Set against a cowboy-themed game, the music video for Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" uses language of the Wild Wild West with a hip hop spin. The genre-blending tune was a breakout hit five weeks ago when it debuted on three Billboard charts at the same time: the Hot 100, Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs and Hot Country Songs.
But Billboard quietly removed the song from the country chart the following week, reports CBS News correspondent Jericka Duncan. It later issued a statement saying the song "does not embrace enough elements of today's country music to chart in its current version." Lil Nas X responded on Genius.com.
"I started to think about it, I was like, you know, why? After like listening to other songs that's actually on that chart, it's like, wait a minute, something's not right, basically," Lil Nas X said.
Rolling Stone reporter Elias Leight said it's traditionally been challenging for black artists to break through on the country charts.
"It's often true that black performers are not really allowed to move between genres with the same ease that white performers are," Leight said.
Lil Nas X first uploaded "Old Town Road" to the music streaming service SoundCloud back in December. It took off when listeners posted short videos set to the track on the social media app, TikTok.
"In several markets, radio programmers actually ripped the song off YouTube just so they would have something to play," Leight said.
For one established country artist, the fact that "Old Town Road" was not embraced as a country song was heartbreaking. Billy Ray Cyrus tweeted: "I thought, it's honest, humble, and has an infectious hook, and a banjo. What the hell more do ya need?" So he decided to.
"The song deserves to be on every chart," country music artist Jimmie Allen said. His debut single "Best Shot" was No. 1 for three weeks on country radio.
"I came into this genre as a new artist from a small town in Delaware and I'm a black guy. And I had strikes against me that people thought might stop me, but yet the country community helped welcome me in," Allen said.
Billboard maintains its decision to take "Old Town Road" off the country chart had absolutely nothing to do with the race of the artist.
"Either way it's a good song, it's catchy, and people are talking about it, and they're playing it. And at the end of the day, that's all that artists want. So Lil Nas, bro, [thumbs up]," Allen said.
Billboard said it welcomes the buzz created by genre-blending songs like "Old Town Road," and it could revisit its decision to remove it from the Hot Country Songs chart. It said factors determining which chart a song lives on include musical composition, airplay, and how it's platformed on streaming services.