Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road," a country-inflected rap song celebrating the act of taking your horses down to the "old town road" of the title, is currently the number one song in America. On April 8, Billboard announced that the track had moved from No. 15 on its Hot 100 Chart, where it was the previous week, to the top spot, knocking Ariana Grande's hit "7 Rings" from its perch. Powered by a potent combination of social media excitement, genre-labeling chart controversy, and a remix featuring an assist from the king of the "Achy Breaky Heart" himself, "Old Town Road" has made the precarious leap from viral internet oddity to genuine pop-culture phenomenon.
The song's path to ubiquity is not totally without precedent. As Billboard notes, Lil Nas X is the first artist to grab the number one spot with his first Hot 100 charting song since Cardi B's "Bodak Yellow" in October 2017. Like Bauuer's "Harlem Shake," the first track to really benefit from the addition of streaming data to the Billboard chart formula, "Old Town Road" initially caught fire because of a popular video dance trend. It's impossible to know what the future holds for 19-year-old Montero Lamar Hill, who goes by the stage name Lil Nas X, but he's already signed to Columbia Records, met one of his heroes, and his track was streamed 46 million times last week. As the lyrics go, he'll probably ride this until he can't no more.
How exactly did "Old Town Road" get so big so fast? From one vantage point, it's a tale as old as time: A Star is Born, but starring a teen in Atlanta with a dream and a SoundCloud account. It's also a complicated story about a tech-savvy, meme-aware artist gaming the complicated modern streaming music ecosystem. Put your horses in the back, slip on a pair of Wranglers, hop on the tractor, and giddy up -- sorry, sorry -- to read more ahead.