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LIL NAS X'S TIME
HAS COME

The "Old Town Road" has led Columbia's Lil Nas X to the cover of TIME's 8/26 country music issue which, in addition to a Lil Nas X profile, also includes a piece by Grammy-winning artist Tim McGraw and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Jon Meacham on how racial and ethnic diversity has been the rare exception in country music rather than the rule. Here are a few highlights: 

On the initial response to "Old Town Road," Lil Nas X tells TIME: “I was doing radio tours, and one guy looked me in the eye and said, ‘I love the song, but I don’t think I’ll play it.’ The perception was that the audience wouldn’t accept an African-American singer.”

He also addresses his coming out, notably during Pride Month. “I know the people who listen to this the most, and they’re not accepting of homosexuality," he says, adding that he "never would have [come out] if I wasn’t in a way pushed by the universe. In June, I’m seeing Pride flags everywhere and seeing couples holding hands—little stuff like that.”

The piece also delves into the larger cultural significance of his rise. "The fact that Lil Nas has risen so far and so fast testifies not only to his skill, but also to the erosion of the systems that for generations kept artists like him on the sidelines," TIME’s Andrew Chow notes. "As streaming and social media have democratized pathways to success, hip-hop—once an outlet for disenfranchised people of color—has become the dominant sound of popular music."

McGraw and Meacham observe that “Country is in the midst of a renewed debate over the nature of its sound and the related question of who counts as part of its club.... In some ways, these questions are not so different from the ones the broader nation is asking itself in the age of Trump…. The answer, much like the music itself, is more complicated than even its fans tend to realize.”

"Things will always be changing in country music," they add. "That’s as it should be. We can embrace tradition, and we can embrace the more current sounds of the day—this is, after all, what our musical forebears did so brilliantly. At its heart, country is the music of inclusion and universality, and there must be an open door—and open ears and hearts—for artists who don’t look like Jimmie Rodgers or Hank Williams."

Just imagine how those two giants would've fared if they'd had access to TikTok.

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