Posted on February 23, 2022

Remember When Morgan Wallen Was ‘Canceled’? At the Kickoff of His New Arena Tour, It’s Clear That Never Happened.

Emily Yahr, Washington Post, February 18, 2022

Talking to Morgan Wallen fans at a Morgan Wallen concert isn’t the place to get unbiased opinions, but it can lead to some of the most revealing.

When asked about the country star, who launched his 2022 headlining tour to a sold-out audience at Madison Square Garden last week, most concertgoers said a version of the same thing: They had been fans of his for years. They loved his voice and his music. Yes, they saw the TMZ video a year ago, the one where Wallen was captured yelling the n-word to a friend outside his house. And no, it didn’t change their opinion about him — which they are happy to deliver, so long as a reporter doesn’t quote them with their full names.

And so: “I’m aware, but I don’t care,” said a 48-year-old woman from Long Island, who gave her name as Karen. A 19-year-old fan from New Jersey named Diana said this: “Every big pop star, someone digs up dirt on them.” A Long Island man named Miguel, 22, chalks it up to “Everybody makes mistakes.” One woman, who declined to give any name at all, cut to what she believed was the heart of the matter: “Is this going to be a nice article, or are you going to say he’s a racist?”

Many of Wallen’s fans see the past year of controversy as a litmus test: Either you instantly forgave him (some jumped on social media to defend Wallen even before he had a chance to post his requisite apology video) or you were trying to “cancel” him.

Wallen’s consequences, at first, were swift — and seemed to indicate a new zero-tolerance approach to racist remarks from Nashville stars: His songs were temporarily taken off the radio, and he was dropped from his booking agency, WME. His defenders saw this as unnecessary and extreme. When multiple country music award shows banned him, a group of fans paid for billboards to be displayed around Nashville right before the airdates: “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH” the signs read, with a graphic of Wallen’s signature mullet.

The incident, which highlighted the greater diversity problems within country music, also sparked overdue conversations in the industry: about how it became a genre in which one of its superstars felt comfortable casually using a racial slur; about why enormous roadblocks exist for Black singers in the majority White format; about what happens when Black fans feel uncomfortable at country shows. There have been few satisfactory answers or solutions to those questions, but the one dilemma that has been neatly solved is the fate of Wallen’s career: It’s thriving, and, as some have speculated, even more powerfully than it was before the TMZ video.


A week after TMZ posted the video, Wallen posted a five-minute apology on YouTube in which he said that he was “on hour 72 of 72-hour bender” when he used the slur and was in the process of saying sorry to people he had let down. Five months later, he joined Michael Strahan on “Good Morning America” for his only interview about the incident, and admitted his use of the slur (which he and his friends used in a “playful” way) was “ignorant.” He confirmed to Strahan that he had since learned the violent and hateful history behind the word, and sat down with leaders in the Black community for “some very real and honest conversations.”


A common criticism is that Wallen hasn’t actively demonstrated what he’s learned over the past year. His longtime manager and CEO of his record label, Seth England, pushed back on that earlier this month in an interview with Rolling Stone. The magazine reported that his label, Big Loud, donated $300,000 to the Black Music Action Coalition and $100,000 to Rock Against Racism, and that Wallen’s charitable foundation donated $100,000 to the National Museum of African American Music in Nashville.


Wallen has talked about the controversy very sparingly, letting others speak for him. In December, he joined rapper Lil Durk on a track titled “Broadway Girls,” which went No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and played over the speakers just before Wallen took the stage in New York City. Lil Durk, who invited Wallen to perform with him during MLK Freedom Fest in Nashville last month, was recently flagged down by a TMZ cameraman who asked, “He’s not racist, is he?” Lil Durk responded, “He’s not racist. He’s my boy,” saying the two had a “long talk.”