(December 5, 2021). It’s not uncommon in America for underrepresented groups to engage in a game of “oppression olympics,” where one aggrieved group of people tries to out-do the other in laying out all the social injustices it encounters on a daily basis.
But even the most skeptical of skeptics can see the disparity that played out in the music business this year after two of the most talked-about incidents of social unconsciousness resulted in vastly different outcomes for the two artists involved.
First, in early February while his latest LP, Dangerous: The Double Album, was at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, country singer Morgan Wallen was revealed in a viral video to have uttered the N-word while returning home from a night out with friends.
As Wallen went on his apology campaign, the reaction from the industry was swift. The maligned singer, who was among the most celebrated of country stars only months earlier, was cancelled from awards show appearances, curated playlists on streaming platforms, and even some radio stations.
Wallen’s album, however, proved resistant to any of these cancellations as country fans seemingly defiantly went on to purchase more than 2 million equivalent copies of Dangerous, which spent seven more weeks at No. 1 (for a total of ten) after the incident and has remained in the top 10 every week since its release (it sits at No. 5 on the current Billboard 200 chart in its 46th week).
Despite the industry’s initial efforts to hold Wallen accountable, Dangerous: The Double Album was named the biggest album of 2021 in Billboard’s year-end charts released just a few days ago.
Fast-forward the calendar from February to last July when North Carolina-based rapper DaBaby was caught on film during a Rolling Loud performance making homophobic and sexist comments to his fans. As in Wallen’s case, the video went viral and the condemnation was swift (including in this space).
DaBaby, who is Black, was immediately cancelled from scheduled festival performances (including Lollapolooza, Governor’s Ball, Day N Vegas and several others) throughout the summer and had to make several attempts to apologize to the gay community as a result.
Not unlike Wallen, DaBaby (real name: Jonathan Kirk), was riding high on the charts at the time of his offensive statements. He was listed in a featured duet with British singer Dua Lipa on her megasmash hit “Levitating.” At the time of the Rolling Loud event, the song was in the midst of a record-breaking top-10 run on the Billboard Hot 100 and went on to be named the top single of 2021 in last week’s year-end recap.
But, unlike Wallen’s triumph on the annual album tally, DaBaby’s name was nowhere to be found in the credits for “Levitating” on the year-end singles list. In fact, even retrospectively, if you browse Billboard’s website for the Hot 100 charts from earlier in the year when the DaBaby remix was the more popular version—a key criteria for featured acts to be listed—DaBaby’s name has been removed from the hit song’s artist credits.
Dua Lipa famously denounced the Rolling Loud comments made by her duet partner and had the DaBaby remix of “Levitating” removed from streaming platforms. Radio quickly followed suit and eventually the original solo version of “Levitating” took over as the most-played, even as some fans continued streaming the remix on platforms where it was still available.
As recently as August, the DaBaby remix was still listed on the multi-metric Hot 100 songs chart, which takes into account streaming, downloads and airplay, even though the rapper’s credit had been removed from most of Billboard’s radio-based, airplay-only charts. At the time, even this blogger predicted that, despite the backlash, DaBaby would earn a credit if “Levitating” wound up being the top song of the year.
How wrong I was.
Instead, DaBaby’s contribution is essentially wiped from the record books, and his status of having been featured on the biggest hit of 2021 all but erased.
While there are nuances to this disparity between the Wallen and DeBaby outcomes, like the fact that Wallen’s accomplishment is tied to an entire album, one from which his name obviously cannot be extricated, this development goes to show that the cancellations didn’t work the same for the two artists, both of whose comments were extremely appalling.
Wallen’s fans, as well as people who likely didn’t care about his music so much as they did about the politics of cancel culture, went out and bought his album in droves. Even without label, radio or awards-show support, and maybe even in spite of the industry’s bans, Dangerous continued to be a top seller in America, lending weight to the long-held theory that certain offenses are more tolerated in this country than others.
Except for a save by fellow rapper Boosie Badazz, who in the wake of his own homophobic statements (mostly against openly gay rapper Lil Nas X) allowed DaBaby to perform at his Boosie Bash in August, the industry all but wiped DaBaby off the map. One look at Billboard’s charts online and there’s almost no record of the rapper having been a key part of the Number One song of the year.
In full disclosure, Morgan Wallen continues to be shunned by the industry. Despite having the biggest album of the year, the country upstart was banned from this year’s CMAs and American Music Awards, and he was snubbed by the upcoming Grammys, for which he received zero nominations.
But at least having the No. 1 album of 2021 can serve as his proverbial middle finger to cancel culture and an industry some say has treated him too harshly for the 10-month-old act for which he’s since shown contrition.
DaBaby, on the other hand, has no such card in his deck.
And therein lies the discrepancy. Because, despite the fact that Dua Lipa’s solo version of “Levitating” ended up with the lion’s share of the track’s consumption numbers post-Rolling Loud, it clearly would not have ranked as the No. 1 Hot 100 song of 2021 without DaBaby’s contribution, which sparked the tune’s second life at the beginning of the year.
And it’s for that reason that he—and Black artists in general—may have the bigger grievance in 2021.
DJRob (he/him) is a freelance music blogger from somewhere on the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.
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