Last week, Morgan Wallen, country music’s biggest new star, quickly fell from grace after a video surfaced of him casually using a racial slur.
Within a day, radio stations and streaming platforms removed his music from playlists and his record label decided to “suspend” his contract. Instantly, he became the focal point of an industry-wide debate about the long and complex history of racial inequity in Nashville, Tennessee, country music’s power Centre. Even though some defended him — his sister, Ashlyne, condemned his words but portrayed her brother as a victim of “cancel culture” — Wallen’s time as a chart-topping crossover hero, it would seem, was over.
But Monday, Wallen’s breakthrough second LP, “Dangerous: The Double Album,” notched its fourth week at No 1 with the equivalent of 149,000 sales in the United States, up almost 15% from the week before, according to MRC Data, Billboard’s tracking arm. In every measurement, the numbers for “Dangerous” grew from the previous week. It had 160 million streams, up from 154 million; sold 25,000 copies as a complete package, more than double its previous take; and had 67% more downloads of individual tracks.
Timing likely played a part in that growth. Billboard’s weekly tracking period goes from Friday to Thursday, so by the time Wallen’s video was published late Tuesday by TMZ, the accounting week was nearly over. But even well after that point, “Dangerous” and its songs were still holding strong on Apple’s iTunes charts, a sign that a large contingent of fans was standing by him.
Even under this cloud, “Dangerous” is the first country title to hold its first four weeks at No 1 on the Billboard 200, the magazine’s flagship album chart, in 18 years; the last to do so was Shania Twain’s “Up!,” which spent its first five weeks in the top spot in late 2002 and early 2003.
Where Wallen goes from here is unclear. His label and management company, Big Loud, has not clarified what it means to suspend a contract — a step that some industry figures have already criticised as an empty gesture. But whether the company can unilaterally cancel his deal may depend on the terms of Wallen’s contract. In a statement to TMZ last week, Wallen apologised, saying, “there are no excuses to use this type of language, ever,” and has not since commented.
Also on this week’s chart, Lil Durk’s “The Voice” is No 2, Pop Smoke’s “Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon” is No 3, the Weeknd’s “After Hours” is in fourth place and Juice WRLD’s “Legends Never Die” is No 5.