What a year 2019 has been for Lil Nas X. His chart-topping collaboration with Billy Ray Cyrus, “Old Town Road (Remix)”, has smashed records, while his coming out as gay is smashing barriers in the industry.
The original version of the song was released in December 2018, when Lil Nas X was only 19. Then the controversy – after debuting at number 19 on Billboard’s Hot Country chart, the song was removed for not being ‘country enough’. Luckily, in this instance, there was no such thing as bad publicity for the artist. Debates around Billboard’s decision kept “Old Country Road” in the headlines, and country heavyweights like Billy Ray Cyrus came out in full support of the song.
Then on 5 April 2019, “Old Town Road (Remix)” was released by Columbia Records, this time featuring Billy Ray Cyrus. The rest, as they say, has been history in the making.
The song has been raking in the accolades ever since, including:
- It’s the 32nd ever song, in over 60 years of the Recording Industry Association of America’s (RIAA’s) Gold and Platinum programme history, to reach diamond status.
- It is the fastest song in history to be certified diamond, having reached sales (and equivalent streams) of 10 million units only 6 months after it’s April release,
- In July, the song became the longest-running number 1 single in US history, topping the Billboard charts for 17 weeks (at that time).
- It is the longest-leading number 1 hit by an openly queer artist in Hot 100 history.
- It was named Song of the Year at the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards.
One of the most notable achievements, however, was when the song snatched the Country Music Association Event of the Year Award, with Lil Nas X becoming the first openly gay black artist to do so.
The song not only bridges two seemingly polar genres – hip-hop and country, by coming out as gay as the song was sweeping the charts, Lil Nas X has taken one giant leap forward for LGBTQ+ representation in both genres.
In an interview with BBC, Lil Nas X said he made the decision to come out in the glow of success to support and inspire younger generations, as well as “opening the doors” for more diversity in hip-hop and country music, as identifying as LGBTQ+ in these genres is still “not really accepted”.
According to the artist, he seriously considered staying closeted for life, but realised he would never find true happiness if he couldn’t live as his authentic self.
He has been honest about his journey to self-acceptance, admitting that he used to pray that ‘gayness’ was just a phase. He did learn to accept himself, but says he wants to help young members of the LGBTQ+ community not to have to go through the same struggle
2019 was clearly a great year for Lil Nas X, and hopefully it’s just the beginning of a decade-spanning, record-breaking career in music.