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Lil Nas X breaks hip-hop records with ‘Old Town Road’

‘Old Town Road’ is the latest proof that shareability is the most successful musical marketing tactic of 2019.

Lil Nas X now has the longest-running No.1 hip hop record ever, surpassing ‘See You Again’ by Wiz Khalifa, ‘Boom Boom Pow’ by The Black-Eyed Peas, and ‘Lose Yourself’ by Eminem. Not bad for a star who’s risen through the ranks in the space of about six months.

He still has a few weeks to go before breaking the all-time record for a single of any genre. That title is currently held by ‘Despacito’ which was Number 1 for sixteen weeks in 2017.

In a week where Stormzy made history with his Friday performance at Glastonbury, and Post Malone is gearing up for a fresh album, this new record-smashing single is further proof that hip-hop is continuing to dominate popular culture, and provides insight into how memes are the golden marketing strategy for the modern age.

How did Lil Nas X get popular so suddenly?

An American rapper and singer from Georgia, the twenty-year-old found instant viral success with his country rap song ‘Old Town Road’, which was used on TikTok for the ‘Yeehaw Challenge’. If you’re unfamiliar with said challenge, it basically involves turning yourself into a cowboy or cowgirl in time with the song’s bass drop. Cue lots of people dressed in jeans, hats, and riding tractors through fields.

Given that many social media trends tend to attract negative millennial-bashing headlines (I can’t count the amount of times I’ve seen news outlets use the ‘eating Tide-Pods’ punchline), it was nice to see a viral challenge that was genuinely wholesome and light-hearted.

All the buzz around the song meant it was a hit, eventually breaking though the social media bubble and climbing the mainstream charts until it hit the number one spot and remained there ever since.

Lil Nas X is also a big Twitter meme master, often trolling his fan base and providing daily humour that pokes fun at himself and the industry. After coming out publicly last week, he’s since gone on to tweet about the reaction and declare that ‘just because I’m gay doesn’t mean I’m not straight’.

I’m getting some old-school Tyler, The Creator vibes.

He’s since released an EP titled ‘7’, sampling Nirvana for the song ‘Panini’ and learning how to cook with Gordon Ramsay. In every sense, Lil Nas X is the epitome of modern musical marketing, capitalising on shareability, meme-able humour, and authenticity to catch as many ears as possible.

How ‘Old Town Road’ reflects current musical trends

Making music that can be shared online and generate more streams is a phenomena we’ve seen for several years now. Whether it’s weird hairstyles to get people talking (think Post Malone, The Weeknd, Lil Yachty), or outrageous videos (Miley Cyrus on a wrecking ball, for example), pop stars tend to deviate more toward having content that’s likely to generate views, shares, and memes, than a perfectly calculated image.

Obviously sex appeal is still a big factor for some artists. But many of the biggest musicians of this current era, such as Ed Sheeran, Lil Pump, and Bad Bunny, all have unique aesthetics that make them quickly identifiable. Immediacy, eccentric style, and distinction is what works in 2019.

Even Billie Eilish, arguably the biggest artist in the world, isn’t the manufactured pop product you’d have likely seen dominate the Top 100 a decade ago. Her edgy aesthetic and homemade, lo-fi production that’s handled entirely by her and her brother makes her unique – and most likely caused her sky-rocket success.

In short, ‘Old Town Road’ follows this trend that utilises the power of memes in music. It’s accessible, fun, shareable, and useable in online video. Lil Nas X is a genuine character and his blend of country, trap, and hip-hop makes him stand out amongst a sea of saturated Spotify streams.

Prepare for some more off-the-wall musicians in the near future. They probably won’t be wearing cowboy hats though.