In Old Town Road, Chris Molanphy considers Lil Nas X’s debut single as pop artifact, chart phenomenon and cultural watershed.
'Old Town Road' was more than a massive hit, with the most weeks at No. 1 in Billboard Hot 100 history. It is also a prism through which to track the evolution of popular music consumption and the ways race influences how the music industry categorizes songs and artists. By both lionizing and satirizing genre tropes – it’s a country song built from an alternative rock sample, a hip-hop song in which nobody raps, a comical song that transcends novelty, and a queer anthem – Lil Nas X troubles the very idea of genre. Ultimately, Molanphy shows how 'Old Town Road' channeled decades of Americana to point the way toward our cultural future.
Chris Molanphy is a columnist for Slate and the host of the Hit Parade podcast. He has written for magazines including Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, New York Magazine, NPR Music, the Village Voice and others. He is author of Kurt Cobain: Voice of a Generation.
About the Duke University Press Singles series:
One song, one book, one series. Each book in the Singles series tells a complex story about a single song. Not just a lone track on an album, but a single: a song distributed to and heard by millions that creates a shared moment it is bound to outlive, revealing social fault lines in the process. These books combine popular culture and fandom with music criticism and scholarly research to ask how singles change lives, reshape perceptions, bring people together, and drive them apart. What is it about a single that can pry open a whole world? That can feel common to all and different for each? How can something so little mean so much? Singles offers insightful, provocative answers to these questions.
Duke University Press Books, 152pp, 17.8cm x 17.8cm, paperback, 2023
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