You don’t have to be a cowboy to get “Old Town Road.” It’s a musical joke everyone can enjoy.
“Old Town Road” started as a “country trap” mix on the internet and exploded to the top of the charts, currently boasting more than 80 million plays on Spotify. It went from a viral YouTube song that was set to images from the video game Red Dead Redemption, which radio stations would play from, to becoming one of the most popular songs played on the app TicToc and hitting the top of the pop charts. Now, the creator Lil Nas X has signed with Columbia Records and released a remix of the song featuring the pop-country star, Billy Ray Cyrus.
The song is catchy, sure. But the real reason for its popularity is much simpler: it’s a joke. And both country and hip-hop fans are in on it.
Montero Lamar Hill, who goes by Lil Nas X, created the track as a fictitious take on country music. Singing about the stereotypical country themes like horses, tractors and country roads, it combines the classic bass of trap and auto-tuned rap vocals with classic country strums of the acoustic guitar. With the addition of Cyrus’ raspy southern-twang vocals, the song has grown into a bigger hit than ever imagined.
Lil Nas X told Time that he promoted the song as a meme. “I always thought its videos would be ironically hilarious,” he said, accrediting a lot of the song’s success to TicToc.
“Old Town Road” reached No. 1 on country music charts before Billboard controversially removed it for not being “country” enough. It’s now back to No. 1 on the Billboard Top 100. But with lyrics like “riding on a tractor/lean all in my bladder” and “bull ridin’ and boobies/ cowboy hat from Gucci,” you can’t actually imagine real-time country folk taking this song seriously. So why is it song a hit?
Certain aspects of country music are starting to creep back into pop, like Cardi B’s pink fringe, leather chaps and cowboy hat ensemble or Mistki’s most recent album title Be The Cowboy. And way back in the day before Elvis, The Rolling Stones or The Beatles, country music was the only kind of pop music in the U.S.—but “Old Town Road” is blurring genre lines that have never been blurred together before.
You can find reactions online to people immediately laughing once Lil Nas X comes in singing about horses, but they usually end their review with a positive take on the song. Twitter is flooded with people loving and laughing over the song. Even Young Thug posted a video of him remixing the song himself.
And, of course, no one can escape the memes to come out of this.
So, this is what pop music has come down to—a joke. But is it so bad that the top song on the charts is an inside joke with everyone on the internet? That’s just 2019, y’all.