Morgan Wallen Doesn’t Deserve Any More Second Chances

The country star was caught using the n-word this week

country musician morgan wallen
Morgan Wallen attends the 55th Academy of Country Music Awards in 2020.
Jason Kempin/ACMA2020/Getty Images for ACM

On Tuesday night, country star Morgan Wallen found himself at the center of yet another controversy when TMZ released a video of him saying the n-word outside his Nashville home.

The singer, who has put out more public apologies than albums over the past 12 months, issued a mea culpa for the racial slur, writing, “I’m embarrassed and sorry. I used an unacceptable and inappropriate racial slur that I wish I could take back. There are no excuses to use this type of language, ever. I want to sincerely apologize for using the word. I promise to do better.”

A white person using the n-word — in any context — is of course totally inexcusable, but it’s just the latest misdeed by Wallen. In May 2020, he was arrested for public intoxication and disorderly conduct after being kicked out of Kid Rock’s Nashville bar for kicking glass items. (“After a couple bar stops, we were horse-playing with each other,” he said at the time. “We didn’t mean any harm, and we want to say sorry to any bar staff or anyone that was affected.”) Then, a week before he was scheduled to make his Saturday Night Live debut on Oct. 10, a video showing the country singer maskless in an Alabama bar ignoring social distancing requirements and making out with college-aged women surfaced, and the show replaced him with Jack White for violating COVID-19 protocol.

“I respect the show’s decision because I know I put them in jeopardy, and I take ownership for this,” he said in a video posted to Instagram after getting the boot. “I’d like to apologize to SNL, to my fans, to my team for bringing me these opportunities, and I let them down. And on a more personal note, I think I have some growing up to do.”

But it’s clear he hasn’t made any effort to grow up since then. Instead, he’s been allowed to fall upward. Saturday Night Live allowed him to return as musical guest on Dec. 5, and they even spent an entire sketch making light of the situation to signal he was back in their good graces. His double album, Dangerous: The Double Album (look, no one ever accused this guy of subtlety), is currently entering its fourth consecutive week atop the charts and recently set a massive streaming record for the genre, having the largest streaming week for a country album of all time. (Its 240.18 million streams are more than double the previous record set by Luke Combs’s What You See Is What You Get.) There are a lot of people poised to make a lot of money off of Wallen, and they certainly have incentive to turn a blind eye to his problematic behavior.

And yet, surprisingly, country radio — not exactly known for being progressive — acted swiftly when news of Wallen’s latest debacle broke. iHeartRadio, Cumulus Media and Entercom, the three largest radio station owners in the country, yanked his music from their playlists. “Team, unfortunately country music star Morgan Wallen was captured on video Sunday evening using a racial slur,” a memo from Cumulus to its program directors read. “Effective immediately we request that all of Morgan Wallen’s music be removed from our playlists without exception. More to follow.” CMT soon followed suit, and Apple Music and Spotify removed Wallen’s songs and images from their promotional playlists.

But, frustratingly, Wallen’s label Big Loud has not dropped him, instead announcing on social media that they have “made the decision to suspend Morgan Wallen’s recording contract indefinitely.”

A “suspension” is laughable; this isn’t a baseball player getting benched for a few games. What does it even mean to suspend a recording contract, especially when it’s totally commonplace for artists to go several years in between album releases anyway? Why not just drop him, unless the plan is to simply wait until this all blows over and put out another record of his as if nothing ever happened?

Getting pulled from the radio is a start, but it’s high time for Wallen to start seeing some actual consequences for his actions. His particular type of racist idiocy has been swept under the rug for far too long. As Mickey Guyton, who made history as the first Black female solo artist to be nominated for a Grammy in a country category with her song “Black Like Me,” pointed out on Twitter, “… this is exactly who country music is. I’ve witnessed it for 10 gd years. You guys should just read some of the vile comments hurled at me on a daily basis. It’s a cold hard truth to face but it is the truth.”

Maren Morris echoed Guyton’s sentiment, writing, “It actually IS representative of our town because this isn’t his first ‘scuffle’ and he just demolished a huge streaming record last month regardless. We all know it wasn’t his first time using that word. We keep them rich and protected at all costs with no recourse.” Artists like Morris and Guyton have enjoyed mainstream success, but they still are outliers in the country world in terms of how frequently they speak out about issues of racism and sexism in the genre. It’s a world that’s long overdue for a reckoning — and it can begin to clean house by doing the right thing and dropping Wallen.

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