Genre is a tricky thing, especially when it comes to music—which is how you end up with labels ranging from freakbeat to ectofolk, all trying to convey some very specific set of feelings, instrumentation, and commonly held styles. Expand it out to something as massive as “rock” or “country,” and suddenly you’re dealing with categories capable of containing everything from Patsy Cline’s heartbreaking croon to pop-adjacent tunesmiths like Kacey Musgrave, with stops for electric guitar-heavy nonsense like Big & Rich’s “Save A Horse, Ride A Cowboy” along the way. It’s a big tent, is what we’re saying.
But not quite big enough, according to Billboard, which declared this week that “Old Town Road,” a recent viral hit by Lil Nas X, “does not currently merit inclusion on Billboard‘s country charts.” The song—which merges banjo samples, rap, and a whole lot of horse-and-tractor talk into something that’s been tentatively dubbed “country-trap”—blew up on video app TikTok in recent weeks, capturing the imaginations of listeners who would, too, like to indulge in a fantasy where they have a cowboy hat from Gucci and a Wrangler on their booty. It also landed on Billboard’s cross-genre Hot 100 chart, as well as both the country and hip-hop charts. The latter, though, was apparently a mistake, according to a message sent to Lil Nas X’s label, Columbia.
All of which was apparently—at least to some extent—deliberate on the artist’s part, with Rolling Stone’s report on the subject suggesting that Lil Nas X intentionally placed “Old Town Road” in a bunch of streaming service’s “country” libraries, in an effort to gain traction outside the crowded hip-hop space. (There might have also been cowboy memes involved.) Which just raises the whole issue of how arbitrary some of these genre distinctions are: If Kid Rock can get his mush-mouthed scream-raps onto the country charts by putting on a cowboy hat, why not Lil Nas X? (In response to questions from Rolling Stone, Billboard emphasized that its decision had nothing to do with race.) In any case, it sounds like the song, and the artist, are doing just fine despite their exclusion from this particular market—although he did seem a little distraught about the news on Twitter last night: