Old Town Road
May 1, 2019
Todd plays "Old Town Road" on the piano.
LIL NAS X ft. BILLY RAY CYRUS - OLD TOWN ROAD
A pop song review
Todd: Hey everyone. Todd in the Shadows here, Internet's laziest music nerd coming in late to the conversation yet again. We're all familiar with the concept of overplay, right?
A picture of a radio appears
Todd (VO): You like a song, but then you hear it too often in too short an amount of time...
A photo of a man screaming while covering his ears is also shown.
Todd (VO)...and it gets tired more quickly than it should, and you stop wanting to hear it? Y'know?
Todd: That was a thing before streaming when people had a lot less control over what they listened to, but here's my question: Can a song be overtalked?
Clip from "Old Town Road"
Lil Nas X: I'm gonna take my horse to the old town road
Todd (VO): Maybe this is a problem just for me 'cause I have to keep up with current discussions in music to make these videos, and also, I just never leave my computer, but...
Todd: I have seen nothing in the last month but takes upon takes upon takes about [single cover for...] "Old Town Road" by Lil Nas X, which is the #1 song in America as I record this. But it's not just the song, no no no, it is pure think piece bait.
Clip from Good Morning America with the segment titled "Billboard's Music Battle: Viral Hit "Old Town Road" Pulled from Country Charts"
Todd (VO): Arguments, counter-arguments, counter-counter-arguments...
Picture of Lil Nas X at Columbia Records
Todd (VO): ...controversy...
Clip from the Hot 97 radio show
Todd (VO): ...the discourse. You would think it was called...
Back to album cover
Todd (VO): "Old Town Road (What we talk about when we talk about Country and Rap and the Historical Racist Exclusion in the Music Industry and the Concept of Genre as a Whole)."
Todd: And it's not just that, either. It's a social movement.
Clip from Fuse's interview with Lil Nas X
Todd (VO): "Old Town Road" has become a symbol of righteousness, striking back against every historical wrong committed against black artists in any genre.
Todd: And I'm just exhausted by it. Like, I figured by the time I recorded my take, things would've calmed down, uh and it has not.
Clip of Dave East on Instagram
Todd (VO): Like, just a week ago, the rapper, Dave East said that "Old Town Road" was, quote... Todd: [quotation marks] "whack".
Dave East: Shit is whack. Put a cape on it.
Todd (VO): And then he had to...
Article entitled "Dave East disables IG user comments after calling Lil Nas X's Old Town Road "Super Wack"
Todd (VO): ...turn off his Instagram comments because he was getting so much backlash.
Todd: ...Because he called it 'wack'. Sure makes me nervous about making this video!
Image of Todd with the phrase, "OUTRAGE!!! Shadowy Internet reviewer calls Old Toad Road "Not the bomb diggity"
Todd (VO): The last time I remember being this nervous because a song had such fervent, devoted fans...
Todd: ...was Childish Gambino's "This is America".
Clip of Childish Gambino's "This is America"
Childish Gambino: This is America...
Todd (VO): But "This is America" was provocative by design. It was a firebomb deliberately aimed at an already overheated and volatile political climate, and it demanded that you take it seriously.
Todd: "Old Town Road" is a less than two-minute novelty song about riding a horse.
Clip from the unofficial music video
Todd (VO): This song was not built to carry that weight.
Image of an Arabian man riding a horse-drawn carriage with many bags
Todd (VO): You have overladen that horse.
Todd: But who am I to judge about "overtalking" a song? I'm making a video too. (Arrows point to him saying "Hypocrite" and "Part of the Problem") What else is going down? I don't have ten minutes of material on...
Photo of the Jonas Brothers
Todd (VO): ...the Jonas Brothers. I don't.
Todd: And I've been thinking about the intersection of country and hip-hop for a very, very long time.
Video for Nelly and Tim McGraw's "Over and Over"
Todd (VO): Like, way before even Nelly and Tim McGraw. I mean, back when country and hip-hop were considered exact opposites.
