Lil Nas X has spent eight weeks hanging out at the top of the Billboard charts, but the country music world still doesn’t seem to be ready for him. Following the Billy Ray Cyrus-assisted return of “Old Town Road” to Billboard, the rapper seems to have stirred up another controversy when it comes to country fan conservatism, this time in the form of his collaboration with denim company Wrangler.
Last week, Wrangler – which Lil Nas X lovingly shouts out in his hit – announced a capsule collection of clothing items made in collaboration with the rapper, comprised of shirts and denim inspired by the song:
Wrangler’s hip hop-inspired pivot into streetwear didn’t seem to sit well with the more er, “conservative” side of the fanbase – with a number of “longtime supporters” of the company taking to Instagram to lob criticisms at the collaboration’s announcement.
“This makes me not want to buy Wrangler Jeans anymore tbh, the cowboy spirit is nothing to be made fun of,” complained one user, with another claiming that “True cowboys that actually wear Wranglers will not wear these or care anything about that stupid song”:
Country music fans boycott Wrangler Jeans over Lil Nas X partnership – Wrangler announced the new campaign on Instagram prompting some brand backlash: https://t.co/XLO70emgHx #MorningRushATL pic.twitter.com/PxZTd4Sh4b
— Liza Lucas 11Alive (@LizaLLucas) May 23, 2019
WRANGLER JUST PARTNERED WITH LIL NAS X AND THE RACIST ARE MAD GO BUY UP ALL THE WRANGLER LIL NAS X COLLAB JEANS YOU CAN PEOPLE SUPPORT DIVERSITY pic.twitter.com/gwH2G7dULj
— tyler (@tylerujhazy) May 21, 2019
Regarding that “cowboy spirit,” though: A number of Twitter users were quick to point out that the cultural legacies of African Americans and cowboys aren’t as distinct as the country purists criticizing Wrangler are making it out to be. Not only were blacks a visible part of Old West cowboy culture, but the term “cowboy” has its roots in derogatory terms from America’s Confederacy era:
25% of cowboys were black & that’s a conservative estimate
ps Texas during your ~settler~ days your pop was >30% slaves, that’s why there were so many black trained horsemen after the Confederates lost
y’all can shove your spurs where the sun don’t shinehttps://t.co/tCZzTXumhv
— Kay Taylor Rea (@kaytaylorrea) May 25, 2019
The Instagram outrage is just the latest example of the rise of “Old Town Road” illuminating the cultural gatekeeping embedded in the (traditionally white, traditionally male) genre of country music, though even Lil Nas X was shocked at how far country fans were willing to take things:
Fellow country-adjacent rapper Post Malone had some words of encouragement for Lil Nas X over the whole situation, though, sharing in an interview with TMZ that “I think people should be able to fucking make whatever the hell they want to. I feel like even now in modern country there’s a lot of 808s and shit anyways… All the country artists now are rapping too. I don’t necessarily see the difference.”
Wrangler appears to be handling the criticism well, though, asserting that the “cowboy spirit” is far less narrow than detractors of the collaboration are making it out to be. “Our western heritage and offering a quality and versatile product for all wearers will always be the very heart of our brand,” they responded to one fan:
Thanks for your feedback, Ty. As an iconic brand in fashion, we have shown up in music, film and popular culture for decades. Our western heritage and offering a quality and versatile product for all wearers will always be the very heart of our brand.
— Wrangler Jeans (@Wrangler) May 23, 2019
And as for the effectiveness of that boycott? Well, regardless of whether it fits your definition of “cowboy” or not, the collection appears to already be sold out online.