Old Town Road
Maybe I'm a little behind the curve on this (something on the order of a billion YouTube views), and I never expected to really have an opinion on it, but I feel moved to write about the "controversial" #1 country hit, "Old Town Road."
I say "controversial" because in in this world of fake news*. One person's "controversial" is another's public relations coup.
The supposed controversy is well-known (at least in the States). "Old Town Road" was one of the biggest No. 1 country hits ever (maybe the biggest, I'm not sure), but it was stripped of it's #1 status when Billboard dropped it from the country charts: too hip hoppy and coincidentally performed by a black artist (alongside Billy Ray Cyrus--at least in one version.)
So let's get real here: COUNTRY MUSIC HASN'T SOUNDED LIKE COUNTRY MUSIC FOR A LONG, LONG TIME!!!
To me country music has to have some resemblance to music that can be played on your front porch or at a back yard picnic. (I know: not that many people have a pedal steel guitar on their front porch :-) ) Today's country music is heavily produced southern rock sung by pumped up bro's in T-shirts with exaggerated fake accents and cliche'd lyrics about bodacious babes who can go beer for beer with the guys. It is more akin to the adolescent fantasies of Van Halen or AC-DC. Whether you like that sort of thing or not, it has strayed more than a country mile from the canon of the Carters, Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Sr., Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Patsy, Loretta, Tammy, June, Dolly, etc.
"Old Town Road" is a long shot away from that canon too, but at least lyrically it has a country feel. Its a bit of an earworm too. I'm not ready to say it's a classic. But I like it after a couple of listens.
I especially like it after watching the "movie" with Billy Ray Cyrus. (Music and video are so inextricably linked nowadays that they virtually count one and the same.)
The video is brilliant. It's creative, funny. It's beautifully shot. Wonderful cinematography: there are images reminiscent of Bergman, Wes Anderson, John Ford, or one of the Italian classic directors. There's none of the bump-and-grind, T & A soft porn so common in hip hop videos. No Daisy Dukes. No pompous posing. The setting, though surreal at times, feels genuinely like any lower middle class black or white neighborhood in the U.S. (It could have been shot in my home town, Richmond, for instance.)
What's more, Lil' Nas X is very appealing. He's funny, sweet, real, and a good actor. He seems to be enjoying himself. Billy Ray plays the part of the veteran country entertainer to a T (in other words, himself). Chris Rock (and a guy from Saturday Night Live?) add hilarity in their cameos (if a five-minute video can have cameos).
The video IS a classic.
So maybe the "controversy" isn't really about whether "Old Town Road" is country.
The real controversy is that "Old Town" road is innovative and good.
And that's always controversial.