Todd: And you would hear people say they listen to everything...
Image of a young girl with the phrase "I listen to everything except country and rap"
Todd (VO): ...except those two genres.
Todd: Now, I was a little kid in the '90s when my parents took me to a...
Clip from an old Hank Williams Jr. concert
Todd (VO): ...Hank Williams, Jr. concert, and I watched him do a cover of...
Video for "Whoomp! There It Is"
Todd (VO): "Whoomp! There It Is". [beat] I swear that happened.
Todd: And, y'know, it sucked because old Hank was too drunk to stand...
Todd (VO): ...but it still blew my mind because, "Whaaaaa? Country and rap don't go together!"
Todd: And on the basis of that concert, I declare Hank Jr. the most influential country singer alive...
Montage clips of Jarrod Niemann ft. Pitbull - "Drink to That All Night" (Remix) and Florida Georgia Line ft. Nelly - "Cruise (Remix)"
Todd (VO): ...because now, country and hip-hop mix so often, it's not even noteworthy anymore. But it's mostly come from the country side. They add hip-hop tropes to country songs, they get guest rappers. There really hasn't been much of the reverse.
Todd: And then, this...
Photo of Lil Nas X
Todd (VO): ...19-year old kid...
Todd: ...who's a complete no-name.
Another image of Lil Nas X
Todd (VO): In fact, his rap name is just a mashup...
Images of Lil Wayne, Nas, and DMX
Todd (VO): ...of the biggest rappers of 20 years ago.
Todd: He could've been named...
Another photo of Lil Nas X with the words "Jay", "Luda" and "Biggie"
Todd (VO): ...JayLudaBiggie'.
Todd: So this no-name with a bad name, he comes out of nowhere with what he calls a "country-trap song."
Clip from "Old Town Road"
Lil Nas X: Ride 'til I can't no more (Kio, Kio)
I got the horses in the back...
Todd (VO): I mean, it is a trap song, but it's got a country hook sung in a low southern bass, with lyrics about, y'know, bull riding and horses. It doesn't even have a real music video, it's just stolen video game footage. That's how small time he is. But his song catches on as a meme on...
Video of a girl and a boy dancing to Old Town Road on TikTok
Todd (VO): ...TikTok, which I'm told is what replaced Vine, and then it gets big enough to start charting.
Todd: And then Billboard decided...
Clip from Good Morning America
Todd (VO): "Wait, this isn't actually a country song," and they took it off.
Todd: And that's where the trouble started.
Article titled "Backlash after Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" removed from Billboard Country chart
Todd (VO): There's just been this huge backlash at Billboard's decision...
Article titled "The "Old Town Road" Controversy Reveals Problems Beyond Just Race"
Todd (VO): ...and the country establishment as a whole.
Todd: That decision became emblematic of country music's...
Old black and white footage of black people dancing to country music
Todd (VO): ...long historical exclusion of black artists, and there's been these big, long Twitter threads about it...
Todd: ...and they're not super accurate, but the broader points are true as far as I can tell.
Old clips of country singers, both white and black
Todd (VO): Like, there's no reason country music should be 'only for white people,' certainly not historically since it and the Blues come from roughly the same place. No, country became exclusively white as a marketing decision in the record industry 80 years ago. Todd: As to the broader points, is there racist resistance to black people in country music by country music fans and by the industry? Yeah, obviously so.
Clip of "Straight Tequila" by Trini Triggs
Todd (VO): I know that, because every black guy who's ever tried to make it in Nashville has said as much, old and new, successful and not.
Todd: So yeah, there are problems, even now that they have, like...
Todd (VO): ...three black guys which has brought the number of successful black artists in country history up to, what, four?
Todd: I just had difficulty connecting it to "Old Town Road", 'cause, honestly, I sided with Billboard.
Clip from "Old Town Road"
Lil Nas X: Can't nobody tell me nothing...
Todd (VO): To me, this is not a country song. Like yeah, there are cowboy elements and modern country has hip-hop elements, but you still wouldn't mistake this for any other country song.
