“Yeah, I’m gonna take my horse to the old town road. I’m gonna ride ’til I can’t no more…”
If you just read the lyrics, you might well think that ‘Old Town Road’ by Lil Nas X was a country track, even if the couplet “My life is a movie, bull ridin’ and boobies” makes you wonder about his cinema-viewing habits. But the track is causing a row Stateside, after debuting on Billboard’s ‘Hot Country Songs’ chart, before being removed by the chart’s compiler.
“Upon further review, it was determined that ‘Old Town Road’ by Lil Nas X does not currently merit inclusion on Billboard‘s country charts,” Billboard told Rolling Stone in a statement. “When determining genres, a few factors are examined, but first and foremost is musical composition. 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.”
At issue here is whether, despite its lyrics, ‘Old Town Road’ is actually a hip-hop track, based on its music. The obvious answer is “it doesn’t matter”, certainly to fans, who’ve made the track a hit on TikTok, YouTube and other streaming platforms. It’s just a sign of traditional genre-boundaries crumbling in the streaming era – a phenomenon the country world is already familiar with, thanks to breakout collaborations with pop artists (Bebe Rexha / Florida Georgia Line) and dance artists (Zedd / Maren Morris). But clearly, if you’re trying to compile genre charts, as Billboard is, you’re going to face some headaches – and in the case of Lil Nas X, risk ending up in a very-sensitive debate about genre, gatekeepers and race.