Morgan Wallen made a surprise appearance at the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday, shocking many in the country music community who saw it as the ultimate sign of Wallen being welcomed back after his racial slur scandal. Wallen, 28, was initially a pariah in the country music world after TMZ published a Jan. 31, 2021 video showing him using the n-word while walking with friends in Nashville, Tennessee. His music was taken off country music radio and he was banned from accepting awards, but the controversy never caused his sales to slow and he was back on the radio by August.
His performance at the Grand Ole Opry alongside ERNEST to sing "Flower Shops" was seen as another step in his welcoming back to the country music world, considering the importance of the Opry in the industry. Country music artists and fans were quick to criticize the Opry for welcoming him back. Many also pointed to a 2020 post from the Opry that declared racism had "no place at the Grand Ole Opry."
Back in February 2021, TMZ published a video filmed a few days before that showed Wallen using the n-word. Wallen issued an apology, and several radio broadcasters pulled his music from their playlists. CMT and the Country Music Association removed his performances from their sites and his record label Big Loud suspended his contract indefinitely. His music was also pulled from contention at several awards shows.
Joy Oladokun slams Wallen's 'thoughtless redemption tour'
morgan wallen’s thoughtless redemption tour is the nail in the coffin of me realizing these systems, and this town is really not for us.
imma keep making my lil music in my attic, y’all can listen if you want. i don’t know that i’ll do this work forever.— Joy Oladokun (@joyoladokun) January 9, 2022
In July 2021, Wallen appeared on Good Morning America to apologize again, although his comments were also found insufficient by critics. "I was around some of my friends, and we say dumb stuff together," Wallen said. "And it was – in our minds, it's playful ... that sounds ignorant, but it – that's really where it came from ... and it's wrong." The singer claimed he didn't use the racial slur "frequently" and when he did, he only said it around a "certain" group of friends.prevnext
Jason Isbell responds
The thing that really upsets me is bigger than one person’s words. It’s the idea of a young Black artist walking into that venue and wondering if ANYBODY is on their side. What a lot of us consider to be a grand ole honor can be terrifying for some. Doesn’t have to be that way. https://t.co/pxtSQjimoG— Jason Isbell (@JasonIsbell) January 9, 2022
While this controversy played out, Wallen's music continued to sell. In its 2021 report in collaboration with Billboard, MRC Data said Wallen's Dangerous: The Double Album was the top-selling country album and the most popular album across all genres. The record notched 3.2 million equivalent album units in 2021. When Wallen issued "Sand in My Boots" as a single in August, the song was played on the radio.prevnext
Brandi Carlile supports Joy Oladokun
On Jan. 8, the Opry tweeted a picture from Wallen's performance with ERNEST. It has quickly become a venue for criticism, with many bringing up the Opry's June 9, 2020 tweet calling racism "unacceptable" at the venue. "Racism is real. It is unacceptable. And it has no place at the Grand Ole Opry," the statement read. The Opry has not commented on the backlash.prevnext
The Black Opry founder demands answers from the Opry
In the interest of transparency I would like you all to know that this letter was shared with the Opry this morning, via email. We may not get the answers we want, but we will be heard. https://t.co/nZY9lTYHtp— The Black Opry (@BlackOpry) January 9, 2022
Writer Holly G told the Associated Press she was in contact with the Opry's talent director to propose a show for Black History Month to work with the Black Opry. Holly G founded the Black Opry last year to highlight Black artists and fans. Holly G wrote a letter to the Opry after learning about Wallen's performance.prevnext
Allison Russell comments on the 'rot of bigotry permeating mainstream country'
the rot of bigotry permeating mainstream country is rough. But take 💙 as #bellhooks said "Sometimes people try to destroy you, precisely because they recognize your power-not because they don't see it, but because they see it & they don't want it to exist.” #allamericana ✊🏾🖤🏳️🌈— Allison Russell (@outsidechild13) January 9, 2022
"They have figured out they can invite a few Black performers to the stage and give them debuts and that will quiet or calm people down for a little bit," Holly G told the AP on Monday. "But if you look at the structural setup for the institution, nothing has changed. They have two Black members over the entire history of the institution."prevnext
'I've never been disgusted by the Opry before this,' one fan wrote
Charles Hughes, a Rhodes College professor and the author of Country Soul: Making Music and Making Race in the American South, told the AP
that welcoming Wallen's performance appeared as though a "wayward white artist" was being welcomed back. "The narrative of reconciliation is a really powerful one... and reconciliation without any reckoning, real reckoning, can actually end up worse," Hughes said. "'Cause if you don't address the problem, you just sort of act like it didn't happen."