Todd: Even beyond the beat, it just doesn't sound the same, like the melody and the structure are mostly trap.
Todd (VO): The song was only counted as 'country' because his manager...
Image from the Spotify home page
Todd (VO): ...checked the box when he uploaded it to Spotify because he figured, "Why not?"
Clip from the Hot .97 radio show
Todd (VO): And I have seen critics in both the country and hip-hop worlds agree with me so, y'know, at least I'm not alone, but I'm actually not so confident in this argument anymore.
Todd: In fact, I think the other side's argument is pretty unbeatable, which is that country music already includes tons of non-country music.
Video for "Burnin' It Down"
Jason Aldean: Girl, when you want it
You know that I'm on it...
Todd (VO): I'm not even talking about 'bro-country' or 'pop-country'. I'm talking about shit that is just...
Todd: ...plainly not country music in any way.
Clip from Keith Urban ft. Carrie Underwood - "The Fighter"
Carrie Underwood: What if I fall?
Keith Urban: I won't let you fall
Carrie Underwood: What if I cry?
Todd: How on Earth could you call this country music?!
Todd (VO): You can't. It has no elements of the genre whatsoever, and yet it was a huge hit on the country charts. "Old Town Road" may or may not be a country song, but it's certainly more country than this.
Todd: But even just compared to an average, modern pop country song, w-where's my argument?
Clip from "Old Town Road" and Brad Paisley
Todd (VO): 'Old Town Road' isn't country. It has creaky banjos and trap beats. Modern country music has processed guitars and snap beats."
Todd: [beat] Just listening to myself, I feel like an idiot.
Clip from Good Morning America
Todd (VO): Like yes, modern genres have been shaped a lot by historical racism, and that's obviously still a problem. But I think there's a secondary problem, which is that Billboard wrote itself into a corner by still trying to define genres at all.
Todd: "Genre" is an artifact of a time...
Old clip of a record store
Todd (VO): ...when music cost money, and people had finite amounts of cash and needed guidelines to help them decide where to spend it.
Todd: It has nothing to do with the current scene where...
Todd (VO): ...rock is country, country is pop, pop is indie, and rap is somehow not pop, despite being more popular than everything else.
Todd: These genres have no definition anymore, and it used to be that if it was unclear...
Clip from a radio station
Todd (VO): ...you could identify a song's genre by what radio stations it was on.
Clip from RT with the headline "IHeartRadio files for bankruptcy"
Todd (VO): But the radio stations only play five songs now and no one listens to them.
Todd: So, what is their definition, exactly?
Article with the phrase "how the song is marketed and promoted" highlighted
Todd (VO): One of the reasons that Billboard gave for their decision was the marketing...
Article entitled "Billboard May Revisit Decision to Remove "Old Town Road" From Country Chart-Lil Nas X's runaway hit still won't appear on the Country charts-but that decision is not permanent"
Todd (VO): ...and that they'd change their mind if their marketing changed.
Todd: The "marketing" changes? [shrugs] The music wouldn't change.
Footage of the American Country Music Awards/basketball game performance of Lil Nas X
Todd (VO): Basically, the only way you can tell if a song is country is if it's marketed to country radio. I still don't think "Old Town Road" is much of a country song, but I understand it was and is getting played on country stations, so, by definition, it is a country song.
Todd: Billboard still hasn't changed their minds or anything, yeah, okay, yeah, now I'm convinced. That is some horseshit. We got horseshit in the back.
Back to the basketball game performance
Todd (VO): But even after I was convinced that Billboard fucked all this up, (sigh) I don't know. I kept hearing arguments that I didn't agree with and it just kinda rubbed me the wrong way.
Clip from the Genius.com interview with Lil Nas X
Todd (VO): It feels like a lot of separate, unrelated issues are being conflated here.
Todd: You know, I've heard people saying that Billboard's exclusion of "Old Town Road" is country music saying,
Todd (VO): "Well, we can borrow from hip-hop, but you can't borrow from country music."
