When Billboard removed Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" from its country charts last week—stating, essentially, that the song wasn't country enough—the decision sparked a debate about whether black artists have the same leeway to push genre boundaries as white artists.
The country-trap bop, which incorporates banjos, rural lyrics and a Southern twang over trap drums, doesn't fall squarely into the country or the rap camp, instead fusing elements of both for a very 2019, genre-agnostic sound.
Critics quickly raised the fact that white artists like Taylor Swift and Jason Aldrean don't encounter the same pushback from country music gatekeepers for incorporating pop and rap elements in their work. Meanwhile, experimental artists such as FKA Twigs and Moses Sumney have long spoken about the ways black artists get boxed into rap and R&B categories, even when their music has more kinship with electronic artists such as Björk.
Yesterday, Lil Nas X got a little help from another country star who faced pushback in his heyday: Billy Ray Cyrus. Cyrus' hit "Achy Breaky Heart" stirred controversy in the country world when it came out in 1992; singer Travis Tritt called it "frivolous" and said he didn't want country music to turn into an "ass-wiggling contest." (Lol.) That didn't stop "Achy Breaky Heart" from hitting No. 1 in four countries and going triple Platinum.