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Since Hugh Hefner's death in 2017, Playboy's been re-branding itself to appeal to millennials by hiring fine art photographers for high concept photo shoots, naming a gay man and proud Taylor Swift fan as its executive editor, re-committing to printing nudity, and replacing its original motto, "Entertainment for men," with "Naked is normal."

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Why Are Country Fans So Resistant to Genre Crossover?

Country fans call Lil Nas X a cultural appropriator. Is he?

Cowboy boots and 10-gallon-hats have reemerged as staple fashion choices. Kacey Musgraves' charisma and tight melodies beat out pop music kingpins Drake and Post Malone to clench Album of the Year at the 2019 Grammy Awards.

"Old Town Road," a debut from 19-year-old college dropout Lil Nas X, beat out a streaming record set by Drake and brought about a pop culture movement known as the "yeehaw agenda," which brings the idea of black cowboys and cowgirls into mainstream viewing. From Tyga and Cardi B to Mitski, Mac Demarco and Solange, a country music crossover revolution is in full swing. So why do Country fans continue to insist on exclusivity within their genre? The "yeehaw agenda" didn't unfold gracefully; country music fans resisted the genre's crossover into black culture at every conceivable turn, dismissing the trend as its own form of "cultural appropriation." Most recently, Wrangler Jeans came under intense scrutiny when they announced a collaborative line with Lil Nas X and were consequently accused of "taking the cowboy outta country." "Can't believe Wrangler stooped to that level," wrote a user on Twitter. "Stop trying to conform and stay loyal to your roots." In March, "Old Town Road" was removed from the Billboard Country charts because it allegedly "did not merit inclusion" in the Country charts. The song's removal sparked a debate surrounding racism in Country music and cowboy culture.

Despite popular culture welcoming the Yee Haw movement with (mostly) open arms, Country music as a whole still feels relatively inaccessible for those who don't religiously follow the genre and adhere to its strict guidelines. At last week's CMT music awards, Tanya Tucker and Brandi Carlile were joined on stage by multiple generations of Country women to subtly raise awareness for the lack of female representation in Country music. From Martina McBride to Carly Pearce, all 8 women on stage sang a rendition of Tucker's 1972 hit "Delta Dawn," which tells the story of a modern-day Mary Magdalene. Additionally, Zac Brown of the Zac Brown Band told his haters to "f*** off" after winning video of the year; the send-off was to comment on ZBB's alleged departure from Country music circles. In the past, Brown has called the genre "predictable" and is often criticized for collaborating with artists who aren't strictly country. Country fans' agitations also peaked when Beyonce joined The Dixie Chicks on stage at 2016's CMT Awards, and again a month later when beloved duo Florida Georgia Line appeared to be anti-police by refusing security backstage at a show in Wisconsin—as if being anti-police would've been a bad thing when "52% of all the years of life lost [in 2015 and 2016] at the hands of police were lost by nonwhite, non-Hispanic ethnic groups." But that's a different argument altogether.

"Country, as a genre, is obsessed with notions of patriotism, of purity, of some nondescript American-ness," wrote The New Yorker. Yet as Country fans attempt time and time again to shove artists into the cookie cutters of a strict list of dated archetypes, the genre has naturally evolved to incorporate pop and R&B with or without the traditionalists in tow. Kelsea Ballerini's top song is a progressive house collaboration with The Chainsmokers. Maren Morris, who performed at this year's CMT awards and was nominated for Best Video, infuses pop melodies throughout her debut album, Girl, with tracks like "Flavor" and "Gold Love" seemingly devoid of Country-influence. Chris Stapleton, one of Country's biggest breakout stars in recent years, continually borrows influence from R&B and Southern Rock. "Musically he understands that 'country' is an inclusive label," writes Pitchfork. "One that uses the bristly twang of 1970's outlaw as its foundation but also covers the excitable R&B from well as the blues-based Southern rock of the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd."

Yet all the artists listed above have often cited Country music icons as their heroes and influencers, acknowledging and respecting the confines of the genre, therefore fostering a connection with conservative country hot-heads. Meanwhile, Lil Nas X admitted in a Rolling Stone interview that he had to "google Western terms," that he had never ridden a horse, and that "Old Town Road" was engineered for virality rather than to be a country song. Kendrick Lamar, Drake, and Kid Cudi are his primary influences, and not once has he acknowledged that he listened to Country or was influenced by the genre. As shown by their brewing agitations, Country fans can only be so open-minded. "[The] country [music industry] is guarded," Lil Nas X said of the "Old Town Road" Billboard controversy. "You can have your country song with trap elements...if it's known by country artists, then it's allowed."