Todd: But that's not the same thing.
Video for Florida Georgia Line ft. Luke Bryan - "This is How We Roll"
Todd (VO): Florida Georgia Line aren't trying to be counted on the rap charts. No one's trying to get Luke Bryan played on Hot .97 next to Meek Mill. I mean, that'd be pretty funny if he tried, but that's not happening.
Todd: People are like, "Well, this just proves Nashville is biased against rappers." Have you been watching Nashville?!
Todd (VO): They've been desperately courting hip-hop for years now! Just begging any famous rapper, just, you know...
Todd: "Please, please think we're cool!"
Video for "Old Town Road"
Todd (VO): I mean, I just couldn't get on board with a lot of the arguments and it really detracted from the song to me.
Todd: And it got much worse when they released the remix with...
Footage from the recording of "Old Town Road"
Todd (VO): ...Billy Ray Cyrus, of all goddamn people.
Billy Ray Cyrus: Hat down, cross town, living like a...
Todd (VO): Suddenly, I was hearing about how great it was that country legend Billy Ray Cyrus was using his decades of experience in Nashville and credibility to support this wronged up-and-coming artist, what a gracious thing for him to do.
Todd: ...I-I can't tell if you guys are being serious. You know he's a joke, right?
Footage of Billy Ray Cyrus performing in the 90s
Todd (VO): He doesn't have credibility. He's the Rico Suave of country. He's a pop doofus who got big 25 years ago and immediately flamed out.
More footage from the recording of "Old Town Road"
Todd (VO): He's not graciously standing up for this kid. He was asked to be on the song...
Clips from Hannah Montana
Todd (VO): ...probably because Lil Nas grew up on Hannah Montana, and that's the only country singer he knows.
Todd: Of course Billy Ray said yes.
Footage of Billy Ray Cyrus and his daughter, Miley Cyrus performing
Todd (VO): He's been trying to ride back to relevance on the coattails of younger, cooler artists for fifteen years.
Todd: This is, like, if a...
Photo of Scotty McCreery
Todd (VO): ...young country artist decided he was going to be a rapper...
Todd: ...and for cred he joined up with his favorite rapper ever...
Photo of Ja Rule
Todd (VO): Ja Rule.
Todd: Y'know, as if Ja Rule cared what genre it was or who was asking. What, is Ja Rule gonna say no? (shrugs)
More footage from Old Town Road recording session and the music video
Todd (VO): So that's who Billy Ray is in this equation, don't get it twisted. The kid's doing him a favor just as much as the reverse. But putting that aside, obviously "Old Town Road" is getting screwed over. The country establishment has been trying to make a crossover genre smash like this for years. They should be loving it...
Todd: ...and I think the resistance isn't because he's too black or too hip-hop. It's because Lil Nas X comes from outside their little ecosystem.
Video for "The Fighter"
Todd (VO): Country stars only get away with genre bending if they're established country artists...
More footage from basketball game where Lil Nas X is performing
Todd (VO): ...and Lil Nas isn't a "country artist" because he goes by a rap name, and he hasn't kissed the right asses, and used their songwriters, and let them pick out his wardrobe. It's stupid, and it's arbitrary.
Todd: But at the same time, I don't think the traditionalist argument against "Old Town Road" is unfair.
More footage from the Genius.com Lil Nas X interview
Todd (VO): Lil Nas X is an outsider, and he's not super respectful of the conventions of the genre.
Todd: Instead of "Old Town Road" being included, maybe all the crossover shit should be excluded.
Footage of Imagine Dragons performing live
Todd (VO): Trying to mix with hip-hop has made country music suck ass, and the breakdown of genre lines is why everything sounds like the same Imagine Dragons-y featureless glop!
Todd: Or, maybe the existence of genres is what's ruining genre music!
