One summer night in 2019, Morgan Wallen got his ear pierced. The 27-year-old country singer-songwriter was touring with Florida Georgia Line, along with his fellow opener and close collaborator HARDY. Wallen had been eyeing a dangling cross earring, and HARDY had ordered it from Amazon. So, instead of going to the doctor or even a mall kiosk, Wallen imbibed some liquid courage and surrendered the duties to his buddy — who stabbed a guitar string through his ear.
“It was HARDY’s last night on tour, and we were feeling no pain,” Wallen remembers fondly today over Zoom. He knew by then, after all, that a seemingly impetuous act like a tour bus piercing could end up an unlikely genius move. About a year earlier, Wallen had decided on a whim to adopt a certain statement haircut after seeing a photo of his father rocking it in his younger days. “He came into the office and someone said, ‘Morgan’s got a mullet,’ ” recalls his manager, Big Loud partner/CEO Seth England, with a laugh. The label had just shot marketing photos and videos for Wallen with a completely different look. Then again, England wasn’t exactly surprised: “We were already used to him being the rebel on our roster.”
Wallen reckons his rebellious streak stems from his upbringing as a preacher’s kid who “was supposed to just be the leading example of Christianity,” an expectation he hated. “From a child, I was going to do the opposite. I can’t help it. It’s just who I am. Like I’ve got something to prove on my own.” And right now, he’s doing just that. Crowned the Country Music Association’s best new artist in November, Wallen is, on the surface, a conventional country boy: a native of the two-stoplight town of Sneedville, Tenn., who makes music that taps into those rural roots, small-town family values and sense of place. Both on- and offstage, he’s partial to sleeveless plaid button-downs (the perfect complement to that mullet). In the defiant “Still Goin’ Down” from his just-released, 30-track Dangerous: The Double Album, he proudly calls himself “more podunk than pop.”