By Yeol Jang
The author is a local news reporter of The Korea Daily.
The traditional, masculine country music scene has undergone a transformation. Political correctness has influenced the rough and rugged nature of the music.
In the 2010s, the conservative country music scene faced pressure to embrace diversity. Male country singers, known for their cowboy hats, thick beards, and macho charm, began to adopt a smoother image. This trend reached its peak with the emergence of openly gay country singer Orville Peck.
Music critic Jon Caramanica of The New York Times referred to them as “country gentlemen” and observed that “a kindlier new generation of male country singers sings of devoted love in clear voices,” signaling a change in tone.
The rugged charm started to lose its appeal until a game-changer arrived. Morgan Wallen, a new singer, brought raw country music back to the forefront. Frustrated fans, unable to connect with the milder music, became excited once again.
Wallen even dared to use the term “redneck” to describe conservative rural whites. In songs like “Redneck Love Song,” Wallen portrayed himself as a tractor-driving country boy. His manly, raspy declarations of love resonated with southern sensibilities.
As country music regained its edge, Wallen was given the opportunity to perform on Saturday Night Live (SNL), a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for stars. However, the pandemic intervened. A photo of Wallen partying in violation of quarantine guidelines sparked controversy, leading SNL to cancel his appearance.
The controversy escalated when Wallen posted a photo on Instagram showing Democratic supporters celebrating Biden’s victory in the presidential election. “The hypocrisy is unreal,” he wrote. “If it’s okay to celebrate in the streets without social distancing, we should be able to book concerts right now,” Wallen argued passionately. Critics launched a barrage of criticism, but for those frustrated by pandemic quarantine guidelines, it was a delightful moment.
SNL eventually decided to give Wallen another chance. “Thank you for giving this southern hillbilly a chance,” Wallen quipped on the show, skillfully handling the controversy with humor.
However, Wallen faced another setback. A video surfaced of him using the N-word during a prank in a drinking session with friends. The public outcry was intense, especially as the video was linked to the George Floyd case. Wallen found himself caught up in the wave of “cancel culture.” His songs were removed from streaming sites, and he was banned from performing at the Grammys. Effectively, he was expelled from the music industry.
The backlash against Wallen’s actions coincided with a growing sentiment among those weary of being dictated to and canceling everything they disliked. These individuals rebelled against the rising tide of political correctness by rallying behind Wallen, driving his second studio album to become the best-selling album of 2021.
Spencer Kornhaber, a critic for The Atlantic magazine, questioned the phenomenon: “Wallen became more famous after being condemned for racial slurs. What the hell is going on?” He added, “Wallen’s fans seemed to want to send a different message. Wallen’s continued popularity serves as a referendum on ‘cancel culture,’ that poorly defined but omnipresent topic of debate.”
Wallen made history earlier this year with the release of his third studio album. All 36 songs from the album debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Additionally, he became the first country singer to achieve five Top 10 hits, including a No. 1 (Last Night). Wallen’s ‘Last Night’ has held the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for nine consecutive weeks.
Morgan Wallen’s enduring popularity is not merely a passing phenomenon; it reflects a backlash against political correctness. It stands as a public rebuke to the current era.