(March 4, 2023). On Friday (Mar. 3), I listened to country superstar Morgan Wallen’s new album One Thing At A Time.
As a music blogger who planned to cover this major artist’s almost phoenix-like ability to rise above (self-inflicted) career damage and have not only the most anxiously awaited new album of this young year so far, but also what is easily the biggest album of the decade—and arguably the century—in his previous LP, Dangerous: The Double Album, I couldn’t do him justice by not giving One Thing a listen before writing about it or him.
I started streaming One Thing At A Time Friday evening during a 30-minute drive to a birthday celebration for my younger brother. Then a couple hours later, I continued listening for another 45 minutes as we drove around the city trying to find a cigar bar to enjoy a celebratory smoke.
After three failed attempts to find a suitable spot, I made the 30-minute trek home; One Thing At A Time was still playing.
As I pulled into the driveway, the last song, “Dying Man” was about halfway through. A total of 36 songs spanning nearly two hours had played. I swear at least 35 of them had to do with drinkin’ beer or whiskey and chasing (or getting over) women, the latter done mostly with more beer or whiskey.
But, as Wallen himself sings on “Born With A Beer In My Hand,” the album’s opening track: “what do you expect from a redneck?”
By all these songs’ accounts and his own words, Wallen is about as singularly tracked and rustic as they come. The one song that (kinda) didn’t touch on the subject of drinking or women or both was the recent hit “Thought You Should Know,” a single that country’s current top superstar released almost years ago (but, along with several other earlier single releases, he included on this new album).
Wallen had dedicated “Thought” to his mother in the midst of the PR nightmare and partial industry ban that arose from his use of a racial slur (the N-word) upon returning home at the end of a three-day bender in February 2021.
In that song, Wallen thanked his mom for her prayers during what could have been career-ending fallout from his drunken faux paus.
By many estimations two years ago, Morgan Wallen’s career was supposed to be doomed. He and his music had been barred from every important awards show (including the Grammys and country music’s own ACMs and CMAs), removed from curated playlists on streaming platforms, banned from many radio stations (particularly those in his own format), and handily beat down by the media.
Even his label, Republic Records, suspended his recording contract (temporarily) and stopped all promotion of his then-recent release, Dangerous, which was just in its third week at No. 1 where it had earlier debuted.
The video that captured Wallen’s drunken utterance went viral and calls for his cancellation were swift and loud and went mostly heeded by an industry with purportedly little tolerance for that racist epithet (unless, of course, it is used to promote the multi-billion dollar hip-hop industry, something with which I also take issue).
Wallen, who is white, should have known that people of his race should never utter that word in any context, despite how tempting it might be due to its normalization in society by a music industry that largely profits from it. Readers of this blog may recall that, at the time of Wallen’s ignorant front-yard outburst, there were five albums sharing space in the top ten with Wallen’s Dangerous, all of which had lyrics containing that same N-word…albums by the late Pop Smoke, The Weeknd, Lil Durk, the late Juice WRLD and Lil Baby.
Two of those artists—Pop Smoke and The Weekend—record for the same distributing label Wallen does. The folks at Republic Records apparently had no concerns about promoting those two while the firestorm erupted around Wallen.
But that firestorm amounted to being the equivalent of a huge smokescreen.
In the immediate wake of the news of Wallen’s viral screw-up, his albums experienced sales bumps. Not only did Dangerous remain at No. 1 for a fourth week, but its predecessor, If I Know Me, joined it in the top ten, making Wallen the first male country artist to achieve simultaneous top tens since Garth Brooks in the 1990s.
Dangerous, which continued to be a steady seller and break chart records despite the industry’s ban, spent an astonishing ten total weeks at No. 1 (again placing Wallen in Garth Brooks’ exclusive early ‘90s territory). By that December, Billboard ranked it the No. 1 album—for all genres—of 2021.
