old Town Road’ did. But, in saying that, it is almost equally as unlikely that any song released in the near future will reach the heights that ‘Old Town Road’ did.

With his cowboy hat from Gucci and with Wrangler on his booty, Lil Nas X has outwitted and outplayed everyone and has set himself up for continuing global domination. He understands the 2019 game more than any old white man in a suit ever could, simply because he is in the thick of it. As long as keeps his finger on the pulse, this won’t be his first and only rodeo.


Jackson Langford is a freelance music and culture writer from Newcastle. He wears a cowboy hat to bed. He tweets at @jacksonlangford