Entertainment

Billy Ray Cyrus lends voice after Lil Nas X song pulled from country charts

After rapper Lil Nas X's track Old Town Road was pulled from Billboard's country chart last month, Billy Ray Cyrus is stepping in to lend his voice in more ways than one.

Rapper's Old Town Road sits at top of Apple, Spotify lists but yanked from Billboard's top country chart

Billy Ray Cyrus and Lil Nas X have teamed up for the Old Town Road remix, a 'country trap' song that was removed from the country charts. (Lil Nas X/Twitter)

After rapper Lil Nas X's track Old Town Road was pulled from Billboard's country chart last month, Billy Ray Cyrus has stepped in to lend his voice to the chorus of fans — literally.

Not only has the veteran country singer joined the growing number of people decrying Billboard's decision, but Cyrus, made famous by the 1992 country-pop hit Achy Breaky Heart and line dance it sparked, has also joined Lil Nas X for a remix version.

"It was so obvious to me after hearing the song just one time. I was thinking, what's not country about it?" Cyrus said in a tweet about the original song posted Friday. "It's honest, humble, and has an infectious hook and a banjo.  What the hell more do ya need?"

The audio of the new remix track featuring Cyrus was posted Thursday and has become a top trending video on YouTube, garnering over 5.5 million views in a matter of days.

Listen to the remix version of Lil Nas X's Old Town Road featuring Billy Ray Cyrus:

Song doesn't 'merit inclusion' on country chart

Old Town Road (I Got The Horses In The Back) debuted on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, the Hot Country Songs chart and the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart at the same time.

It was at number 19 on the country chart when it was yanked. 

In a statement provided to Rolling Stone, which first reported the change, Billboard said "upon further review" the song "does not currently merit inclusion on Billboard's country charts."

"When determining genres, a few factors are examined, but first and foremost is musical composition," the statement said. "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."

What do you think? Here's the original version of Old Town Road (I Got The Horses In The Back):

Fusing genres, pushing boundaries

Part of Lil  Nas X's appeal — and one of the possible reasons for the decision — is his genre-bending, hybrid sound. The fusion of hip hop and country, referred to as country rap and more recently, as "country trap," isn't new. But it's still not common and the artist is pushing musical boundaries.

In an interview with Time after the song's removal, Lil Nas X, 19, said he believes "whenever you're trying something new, it's always going to get some kind of bad reception."

"The song is country trap," he told the magazine. "It's not one, it's not the other. It's both. It should be on both [charts]."

Lil Nas X says his hit song belongs on myriad charts because it's not specific to one genre. (@lilnasx/Instagram)

Many are pointing to other singers such as Taylor Swift and Bebe Rexha who have had few problems crossing over between pop and country.

Billboard is just reflecting something that we've seen over decades, which is that genre lines are inherently based off of race."- Britney Spanos , Rolling Stone music writer

At the same time, Beyoncé's country-driven track Daddy Lessons from her highly acclaimed 2016 album Lemonade couldn't make any headway in that genre at the Grammys, despite being nominated multiple times that year across rock, rap, pop and urban categories.

"Country, in a lot of ways, whether people have noticed or not, it's become a signifier for whiteness to a lot of countries, to a lot of people," said Britney Spanos, a music and pop culture staff writer at Rolling Stone.

"Billboard is just reflecting something that we've seen over decades, which is that genre lines are inherently based off of race." 

Rappers such as Ski Mask The Slump God and Joe Budden are backing that up, calling Billboard's move against Lil Nas X "discrimination."

Returning to country music's roots

Despite ongoing criticism over the lack of diversity on the country music scene, American country music singer Jimmie Allen told CBC News last summer he doesn't fault the industry or the audience.

"They've always been ready and willing to — especially the listeners — willing to embrace people of different ethnicities," the African-American musician told CBC's Deana Sumanac-Johnson. "It just takes a few artists first who aren't afraid to stand out and be different.

"If you listen to the lyrics and the storytelling in country music, it comes from blues. Over time, it went a little western. For me, country music is just getting back to where it first came from. For everyone."

Whether or not the new version of Old Town Road satisfies Billboard's often arbitrary guidelines for genre chart inclusion, its widespread popularity has another major star willing to join the collaboration.

"Y'all call me when you're ready to shoot the video," Willd Wild West musician-actor Will Smith posted on Instagram Friday.

With files from Mrinali Anchan

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