The Country Billy Ray Cyrus Saw in “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X

The argument of what is and what isn’t authentic country music is exhausting. That’s why we’re not even going to question the country credibility of “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X. The song’s viral success shows country music culture at its greatest potential by resonating with 73 million people online.

And if organizers of Sunday’s (April 7) 54th annual ACM Awards choose to take advantage of the opportunity, the song is viral gold if they want to add it last-minute to the show.

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In case you’ve been living under a rock, Lil Nas X is Montero Lamar Hill. He is a Hip-Hop/Rap artist from Atlanta, Ga. who specializes in memes and celebrates his 20th birthday is Tuesday (April 9). According to Billboard, Hill has his first No. 1 on the trade’s On-Demand Streaming Songs chart with “Old Town Road.” At press time, the song currently sits at No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100. Its popularity is attributed to the #YeeHawChallenge on the media app TikTok, where users upload video clips of themselves and set them to music. The clip featuring “Old Town Road,” has followers appearing in full cowboy get-up as the beat drops, and the story of the song’s rise has been picked up by literally every media outlet. It’s inescapable, and now it has a Billy Ray Cyrus remix.

All of this happened after it was dropped from Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart because, according to statements the trade provided to Rolling Stone, it didn’t meet the requirements needed to rank on the chart. Part of the statement reads, “While ‘Old Town Road’ incorporates references to country and cowboy imagery, it does not embrace enough elements of today’s country music to chart in its current version.”

Enter Cyrus.

At 2 a.m. PT Friday (April 7), members of the media received a press release announcing his contribution to an “Old Town Road” remix, which is available on all streaming services.

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“I loved the song the first time I heard it,” Cyrus said in the release. “Country music fans decide what they like. Not critics or anyone else. Waylon Jennings once told me every once in a while the industry outlaws someone because they’re different. Country music fans don’t need to be defined by critics. I’ve always said, don’t think inside the box, don’t think outside the box. Think like there is no box. So, I’m honored to collaborate with Lil Nas X on ‘Old Town Road.’”

Again, arguments over whether a piece of music is country or not is nothing new. They’ve been passed down from generations of country music people since recorded country music’s inception at the 1927 Bristol Sessions in East Tennessee, and it will continue to evolve for generations to come.

Toby Keith and the Carter Family sound nothing alike because country music, while clinging to its perennial country themes, has always embraced an “evolve-or-die” attitude. But as the living legend Kenny Rogers, someone who transcends all genres, once told in a 2016 interview, “Country music is what country people will buy. If the country audience doesn’t buy it, they’ll kick it out. And if they do, then it becomes country music. It’s just the era of country music we’re in.”

Whatever Lil Nas X is selling at the moment, people are into it, and it’s bringing out the country in people who didn’t know they had it in them. And that’s something to celebrate.

Lauren Tingle is a Tennessean and storyteller who eats music for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When she’s not writing or rocking out, she enjoys yoga and getting lost in the great outdoors.