A eulogy for 'Old Town Road' and its 19-week Billboard reign
We are gathered here today to honor and pay tribute to the life of "Old Town Road," and so try to bring some comfort to those that mourn its fall from the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100.
"Old Town Road" is gone but not forgotten. It dropped to number three on the chart this week after a history-making 19 weeks at number one — a mind-boggling lifespan for a track that I'm still not entirely convinced wasn't an elaborate prank all along. Cause of death? Seventeen-year-old Billie Eilish, who likewise made history by becoming the first artist born this century to reach No. 1 on the Hot 100. The murder weapon? A prickly little song you've probably been hearing everywhere for months, "Bad Guy."
"Old Town Road" wasn't just unseated, either; it was unequivocally dethroned. Squeezing in between itself and "Bad Guy" in the silver medal position was "Señorita" by Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello, a sassy, infectiously fun Latin pop duet. Only then do you finally arrive at "Old Town Road" on the chart, an afterthought already in the number three position, as if those 19 long weeks of spring and summer were all for nothing.
Its creators took the toppling graciously; nothing lasts forever. Rapper Lil Nas X, who was only 19 when he bought the twangy track from Dutch producer YoungKio, tweeted his congratulations to his usurper: "U deserve this!!" Country singer Billy Ray Cyrus, who collaborated with Lil Nas X on the biggest of the song's approximately one gazillion remixes, added: "Thanks everybody. It was a hell of a ride."
It sure was. There has never been a song quite like "Old Town Road." Creeping onto the charts this spring after a clever campaign that merged memes, TikTok, Red Dead Redemption, and the Internet's adoring love of all things ironic, "Old Town Road" was suddenly and intentionally everywhere. And I mean everywhere. I watched professional club dancers in six-inch heels gyrate to the track at a Las Vegas bachelorette party this spring, and clicked play on YouTube videos of elementary school kids going bonkers in their gymnasium during a Lil Nas X performance. I heard Blondie cover the track at their show in New York, listened to it play softly in the background while I checked plums for ripeness at my grocery store, and succumbed to every novelty remix that seemed directly targeted at me.
Despite being written off by many as an elaborate troll, Lil Nas X has dismissed labels such as "parody": "Anybody with ears can tell I put some kind of effort into that song," he tweeted during a heated controversy when the song was banned from Billboard's Hot Country Songs list for not being country enough. The question of if "Old Town Road" is actually good — or, you know, "good" — has been one that's plagued its entire existence.
What it was, more than anything, was pervasive, like the musical equivalent of a Virginia creeper vine winding its way up the charts and blotting everyone else out. Or perhaps more aptly, converting everyone to its cause. For awhile there, it truly seemed as if the entire future of music was destined to just be new remixes of "Old Town Road" until there were thousands and thousands of horses crowded on its cover. (Despite all this, we've somehow passed peak "Old Town Road" without ever getting that Dolly Parton remix. What gives?).
The year is 2043. I’m fully grown up with my own ranch and kids and Lil Nas x is still releasing old town remixes.
— Mason Ramsey (@masonramsey) July 12, 2019
Thankfully for its haters, "Old Town Road" is at least short. When the track became the 1,086th number one song in Hot 100 history last April, it also was the briefest in decades. The only song to be shorter since 1965, in fact, was "I'm Henry VIII, I Am," which — say what you will about "Old Town Road" — is inarguably even more obnoxious. Still, there is something to be said about the brevity of "Old Town Road," which doesn't ever overstay its welcome, try to be anything its not, or attempt to clue you into its own goofiness with some ham-handed final stanza. It's just ... absurdly catchy for one minute and 53 seconds. Then it's over.
Looking at the bigger picture, "Old Town Road" occupied a bright spot in a year that has otherwise felt bogged down by darker tracks, including Eilish's feisty-yet-bladed new number one song. There is nothing objectionable about "Old Town Road," nothing that elicits protest or feels threatening. Nor is it exactly "Baby Shark," either. "Old Town Road" manages to somehow seem appropriate at a wedding reception, a country music festival, and playing during the boarding of an airplane. At some imperceptible point along the line, it went from being a joke to being the backdrop of our lives.
Dropping off the Hot 100, then, marks a significant end of an era, a shift in our culture. It's an event akin to when people tired of green refrigerators or decided water beds actually kind of suck.
Admittedly, for a long while yet, "Old Town Road" is still going to be around: blaring out of cars passing in the street, played over children's birthday parties, sung along to "jokingly" in clubs. But even on the chance that it burbles back up the charts in the coming weeks, we know in our hearts that its reign as king is over. In time, we'll look back at this period with nothing more than fuzzy amusement: Remember when "Old Town Road" was everywhere?
I for one will try my hardest. A legend, an ironic fav, the first song to make me feel incredibly old — rest in peace, "Old Town Road." If you ask me, you were gone too soon.