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People riding horse in a park.
AP/Tina Burch
Country music is usually at the pop music periphery.
COUNTRY HIGH

“Old Town Road” is only the third country song in 30 years to make it to make it to number one

By Dan Kopf

It’s not often that a country song tops the Billboard Hot 100, the influential US music chart used to rank the country’s most popular songs. Country classics of the last several decades like LeAnn Rimes’ “How Do I Live,” Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achy Breaky Heart,” and Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One” all reached the top ten, but could not crack number one. (Twain should have named her song “You’re Still Not Quite the One”).

But America just can’t resist Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” which currently tops the chart. According to an analysis by Quartz, “Old Town Road” is the first country song since 2012, when Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” reached number one. The only other country song in the last thirty years to scale these heights was Lonestar’s “Amazed.” We define country songs as those that ever appeared on Billboard’s Hot Country songs chart.

Country songs that reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100, since 1980

Artist Song Year
Lil Nas X Old Town Road 2019
Taylor Swift We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together 2012
Lonestar Amazed 1999
Billy Vera & The Beaters At This Moment 1986
Dolly Parton 9 to 5 1980
Eddie Rabbitt I Love a Rainy Night 1980
Kenny Rogers Lady 1980

Not everybody agrees that “Old Town Road” is a country song. After initally allowing the song on the Hot Country chart, Billboard has since removed it. Billboard claimed the song, which includes sounds from modern hip-hop, “does not embrace enough elements of today’s country music.” Billboard’s decision has been criticized as arbitrary, and perhaps racist—Lil Nas X is African American.

Billboard says they may consider reinstating “Old Town Road” to the country charts. In a statement to Rolling Stone, Billboard explained:

Determining which chart a song lives on is an ongoing process that depends on a number of factors, most notably the song’s musical composition, but also how the song is marketed and promoted, the musical history of the artist, airplay the song receives and how the song is platformed on streaming services.

Billboard says that their decision will be revisited as “these factors evolve.”  Lil Nas X himself thinks the song belongs on both charts. He calls the song “Country Trap”— trap is a hip-hop sub-genre that comes from the US South—and feels the song is both country and hip-hop.