On the Absurd Endurance of “Old Town Road”

Will Schube continues to ride Lil Nas X's once-unlikely pop smash until he can't ride it no more.
By    July 16, 2019

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Will Schube is still waiting for the Dolly Parton-featured remix for Lil Tracy’s “Like a Farmer.”

Lil Nas X has somehow positioned himself outside of opinion. He’s a world-beating popstar, but most of the songs on his debut EP didn’t move the needle an inch. He was banished from the Billboard Country charts, only to re-emerge and move into the top spot of the Hot 100. He’s the perfect star for our numbed age, where nothing really matters and the only things that do are absurd beyond recognition. And yes, “Old Town Road” is an excellent pop song. To deny that is to admit something more flawed in your own worldview than Lil Nas’. 

But it could have stopped, and we all would have been just fine with the original with the wacky cowboy hats, Kidz Bop karaoke versions, and the memes. But Billy Ray Cyrus turned the thing into a two-step, which was fine enough but patently absurd. We all know this is absurd, right? 

And then there were jokes about more remixes and more remixes—a threat to change the charts from an amalgamation of pop rap and whatever Imagine Dragons song was sponsoring Red Bull that week to Lil Nas X and everyone else. Lil Nas X is the song itself, inseparable from the cultural moment that sprang out of his bewilderingly dominating run. He’s become unimpeachable, and it doesn’t really matter because “Old Town Road” is really fun. But nothing’s allowed to just exist anymore, paradoxically, because we probably don’t care enough to stop it. “Old Town Road” can’t merely exist in 2019, and it’s because everything is both too much and not enough at all. And as our punishment, we have the yodeling kid thinking he belongs on a track with Young Thug. It’s a far worse crime than admitting “Old Town Road” is catchy and just being done with it.

On Twitter, Lil Nas X and Mason Ramsey (yodeling kid) joke about throwing gang signs and not wearing cowboy hats in the studio. It’s all wild enough to not make you wanna light your hair on fire, until you realize a 12-year-old is famous for singing in a Walmart and he’s being directed by the biggest pop star on the planet right now—a 20-year-old former manager of a Nicki Minaj Twitter fanpage account. Both are sharing a bill with the best rap stylist of the past 10 years and Hannah Montana’s dad. This isn’t worth writing about because it only exists if we let it. But it’s far past any logical breaking point and now Miley Cyrus has ceded the charts to her dad, Mason Ramsey’s grandma is perhaps the most powerful manager alive, and Lil Nas X is already threatening more remixes. Young Thug’s verse was fine, though.

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