If you haven’t heard Lil Nas X’s hit single “Old Town Road” by now, you may be living in 1889. That’s the year his new video—a cowboy “movie” starring country music king Billy Ray Cyrus, with an appearance from comedian Chris Rock—begins, before traveling to the present to prove that country and hip hop need not be genres at arms.
“Old Town Road” has been a sensation since it debuted on three Billboard charts at the same time: the Hot 100, Hot R&B, and Hot Country in March. In April, it became one of only three country hits to ever top the Billboard 100. But it also generated controversy after Billboard removed it from the country category, claiming it “does not embrace enough elements of today’s country music to chart in its current version.”
— Complex (@Complex) May 17, 2019
When that happened, Billy Ray Cyrus tweeted his support for the tune, which has classic country elements. Cyrus wrote, “I thought, it’s honest, humble, and has an infectious hook, and a banjo. What the hell more do ya need?” The country star then teamed up with the budding cross-genre musician, Lil Nas X, to produce a version of the song, and most recently starred in the new video.
Lil Nas X told Genius in April that he was miffed by the Billboard move. “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,” he said, stopping short of articulating the complaint that others made that Billboard was being racist. Many interpreted the move to be more of a reflection on Lil Nas X’s race—he’s black—than a sense that song lacked country qualities. After all, it’s about horses, heartache, and perseverance, and sounded like it could have been written by a cowboy in 1889, if that cowboy could also rap.
The new video seems to be a response to the country charts flap, albeit a very good natured one. It shows Lil Nas X and his traveling companion, Cyrus, on horses, in 1889, with the rapper getting shot at despite Cyrus’s claim that the black man is safe with him. Magically, Lil Nas X escapes through a tunnel to a black neighborhood in the present, confounding all he encounters with his horse and cowboy outfit and beating a car in a race. He then joins Cyrus for a performance at a country music venue where the mostly-white crowd of old bingo players seems shocked.
But in the video as in real life, Lil Nas X sways hearts and minds with his song and charm, posing for photos with a little old white woman in cowboy gear and proving that the music can unite a divided nation, no matter what some may say.
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