Footage from an old Tower Records commercial
Todd (VO): Maybe still having separate genres in a Spotify world invites artists to try to hit all the demographics and check all the boxes instead of doing one thing well! Maybe we should give up on genres entirely instead of twisting ourselves in knots trying to draw imaginary lines and definitions!
Todd: (sighs) And wasn't there a song I was supposed to be reviewing?!
Video for "Old Town Road"
Todd (VO): Again, this may be my problem as the guy that overthinks everything, but it's hard for me to even listen to this as a song 'cause all I hear is arguments. Y'know, like how no one can enjoy Ghostbusters anymore? I have to shove all this shit out of my head before I can listen to this song.
Todd: But for real, shoving all of that aside, is it any good?
Clip from "Old Town Road"
Lil Nas X: Cowboy hat from Gucci, Wrangler on my booty
Todd (VO): Well, it's... [sigh]
Todd: ...Look, it's a meme song...
Footage of people in costumes dancing to "Harlem Shake"
Footage of a girl and boy dancing to "Nasty Freestyle" on TikTok
Todd (VO): Like, that's not a real song, that's a background template for a joke. You don't listen to it to listen to it. That's like saying...
Image of a cell phone
Todd (VO): ...a ringtone is a hit song...
Clip from a Nationwide commercial
Todd (VO): ...or the Nationwide jingle.
Todd: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, I know. Speaking of 'clinging to outdated definitions.'
Todd (VO): "Black Beatles" was a meme hit and that was obviously a real song. Like there's a 'real way' to become popular, anyway. Like, you go back to the original, viral Internet meme rap song.
Clip from "Crank That (Soulja Boy)"
Soulja Boy: Soulja Boy off in this, oh...
Todd (VO): Fuckin' Soulja Boy. If I had been reviewing music back in 2007, I'd have called it the worst song of the year and I'd have gotten no pushback. I mean...
Todd: ...this is barely even music, right? Everyone would have agreed.
Todd (VO): But, y'know, I was at an event a few weeks ago and the DJ threw on Soulja Boy, and y'know what?
Footage of people at a wedding dancing to "Crank That (Soulja Boy)"
Todd (VO): Everybody started cranking dat Soulja Boy...
Todd: ...including me.
More footage of people dancing the Soulja Boy
Todd (VO): So, who won that argument? Who was vindicated by history?
Todd: Not me!
Todd (VO): Todd: zero, Soulja Boy: a billion.
Todd: So, I'm-I'm trying to keep an open mind.
Video for "Old Town Road"
Todd (VO): And people obviously do like 'Old Town Road'. However they got there, people are obviously enjoying this song as a song. And I'll admit that hook is pretty solid, and y'know, much better than most country songs these days.
Footage from Genius.com's Lil Nas X interview
Todd (VO): I like Lil' Nas's explanation for it too about how the Old Town Road is his way of saying, y'know, 'I'm going off the beaten path.' Carving out your own way. I mean he's sure doing that because I've never heard a song like this before.
Todd: The verses, though, I don't know.
Lil Nas X: My life is a movie, bull ridin' and boobies...
Todd (VO): I don't know, man... bull riding and boobies. Lil' Nas X says that just because he has some funny lines in there doesn't mean he's treating country music as a joke.
Todd: Well, he can say that...
Todd (VO): ...but these lyrics are just plain bad. It's not even just a couple of juvenile word choices.
Todd: When we say rap and country have a lot in common, that's in the negative way, too.
Todd (VO): So many times when I'm listening to either genre, I just feel like I'm hearing lists.
Todd: Lists of things.
Clip from "Motor Sport"
Offset: Coupe came imported (hey)
This season's Off-White came in snorted (white)
Green Lamborghini a tortoise...
Todd (VO): Just a bunch of lazily rattled off lifestyle signifiers that I've heard a billion times before.
Clip of Post Malone
Todd (VO): Y'know, with rap songs, its brands and luxury items and whatever they're drinking.
Clip from "Small Town Boy"
Dustin Lynch: Little hat down, little John Deere...
