"Old Town Road" is the song with the longest run on top of the Billboard Hot 100 charts, having spent 19 weeks in the spring of 2019 being played, streamed and downloaded by everyone. It would be surprising enough that a song could last so long on top of the charts, easily besting the previous record holders by three weeks. But the history of "Old Town Road" makes the song's popularity even more surprising.
The song was a hobby project of one Little Nas X, who reportedly obtained the beat online for $25 and wrote some lyrics about horses and farm life over it. Nas X was big on social media, or at least on a small niche of it, and the song started spreading across the internets, which is how songs get famous. The first time I heard about the song, it was when Billboard deemed it wasn't "country" enough to be on the Billboard Country charts. To many people, this seemed like it might have been a racist decision, since Little Nas X is black, and most country music is not. Stylistically, the song was a hybrid of country and rap. The quandry of the songs genre was heightened when country star Billy Ray Cyrus, most famous for the Achy-Breaky Heart song, and for being the father of Miley Cyrus, recorded a verse for a remix of the song.
Typing this all out, I realize this is rather complicated.
The song itself is rather simple: a paean to country life and horses, with a dash of nostalgia, told in a slow, humming drawl. The lyrics are simple, but somewhat open to interpretation. They are also, perhaps, gently mocking of country music cliches. The song is (except for one line), clean, and it might end up being a campfire singalong.
This basic song was remixed several times, as the teenage Nas X, in what was a mixture of whimsical fun and savvy media manipulation, released several different versions of the song, with different guest stars. He also released a video of the song on YouTube that functioned as a short movie, complete with appearences from celebrities such as Chris Rock. This pop culture phenomena became even more accented when Nas X came out during Pride Month. A country-rap song sung by a black, gay man being an omnipresent cultural staple was nothing that people were anticipating, and yet that is what happened. It seemed like the song's parade of pop cultural domination was going to be a permanent part of life, but after 19 weeks, the song bowed out of the #1 spot.
For me, personally, when I first heard about the song, it seemed like a silly novelty, until I was walking down a road in Curacavi, out on an expedition, looking at the horses and the mini-markets and the summer sun on the fields, and I repeated, with sudden conviction, the song's refrain: "You can't tell me nothing". Quite outside of the song's context, I realized how well it captured a certain feeling, although I can't quite tell you what that feeling is.