A few musical anomalies have caught my attention lately, as curated on my “Over a Billion Views” thread.
It started with Marshmello and the Trap genre, spun toward Lil Nas X (Country Trap), then the K-Pop boy-band sensation BTS. Also on that thread, @Cristina introduced me to a genre called Future Bass.
It seems to be a window on the evolving kaleidoscope of ‘contemporary’ music, and in some cases … how that music is even being made. So there’s a philosophic element I am proposing as to “what does this all mean and where is it going?” Not to invoke a crystal ball necessarily, but exploring these trends in relation to where music has been during the era of music recording technology, and what it might look like going (far) forward.
As a conversation starter, I had wondered how this viral Lil Nas X track “Old Town Road” had even come about. I can’t say I have learned a great deal, but what I have I’ll share here. The point being that the landscape of music creation keeps shifting with evolving technology and internet savvy, and perhaps is even hyper-focusing on youth culture … presumably since they are newer to and adapt more quickly to these constant shifts.
So my example is how Lil Nas X (Montero Lamar Hill, Atlanta GA) came up with this song “Old Town Road” and how it may have been made. It looks like he has just turned 20 years old, so he was 19 when he decided to quit school and be a rap artist. Starting in 2018 (using Soundcloud) is when his music emerged, though he developed a viral Twitter following starting in 2015. “Old Town Road” was released on Dec 3, not for sale, just released on the internet. Through use in multiple sharing apps and platforms, it eventually went viral. It ended up on the Billboard Country chart (Hot Country Songs, #19) but then controversially got removed for not being “country enough”. Some people scolded Billboard for racism, which was of course denied. It has certainly fed the conversation about the meaning of genre though. In support, Billy Ray Cyrus helped do a remix of the song, adding a few vocal lines (and his celebrity cred).
Produced by YoungKio, the song partially samples Nine Inch Nails’ track “34 Ghosts IV” from their sixth studio album Ghosts I–IV (2008). The song prominently features the playing of a banjo and trap drums throughout.
YoungKio also appears to be 19 years old, from Netherlands. Lil Nas X downloaded one of his “beats” from either a pay or free site, which contained samples of a NIN song, so both YoungKio and Trent Reznor have been credited as Producers. Here’s where things become less documented, as I haven’t found any information about how the recording or mixing was actually done. I have to presume that Lil Nas X either recorded the vocals himself in a home studio, or had help doing so - either in someone’s home or project studio, or a larger commercial one. I also assume that he basically took the “beat” track and added his vocals (lyrics were written earlier), including backing vocals, and then mixed that as the song. Just guessing really due to the lack of any other background so far.
Lil Nas X first released the smash hit “Old Town Road” in December 2018 on the music sharing app, SoundCloud. He labeled the track as “country music” on both SoundCloud and iTunes to increase the song’s visibility when users were searching. But it was really the “Yeehaw Challenge” that helped “Old Town Road” rise to viral status.
Taking the line, I got the horses in the back , from the “Old Town Road” song, users of the social video app, TikTok, would upload memes of themselves dressed in cowboy gear and drinking “Yee Yee Juice” with Lil Nas X’s debut tune playing in the background. It’s what the Internet, today, collectively refers to as the “Yeehaw Challenge.” The response to both the challenge and the song was enough to land “Old Town Road” a coveted spot on the Billboard chart.
I don’t know how much the “beat” cost him, or what other production costs might have gone into making the song, but it looks like a relatively low budget bedroom production went viral on social media, made it to Billboard, and now the guy is practically a household name - signed to Columbia Records - and is working with celebrity status artists (now Beyoncé?). And remember, this all happened in the span of 3-4 months (not counting his pre-existing social media presence and notoriety).