Radio stations and streaming services distanced themselves from the country music star Morgan Wallen on Wednesday after video surfaced of him using a racial slur. His indie record label and management company, Big Loud, announced that it would “suspend” his contract indefinitely.
A major owner of country radio stations, iHeartMedia, decided to remove Wallen’s music from its playlists immediately in response to the video, a spokeswoman said; the decision would impact more than 100 stations. Variety reported that Cumulus Media, another major owner of country music stations, had sent a directive to hundreds of its stations asking them to remove Wallen from their airwaves. The TV network CMT said it is pulling all of Wallen’s appearances from its platforms.
The uproar comes as Wallen, 27, is at a high-point of his career, and one of the most popular new country artists of the day. His latest album, “Dangerous: The Double Album,” is currently in its third consecutive week at No. 1 on the all-genre Billboard 200 chart, and it broke the country streaming record by a wide margin, with its songs racking up 240 million streams in the first week. On Wednesday, Wallen held 17 of the Top 100 spots on Apple Music’s overall song chart, including two in its Top 10, but he was not present on the service’s flagship Today’s Country playlist. Spotify also removed Wallen’s music from its Hot Country playlist.
On Tuesday night, TMZ posted a video, seemingly filmed by a neighbor, that appeared to show Wallen returning from a night out and shouting at someone to take care of another person in his group, referring to that person with a racial slur. Representatives for Wallen and his record label did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but TMZ reported that Wallen had apologized in a statement, saying, “I’m embarrassed and sorry. I used an unacceptable and inappropriate racial slur that I wish I could take back. There are no excuses to use this type of language, ever.”
Despite the formative roles of Black musicians in early country and hillbilly music, racial inequity has persisted for decades in the genre and conversations regarding insensitive language and popular Confederate imagery have often been shunted aside.
Last year, during the Black Lives Matter protests that followed the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, many Nashville artists broke with tradition and addressed race directly, making statements of solidarity on social media and issuing apologies for past ignorance. The Dixie Chicks and Lady Antebellum, two best-selling acts with names that suggested the Civil War-era South, announced that they would alter their names.
Beginning Tuesday night, several country music performers spoke up about Wallen’s use of the slur.
Mickey Guyton, a country singer-songwriter, posted on Twitter about being a Black performer in the industry and the “vile comments” she receives daily, suggesting that Wallen’s behavior was hardly a surprise.
“When I read comments saying ‘this is not who we are,’” she wrote, “I laugh because this is exactly who country music is.” Guyton recently became the first solo Black woman to be nominated in a country category at the Grammy Awards with her single “Black Like Me.”
She added, “I question on a daily basis as to why I continue to fight to be in an industry that seems to hate me so much.”
The country singer-songwriter Kelsea Ballerini tweeted that Wallen’s behavior “does not represent country music,” while another performer, Maren Morris, said the opposite.
Wallen, who gained national visibility as a contestant on “The Voice” in 2014, has represented a major breakthrough for country music in the world of streaming, which now dominates how music is typically consumed but has been slower to catch on in Nashville. In its first week, “Dangerous: The Double Album” more than doubled the previous streaming record for the genre, and it has maintained momentum on services like Spotify and Apple. Spotify declined to comment on how it would promote Wallen moving forward; Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In its statement on Twitter, Big Loud said that the major label Republic “fully supports” its decision and “agrees such behavior will not be tolerated.”
The singer has been in the limelight for the wrong reasons before. Last year, he was arrested and charged with public intoxication and disorderly conduct in downtown Nashville.
Months later, he came under scrutiny after he was seen in videos on social media flouting social distancing guidelines intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus, drinking shots, kissing fans and mingling in groups while not wearing a mask during a celebration after a University of Alabama football victory.
That led “Saturday Night Live” to drop Wallen from an upcoming show. Wallen apologized, saying that he planned to “take a step back from the spotlight for a little while and go work on myself.” Two months later, Wallen was invited back to perform on “S.N.L.” and appear in a skit about the incident.