'I don't feel like being Morgan Wallen sometimes': Country music's new superstar on the pitfalls of fame
In a new interview with q's Tom Power, Wallen reflects on the growing pains that often accompany success
Morgan Wallen was just 20 years old and working as a landscaper when he got his first big break as a contestant on NBC's The Voice, impressing celebrity judges Shakira and Usher with his audition.
Little did the judges know at the time that they were in the presence of a future country superstar.
- 'I absorbed everything': How growing up in a family of 12 kids turned Dolly Parton into a country icon
This past December, the New Yorker described Wallen as "the most wanted man in country," and last week, Rolling Stone reported that in just three days his new double album, Dangerous, pulled in more than 100 million on-demand audio streams, breaking records on both Apple Music and Spotify.
It's the number one album on the Billboard 200 chart as of Monday.
But the 27-year-old country star's newfound success has also come with some personal challenges.
On his new track Livin' The Dream, Wallen is open about the pitfalls of fame, pointing to a loss of anonymity, the difficulty of life on the road, and a growing dependence on alcohol: "But y'all, it ain't as good as it seems, this livin' the dream is / killin' me."
WATCH | Official lyric video for Wallen's song Livin' The Dream:
"Most days I wake up and I'm thrilled to be able to do what I do. But some days, you know, you don't," Wallen told host Tom Power in a new interview with CBC Radio's q. "I don't feel like being Morgan Wallen sometimes."
He added that he doesn't "feel like that a lot anymore" and considered not releasing the song because he didn't want people to think that he was "whining" or "crying for help."
"I know I signed up for it. I know I wanted that, I wanted to be successful. But there's still just no way to be able to prepare for it. … In school, you don't get 100 on every test. So, yeah, I'm just trying to do the best I can."
A massive hit
Growing up between both Sneedville and Knoxville, Tenn., Wallen was a small-town kid who started singing and writing country songs at a young age. Looking back, he said he was certain he didn't want to do anything else.
Ironically, as Wallen observed, it was when he deviated from pop music to sing a country song (Stay by Florida Georgia Line) that he was eliminated from The Voice, but he left the show in 2014 with a slightly higher profile, some industry connections, and learned the direction he wanted to take as an artist.
"It gave me a lot of confidence to help me figure out who I was [and] who I didn't want to be," he said.
The moment Wallen's life really changed was in 2018, when he released his hit song Whiskey Glasses, the third single from his debut album, If I Know Me.
In the song's music video, Wallen solidifies his new brand and style with a makeover, ripping off the sleeves of his plaid flannel shirt and shaving the sides of his head to emphasize his now-signature mullet.
WATCH | Official video for Wallen's single Whiskey Glasses:
According to Billboard, Whiskey Glasses was the top country radio song of 2019.
"A lot of my songs were not recognizable yet, but I knew every night I could count on that song being just absolutely insane, every single night," said Wallen. "Whether we were playing arenas or amphitheatres or whatever, I knew that I could rely on that moment to be a success. And I think that's when I started to realize that [Whiskey Glasses] was just absolutely huge."
On his SNL debacle
Now more popular than ever, Wallen has found himself under the spotlight of public scrutiny.
Back in October, he was dropped as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live for breaking COVID-19 protocols put in place by the show. Videos on TikTok showed him partying without a mask among a group of young fans in Alabama, taking shots and kissing multiple women.
Wallen said the controversy forced him to "slow down," look inward, and reflect on who he spends his time with and whether they truly have his best interests at heart.
I just wanted people to see me as a person and not me as a headline.- Morgan Wallen
Two months later, he seemingly redeemed himself when he got a second chance at his SNL debut, and even participated in a sketch poking fun at the incident.
The sketch begins with Wallen in a bar where he encounters future versions of himself, played by host Jason Bateman and Bowen Yang. Bateman's character warns him to stop partying or he'll lose his chance to be on SNL.
A "random dude at the party," played by Pete Davidson, then ensures Wallen that he'll "do the right thing" in the future. The sketch concludes with Wallen taking their advice and singing a few bars from a new song inspired by his experience.
"I just wanted people to see me as a person and not me as a headline," Wallen said about the sketch.
"I truly wanted to grow from it and learn from it, and I think that being able to make fun of yourself and to acknowledge that, I think it's important for them to see that I don't take myself too seriously. I don't think I'm better than anyone."
A new perspective
After experiencing some initial growing pains, Wallen said he's learned some important lessons about fame and success. He wrote his new song Dangerous, one of his favourite tracks, as a letter to himself about the mistakes he's made.
"I got into a little bit of trouble and kind of wanted to just make a note about it, maybe explain to myself why I got in trouble," Wallen said about the song.
Identifying drinking as the source of his trouble, he said he now recognizes that he does the "wrong thing" and acts in a way that he normally wouldn't when he's partying.
For the most part, he said, his fans have found his transparency about his errors to be very genuine and relatable.
"A lot of the things that I go through are things that they go through too," said Wallen. "So I'm really, really thankful for that. It's one of my favourite things about my fans."
As for what lies ahead, Wallen said he's going to focus more on his friends and family. He recently became a father and has decided to co-parent with his son's mother.
"Man, I think I've really just learned that I gotta keep my close friends close, and keep them closer than ever. People that I can be safe with," he said.
"That's something that I kind of got away from in 2020, and I've gained a whole new respect for my real, true friends and for my family. So I think that's the most important thing that I can do this year."
Hear Tom Power's full interview with Morgan Wallen near the top of this page.
Written by Vivian Rashotte. Interview produced by Vanessa Nigro.