Wallen’s fans—and even some non-fans whose main aim was to rally against “cancel culture”—were speaking with their wallets and their streaming thumbs, making it clear that they believed the industry’s method of holding Wallen accountable for his midnight misstep was an overreach.
Many of the consumer reviews of Dangerous on Apple’s iTunes Store had, in fact, spoken not only to the quality of the album but to Wallen’s “cancellation” and what fans perceived as a double standard by society (although, in fairness, some fans condemned what Wallen said). As one friend (and former coworker), who is white, recently told me over a cigar: white people should just stop asking when is it okay to say the N-word.
But the success of Dangerous did not end in 2021.
In 2022, with the exception of a lone week during the peak Christmas season when it was squeezed out by holiday fare, Wallen’s Dangerous remained in the top ten the entire year, long enough to make it the biggest country album for the second-straight year (and the fourth biggest album for all genres in 2022), according to Billboard.
That’s not all.
Dangerous’ record-breaking top-10 run is still running strong. It ranks at No. 5 on the latest Billboard 200 chart and has moved past every other album by singular recording acts in the category of most weeks spent in the Billboard 200’s top ten.
Only two albums—both multi-artist soundtracks—rank above it: the Original Cast recording of My Fair Lady from 1956 (173 weeks) and the 1965 soundtrack to The Sound of Music (109 weeks). Now at 108 cumulative weeks in the top ten and counting, Dangerous only needs next week to tie and the following week to surpass The Sound of Music for sole possession of second place.
At its current rate, Wallen’s Dangerous has the potential to rank as country music’s biggest album for the third-straight year (it’s currently No. 1 for its 95th record-extending week on Billboard’s genre-specific country albums chart), something no other artist of any genre has done before. If it continues to rank in the top ten of the all-genre Billboard 200 for another 64 weeks, it will tie the all-time record held by My Fair Lady, and an additional week would put it in first place all by itself.
For those counting, 64 weeks—assuming they all occur consecutively—would take it to June 2024. That’s not such a stretch when you consider that two years ago no one could’ve predicted that the album would still be in the top ten in 2023!
So far, the only artist that looks to be a threat to stop Dangerous is Wallen himself and the new album.
One Thing At A Time, is a shoo-in to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard all-genre and country charts next week as several of its singles have already gained huge radio play and high chart placement over the past couple years, pre-album release.
I expect huge streaming and sales numbers to join the already high airplay numbers for the album’s earlier released tracks. Don’t be surprised if, based on Wallen’s track record and his fans’ undying support, One Thing spends the next several weeks at No. 1 and the remainder of 2023 in the top ten, right alongside its predecessor.
With all his success over the past couple years, much of it happening under the radar and most of it occurring despite (or in spite of) the industry’s attempt to hold him accountable for the mistake of two years ago, Wallen has been the poster case for beating cancellation.
The once-embattled singer acknowledged his mistake and issued a public apology for the N-bomb he dropped. He reportedly donated $500,000 to Black causes and now appears to be in the good graces of an industry that roundly shunned him just two years ago.
And Wallen is well on his way to breaking even more records with his latest twangy ode to beer-guzzlin’, whiskey-chuggin’, truck-drivin’, gun-shootin’, girl-chasin’, and God-fearin’: One Thing At A Time.
Quick review note: Although the new album plays to every basic country music stereotype there is, the album does have its clever moments.
Songs I admittedly looped more than once: (1)“Man Made A Bar”—a tale based on a simple premise: God created the earth and made man (then woman). Man needed a place to drown his sorrows after the woman breaks his heart, so he made a bar—and (2) the album’s title track, which lists all the vices (drinking being among them) Wallen admits are hard to give up and tells his ex-girl (who was also one of those vices) that, although she wants him to stop drinking, he can only give up one bad habit at a time.
Here is a Spotify link to the album for you to make your own judgment.
DJRob (he/him/his), who prefers a good cigar and single-malt scotch (or gin) over Wallen’s preferred whiskey or beer, 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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