But that was nothing compared to the crush of coverage he received nearly five months later when he was dropped as the “Saturday Night Live” musical guest for violating the show’s coronavirus protocols with a night of maskless partying at the University of Alabama. After the latter incident, which led to an Instagram video apology where he admitted “I have some growing up to do,” Wallen realized something: Deep down, he might still feel like that small-town kid from East Tennessee who could go out and raise hell with his buddies and no one would pay much attention. But those days were over.
“I didn’t really know until then the extent of how much people cared about what I was doing,” Wallen, 27, said in a recent interview. “That whole thing let me know that, okay, we’ve entered into a new territory here.”
New territory may be an understatement. Seven years after he took his first airplane ride to Los Angeles to audition for NBC’s “The Voice,” Wallen’s career is thriving: He’s had a streak of No. 1 hits and the most-played song on country radio for two consecutive years; won new artist of the year at the 2020 Country Music Association Awards; and his sophomore record, “Dangerous: The Double Album,” just debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard chart and sold a very impressive 265,000 equivalent album units in its first week (74,000 album sales plus streaming equivalents, according to Billboard.) He’s set to be one of the hottest concert tickets once touring resumes, and his record label has big plans to make him a global star.
He’s also poised to be the future of the genre as he continuously shatters streaming records for country music and goes viral on apps like TikTok, maintaining the fierce loyalty of his largely Gen Z and millennial fan base. It’s a possibility that thrills his many fans as much as it upsets those who haven’t recovered from the Florida Georgia Line effect, in which the duo’s game-changing debut in the early 2010s (mixing in rock, pop and rap with country) influenced a generation of singers to blend genres. But Wallen’s undeniable popularity, along with critical acclaim for hits such as “Whiskey Glasses” and his “next-level” vocals, as his producer put it, is a combination that is impossible to dismiss.
Singer-songwriter Michael Hardy (known as the artist Hardy), one of Wallen’s closest friends and collaborators, calls Wallen an “anomaly.” He theorizes that the reasons he has received backlash are the same reasons that fans flock to him: His audience is “starving” to see a singer who goes out and makes mistakes and gets in trouble, because it makes him seem less like a celebrity and more like one of them.
“He is very raw as a human being . . . himself as a person and himself as an artist. There is no difference. Morgan is Morgan,” Hardy said. “There just hasn’t been somebody like him in a long time in country music — aside from his music, just the…
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