After being eliminated from the 2014 season of The Voice, there was always the chance that no one would ever hear of Morgan Wallen again. But it didn't work out that way-- and now the 27 year old son of a Tennessee evangelical preacher, new country super-star, is all over the news. A racist, an anti-masker and crony of Kid Rock's with typical right-wing views, Wallen has been afraid to admit he voted for Trump. Late last year, while grousing over Biden's win, he posted that it was hypocrisy for Biden supporters to be celebrating the election win while he couldn't do concerts during the pandemic. "I have a family, band and crew that need to be provided for and taken care of. If it’s OK for us to party in the streets with no 'social distancing,' then we can book shows right now." Wallen, Inc. is going to have to find another way to get taken care on.
Wallen's music was dropped by all the big radio chains, like iHeartRadio, Cumulus and Enercom, from CMT and by all the big streaming services from Spotify and Pandora to Apple-- although not by YouTube where his videos number in the hundreds of millions. On top of that, his contract with Big Loud Records (Republic/Universal), has been "indefinitely suspended."
That never happens in country music. But Saturday night Wallen was caught on video in a drunken rant, yelling gratuitous racial slurs in front of his home. Wallen had every reason in the world that an insincere, publicist-drafted apology would clean up his mess and everything would go back to fabulous normal. It didn't, even thought his new album, Dangerous: The Double Album, is at the #1 position for the 5th week in the country charts right now.
Variety reported that "The Wallen scandal comes at a particularly inopportune time for country music-- not that there ever would have been an opportune one-- as many involved with the genre have recently been involved in publicly discussing a racial reckoning they feel is needed in country, trying to boost the profiles of Black artists who have existed mostly on the margins in an effort to show that the music is making small steps toward real diversity. Wallen’s utterance, as the face of the genre right now, is likely to stand as a huge setback in those efforts and reinforce stereotypes… which even some stars of the format are saying are true stereotypes. Tweeted Maren Morris: 'It actually IS representative of our town because this isn’t his first ‘scuffle’ and he just demolished a huge streaming record last month regardless. We all know it wasn’t his first time using that word. We keep them rich and protected at all costs with no recourse.'"
How popular was Wallen’s music, going into Tuesday night? Besides having far and away the biggest selling and streaming album in any genre since Dangerous: The Double Album made its blockbuster debut three weeks ago, Wallen currently also has five out of the top 20 tracks on the Rolling Stone songs chart. With the roll that it’s been on, Wallen’s album may continue to stream in significant numbers, but it won’t be with the assistance of TV appearances or massive radio play any time in the immediate future. Wallen is also unlikely to enjoy an appearance on April’s Academy of Music Awards, June’s CMT Awards or any of the other television exposure that might have been expected.
I have no doubt that Universal is calling the shots and that they told Republic to order Big Loud to cut ties-- if only temporarily-- with Wallen. The Black music business is way too important for Universal for them to do anything else-- and pronto. On the left, Wallen and his Trumpist amigo Kid Rock.
This afternoon, the Washington Post's Emily Yahr referred to what happened as "one of the swiftest downfalls for a country star in modern history... The fallout is a shockingly abrupt pivot for the industry, which has turned Wallen, 27, into one of Nashville’s most profitable hitmakers over the last several years... His removal from radio, known as the defining way to become a star in country music, is especially unprecedented: The last time a top-selling country act was pulled from radio this quickly across the board was in 2003, when the Chicks were punished for criticizing President George W. Bush. More notably, the immediate consequences for Wallen’s racist language is a stunning reaction from a genre that largely likes to sweep problems under the rug, tries to suppress talk of anything political or controversial and generally plays by the idea that silence is best. Typically, the playbook for White male stars who do anything offensive is: release an apology, maybe lay low for a few days and then resume their journey to country music stardom. In an overwhelmingly White genre that has systematically excluded women and people of color through the years while making many excuses for its male stars, it’s a depressingly effective strategy."