The world of country music was jolted this week when two major artists were swept up in the changing cultural winds of racial and sexual norms.
News broke on Tuesday of a drunken Morgan Wallen caught on video over the weekend being loud and disruptive outside of his home. Wallen has shot to country music stardom in the past few years and was named as New Artist of the Year at the 2020 Country Music Association (CMA) Awards in November.
Wallen and some friends came back to his home early Sunday morning from a rowdy night of partying in Nashville. His neighbors were angry at the early morning antics and began recording the events. What happened next has resulted in Morgan Wallen losing his superstar-level status in country music overnight.
According to the neighbor’s videos obtained by TMZ:
As Morgan appears to stumble toward his house, he tells someone to watch over a guy in his group. He says … “take care of this “p****-ass mother******” — and then goes on to say, “take care of this p****-ass n*****” … before finally heading in.
Leading up to this incident, Wallen was at the top of the country music charts with his newly released album, ironically entitled “Dangerous.” That album currently sits atop the Billboard Country chart as do several of Wallen’s singles from “Dangerous.”
The 27-year-old Wallen did release and apology following the initial TMZ report stating: “I’m embarrassed and sorry. I used an unacceptable and inappropriate racial slur that I wish I could take back. There are no excuses to use this type of language, ever. I want to sincerely apologize for using the word. I promise to do better.”
However, the reaction to Wallen’s racial slurs caught on tape and his rowdy behavior was swift and severe throughout the country music industry. Wallen’s music label, Big Loud Records, suspended his recording contract almost immediately after the news broke. That has been followed by Wallen being ‘deplatformed’ across most country radio stations as two of the major station owners — Cumulus and iHeartMedia — ordered that his music be pulled from rotation. Sirius/XM also announced that Wallen’s songs will no longer be aired across their country music stations. The damage to his career was topped off midweek as the Academy of Country Music announced Wallen is now ineligible for awards and involvement for this year’s 56th annual ACM Awards.
Interestingly enough, fans have responded by buying his music in record numbers this week.
While Wallen’s radio play eroded on Feb. 3, sales of his music swelled, according to preliminary reports to MRC Data. His catalog of albums and songs sold a combined 22,500 copies in the U.S. on Feb. 3 — an increase of 339% compared to sales on Feb. 2 (5,000).
Breaking down album vs. song sales, Wallen’s albums sold a little over 8,000 copies Feb. 3, up 593% from 1,000 on Feb. 2, while his songs sold 14,000 downloads Feb. 3, up 261% from 4,000 on Feb. 2.
However, it remains to be seen if Wallen will have any future in country music after this week’s scandal.
Literally on the same day that Morgan Wallen’s career was falling apart due to his self-inflicted cultural suicide, news broke that T.J. Osborne, the lead singer of mega country music group Brothers Osborne, had come out as gay in a TIME Magazine interview.
What may come as a surprise to the band’s fans is the news that T.J., 36, is gay. This isn’t a recent revelation for him; he’s known since he was young, and he’s been out to family and friends in his tight-knit Nashville community for years. In some respects, he says, coming out publicly is no big deal. “I’m very comfortable being gay,” he says later, in a quiet room at the office of his management company. “I find myself being guarded for not wanting to talk about something that I personally don’t have a problem with. That feels so strange.”
Osborne’s announcement was no less of a cultural shock than Wallen’s. The country music industry, and it’s heart in Nashville, is one of the most conservative entertainment sectors in the United States. Osborne is now the most successful openly gay country music artist with his career at it’s apex with no signs of waning. There have been lower-profile country music singers who have announced they were gay, including Ty Herndon, Billy Gilman, and Chele Wright. But none had the current star power of the Brothers Osbourne. It is the pop music equivalent of a Backstreet Boy coming out at the height of that band’s career.
Due to the evolving national mood about gays and lesbians, Osborne’s announcement was greeted with glee and cheers from fans and the band’s peers in country music.
— K A C E Y (@KaceyMusgraves) February 3, 2021
— Dierks Bentley (@DierksBentley) February 3, 2021
Hoping today is a big step forward for country music. We have always been friends, fans, and supporters of the @brothersosborne and the 4 of us couldn’t be happier that he is telling his story.https://t.co/S6bNdMcQAJ
— Eli Young Band (@EliYoungBand) February 3, 2021
However, unlike Hollywood types who aren’t risking their careers by trying to be cool with their sexual identities in their uber-liberal bubbles, Osborne’s decision is a risk to him and his brother as they operate in the world of Nashville.
The country music marketplace is powerfully determined by its fans in a way many other entertainment sectors are not. Not even five years ago, it would have been unheard of that the country music industry would be reacting to this pair of bombshells in the way it has this week.