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Why ‘Old Town Road’ Strikes a Chord with Listeners
Rapper Lil Nas X’s song “Old Town Road” is now the longest-running No. 1 single in Billboard Hot 100 history. “Old Town Road,” featuring Billy Ray Cyrus, has been No. 1 for 17 consecutive weeks, bumping Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito” and “One Sweet Day,” by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men, from the top spot.
There are many reasons why “Old Town Road” has struck a chord with so many listeners, says popular music expert Theo Cateforis. “It’s a perfect example of today’s digital remix culture – and thus distinctly different from say the single version of 1995’s ‘One Sweet Day’ that held the Billboard chart record for so long,” Cateforis says.
Cateforis is an associate professor of music history and cultures in the Department of Art and Music Histories in the College of Arts & Sciences at Syracuse University. Author of “The Rock History Reader,” Cateforis’ research is in the areas of popular music, American music, and film music, with a specific focus on the history of rock music.
Here’s what Cateforis says about “Old Town Road” and why it’s “a perfect example of the flexible and collaborative nature of contemporary pop:”
“It has enjoyed great success not only because of its unique crossover (uniting two of the most popular American musical mainstreams of the past three decades), but because of its seemingly endless array of different versions – each of which has elongated the song’s popularity.
“It is at this point no longer simply a Lil Nas X song featuring Billy Ray Cyrus, but a track into which various voices have been inserted, ranging from the YouTube yodel sensation Mason Ramsey to RM of the South Korean boy band BTS. It’s a song that invites parodies (through such pop cultural tie-ins as The Avengers – there are both Thanos and Thor versions), creative lyric alterations, dance routines and active participation.
“It should also be noted that ‘Old Town Road’ is a strongly intergenerational recording – and not just in the way that it brings together a ‘90s country star with a young rapper, but more significantly in how the song has captivated a young, pre-teen audience. It’s impossible to calculate the song’s success without factoring in its novel singalong appeal to grade school kids, an often widely underestimated and underappreciated audience, but one that has pumped up the song’s streaming success through platforms such as YouTube and Spotify.”
For more information or to request an interview with Prof. Cateforis, please contact:
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