Todd (VO): While on the country stations, it's a bunch of random Americana symbols... and whatever they're drinking. I swear we're this close to rewriting "We Didn't Start the Fire."
Todd: (singing to the tune of We Didn't Start the Fire) Lamborghinis, John Deere, Maseratis, cold beer.
Lil Nas X: Ridin' on a tractor, lean all in my bladder...
Todd (VO): I guess it's kind of novel that they flip it around so that the rapper's listing off the cowboy shit like bull riding and horses, and Billy Ray's the one listing off the brands...
Billy Ray Cyrus: Baby's got a habit: diamond rings and Fendi sports bras
Ridin' down Rodeo with a Maserati sports car
Todd (VO): ...but I don't really want to hear any of that from anybody, y'know, bull riding and boobies, Fendi sports bras. I mean, I don't think either of them do it particularly well. Then we get to the end of Billy Ray Cyrus's verse and (sigh) for me, that's the kicker to the entire song.
Todd: Just listen to this.
Billy Ray Cyrus: Got no stress, I been through all that
I'm like the Marlboro Man, so I kick one back
Wish I could roll right back to that Old Town Road
I wanna ride 'til I can't no more
Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus: Yeah, I'm gonna...
Todd: (sighs)... So, this song is really good and I like it a lot.
Lil Nas X: I got the horses in the back...
Todd (VO): I probably could have saved myself a lot of nasty comments if I had said that at the beginning, but I went on a journey with this song. Like, I wasn't feeling it at all. Then they dropped the remix and I still wasn't feeling it, and then they got to the Marlboro Man line and something magic happened and everything clicked.
Todd: I mean, it felt finished, for one thing, now that it's past the two minute mark.
Todd (VO): More balanced, I guess? Like, it was missing something and then Billy Ray showed up and it was finally done. And I guess it's not so weird 'cause country is one of the few genres where you can get better with age...
Todd: ...but how the hell does the...
More footage of Billy Ray Cyrus' old concert
Todd (VO): ...Achy Breaky guy suddenly have grit and dignity?! When did that happen?!
Todd: Like, what's next? Is the next big reggae-ton star going to be...
Todd (VO): ...Snow?
Article entitled "Reggae singer Snow makes surprise comeback with Daddy Yankee"
Todd (VO): Like that'll-
Todd: ...What universe am I living in?!
Todd (VO): I saw some people actually say it's more country than modern country. That made me roll my eyes a little. What they mean is that mixing trap with country makes it sound kinda like 70's outlaw country, which is the only country that's cool to like, but I mean yeah, it is kinda like that. It's got that same 'don't give a fuck' attitude, not just in the song, but in making the song. Lil Nas X should be a joke who's ignorantly futzing around a genre that he knows nothing about, and he pulled it off. And this should be Billy Ray's most embarrassing sellout in a long career of selling out, but he works!
Todd: I mean, it's way better than Nelly and Tim McGraw.
Clip of "Over and Over"
Nelly and Tim McGraw: 'Cause it's all in my head...
Todd (VO): Nelly's "Over and Over" really was the forerunner to the modern, bland monogenre. "Old Town Road" actually keeps the flavor of country and hip hop. Like, it's doing a lot about country and rap, and I still don't think the lyrics are very good, but it somehow has the best parts, too.
Todd: I-I don't know, this is a weird song.
Todd (VO): And, yeah, you know, I don't know if I'm still gonna feel like this at the end of the year. I'm kind of worried this is gonna be like any overblown craze like the Macarena or, y'know, "Achy Breaky Heart", where we step back after a year and go, "Wait, what the fuck were we doing?" Or, I dunno, maybe it's the opposite. Lil Nas X has said he was trying to create a new genre. Maybe it's the start of a bold new trend where we mix country and hip hop and it finally doesn't suck!
Todd: I don't know. Either way, I'm on board. [puts on cowboy hat] Yeehaw!
Leaves while singing the song
Closing Tag Song: "Wild Wild West" - Kool Moe Dee