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When country music pride turned to shame

Pride — in our nation, in our hometown, in our servicemen and servicewomen, or even in our family — has long been the recurring theme in country music.

And while love of America and your hometown, not to mention your dog or your pickup truck or your favorite fishing hole, are good and sometimes fun reasons to listen, I can’t say it’s why I tune in each time I slide in behind the steering wheel of my Chevy Malibu.

Despite the fact that most country music artists originate in America’s Deep South, areas commonly known for flying Confederate flags and playing “Dixie,” I assure you, that was not what attracted me to it. Really, it was, well, just the music. Call me naive or ignorant, but all the rest, I just tried my best to ignore.

I’ve been listening to country music so long that I’ve turned my husband — a serious rocker in high school and beyond — into a country music fan. And now both my sons listen to today’s country music.

Lately, both my boys have been increasingly enjoying up-and-coming country and pop artist Morgan Wallen. His songs are big on country music radio, his song, Whiskey Glasses, hit No. 1 in 2019, and that year he even won Country Music Association’s New Artist of the Year award.

Wallen’s career and celebrity status were cruising along, until Feb. 2. That’s when TMZ released a video of Wallen shouting a racial slur. The country music industry acted swiftly to pull his music from radio and streaming services. His record label suspended him. Wallen responded with a public apology.

My son came home the next day and without another word noted that Morgan Wallen’s career was now over.

I agreed without hesitation. He would never be able to — nor should he — rebound from this unforgivable lapse in judgment.

It was only a matter of days, though, until my other son commented that Wallen was again available on his music streaming service.

Soon after, I was flabbergasted to see a story moving on The Associated Press wire indicating that fans were buying up Wallen’s latest album — fast. The singer’s latest album, “Dangerous: The Double Album,” was retaining its top spot for the fourth week on Billboard’s all-genre albums chart.

Yes, despite the country music industry’s public rebuke, fans were responding by playing Wallen’s music even more.

Billboard reported that his latest album sold 25,000 copies during the week ending Feb. 4, an increase of 102 percent, according to MRC Data, the AP reported. Billboard said the album’s streaming numbers slightly increased by 3 percent, representing roughly 160 million on-demand streams. Song downloads from the album also went up by 67 percent.

Hannah Karp, Billboard’s editorial director, attributed some uptick to curiosity about Wallen in the wake of the scandal and media attention. But she said that also shows how his fans are responding to decisions to remove him from the radio as well.

“His fans are likely streaming him more because they can’t hear him on the radio anymore,” Karp said. “Some fans may be streaming him more in addition to show their support for him, which is something that super fans and fan armies often do.”

She noted, though, that it may be too early to predict the long-term consequences for Wallen.

“We haven’t seen the full effect of radio dropping his music from playlists. Radio is a really powerful driver of consumption, so it’s possible that will end up in decreasing streaming and sales eventually,” she said.

Maybe she’s right.

Or maybe people are just forgiving. (But given the attitudes, reactions and division of Americans over the last several years, I have a really hard time believing that.)

Indeed, I don’t know the answer. But there’s one thing I do know for certain.

For a music genre known for having so much pride in things, Morgan Wallen fell way short. Indeed, there can be no pride in these shameful words or actions.

blinert@tribtoday.com

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