As Country fans continue to protest the genre's evolution, there is little they can do about the changing sound, with their protests mostly coming off as petty whining rather than concrete accusations of cultural appropriation. Whether the reluctance of country fans to accept the genre's crossover into black culture is due to racism or a simple fear of change, it seems there is little they can actually do to stop Country music from moving outside the tired confines of the antiquated genre.


Diplo Seems Bored: Music Genres Are Dead

Thomas Wesley and Diplo need to have a chat

Photo by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash

Apparently, Diplo released a country song. It's called "So Long" and features someone named Cam.

Released under the moniker Thomas Wesley (Diplo's birth name) the cover art sports the Major Lazer frontman in an all-black cowboy get up — ten-gallon hat and all — with his eyes closed as he takes a cool, refreshing sip from an All-American Bud Light. The cover art has nothing to do with the song and the song has nothing to do with country music. Instead, what Diplo offers us is a toddler vying for attention: "Look Ma, I'm a cowboy, watch this!" Thomas says as he takes a gulp from his cool, refreshing, all-American Bud Light. "That's nice sweetie," we all say back to him, without looking. "Ma, look I made a country song! You hear that banjo twang? I added that in myself!" We all smile placatingly and roll our eyes, "Oh Thomas!"

The song sounds like a bad knockoff of Diplo's previous EDM pop crossover tracks, and as the DJ announces yet another side project, it's become apparent that Diplo's identity is now more ingrained in trying to capture and capitalize on what's trending than in making anything authentic. The results have been a mixed bag so far. LSD, his highly anticipated collaborative pop effort with Sia and Labrinth, was a total flunk of a debut album. Silk City, his Mark Ronson collaboration meant to seize on disco and house music, spawned 3 lackluster singles and is nowhere to be found in 2019. Jack U, his highly successful Skrillex collaboration, petered out shortly after the pair was allegedly booed offstage at 2014's Burning Man festival. Diplo's most popular venture, Major Lazer, is still highly successful, but they have regularly been accused of cultural pickpocketing, and their last two official releases, Africa Is The Future and Know No Better, received similar accusations, along with a tepid response from critics.

Overall, Diplo seems to be in a funk. With the overnight success of "Old Town Road," Lil Nas X's breakout hit seems to be the sole driving force behind the 40-year-old's decision to become a cowboy. "So Long" is fine. Chances are it'll get a few plays on Sorority pre-game playlists and Top 40 radio stations, but overall the track just seems lazy and safe. The Thomas Wesley moniker paints Diplo as an artist suffering from a lack of direction and an aging icon spreading himself too thin. If anything, Diplo's migration into "country music" solidifies the death of music genres overall, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Diplo may be in on the joke though, considering he has a history of trying his hands at things that aren't conventionally cool. "If reggae's the uncoolest music ever, I'll try to make a reggae album," he told The Guardian in 2018. But in the same interview, he also said: "I never want to ride the wave of the trends, I want to start them or mess them up." In that case, Thomas Wesley and Diplo may need to regroup and have a conversation.

Mackenzie Cummings-Gradyis a creative writer who resides in the Brooklyn area. Mackenzie's work has previously appeared in The Boston Globe, Billboard, and Metropolis Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @mjcummingsgrady.

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Resident internet cowboy, Lil Nas X, continues to ride out the success of his single "Old Town Road" as it breaks the record for the most streamed song––a title previously held by Drake's "In My Feelings."

If you're not familiar with the trajectory of the country-rap track's ascent, then you can read a handy Popdust explainer here.

The viral success of the original "Old Town Road" was largely due to its popularity on TikTok, where the cowboy memes and yee-yee juice skits were born. But thanks to Billy Ray Cyrus' recent remix, the song has now reached unprecedented levels of popularity. According toBillboard (who initially shunned the song for not meeting 'country standards'), "Old Town Road" is officially the most streamed song for any week in history after clocking 143 million hits. Billboard notes that both the original and the remix count towards the track's chart placement. Drake's previous record was for 116.2 streams for "In My Feelings." This is Billy Ray's first No. 1 spot, and his first top 10 single credit since 1992's "Achy Breaky Heart."

"Old Town Road" is currently spending its second week at no. 1 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and Hot Rap Songs charts.

Sara is a music and culture writer who lives in Brooklyn. Her work has previously appeared in PAPER magazine and Stereogum.

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