In 2021, Wallen saw his music temporarily pulled from country radio stations and music streaming playlists, was dropped from his booking agency, had his recording contract temporarily suspended, and was temporarily banned from awards shows after video surfaced of Wallen uttering a racial slur outside his Nashville home in February 2021.
“With his outburst coming on the heels of the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, and country music’s subsequent referendum on racial equity within the format, the penalties levied against the singer felt justifiable,” Breland wrote in his essay for CMT.com. “But to many of Morgan’s supporters, it became a unifier. Before long, fan-sponsored billboards started going up all across the South, as well as petitions and social media campaigns to end the industry’s embargo on Wallen.”
Breland also noted Wallen’s continued success in the wake of the incident, including notching No. 1 Country Airplay hits with “Sand in My Boots,” “Wasted on You” and his collaboration with Ernest, “Flower Shops.” Wallen also earned a No. 1 hit on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart with his Lil Durk collaboration “Broadway Girls.” Meanwhile, Wallen’s Dangerous: The Double Album went on to become the best-selling Billboard 200 album of 2021. Wallen also launched a massive arena tour in February 2022, and has elevated his tour schedule with the addition of stadium shows. After Wallen was deemed ineligible to be nominated for an Academy of Country Music Award in 2021, he returned this year and saw his Dangerous: The Double Album named album of the year.
Along the way, Wallen also released “Don’t Think Jesus,” a song that deals with Christianity and forgiveness. Notably, Breland also performed a version of the song, albeit with lyrics changed to reveal more of his own journey as an artist who writes country music, moves to the South and “Soon figures out/ The system is broken and don’t wanna change/ But I don’t think Jesus wants it that way.”
“‘Canceling’ someone for a perceived wrongdoing is in and of itself an enigma,” Breland continued in his essay. “Because while public sentiment can push corporations to enforce tangible restrictions, it can also embolden a fanbase that feels like their favorite artist is being disenfranchised. Usually, and what is also arguably true in this case, both reactions prove equal and opposite, and very little happens. Comedian Louis CK was canceled a few years ago for sexual misconduct, but just won a Grammy for his latest stand-up special. Chris Brown has been canceled multiple times over the past decade, but just announced an arena tour with Lil Baby. Has anyone ever been canceled in the age of social media that hasn’t come back from it? I can’t say that I’ve ever witnessed it.
“As a Black country artist, I was disappointed when I saw the video of Morgan using the N-word, and I was reminded of times in my life that I’ve felt disrespected or unsafe on account of my race. But I also found nuance in the situation, as is typically my approach,” Breland wrote. “What I really saw in that infamous video, as I saw in each of Morgan’s public misgivings, was a person that may be struggling and in need of counsel. Because of the racial ramifications of him saying what he said, it understandably became a much larger and more delicate issue. Do I believe he should have faced consequences? Ideally, yes. Do I believe any of the sanctions levied against Morgan as a result of his actions did anything to solve a race problem in country music, or even a personal race problem that Morgan may have? No, I do not.
“Canceling someone without getting to the root of a problem is lazy. It is the social combover that does nothing but temporarily and ineffectively hide a bald spot. Country music, like America, has a long and violent history with race. If you’re unfamiliar, I recommend watching the Amazon documentary For Love & Country, which chronicles this history with powerful anecdotes from some of the format’s Black artists, including myself. Canceling Morgan and removing him from the public eye can’t and didn’t erase racism in country music, because it isn’t a problem that he started, it is a larger system of which he is a by-product. Rather than dismiss Morgan, I would have loved to see discourse that included him, where he and society at large could learn about that history and move toward anti-racism and ally-ship. Unfortunately, we have spent so much time collectively ignoring Morgan that we may have missed the window for such a moment to occur.”
Any discourse Wallen may have had seems to have been done out of public view. During a July 2021 interview with Good Morning America’s Michael Strahan, Wallen revealed his intention to donate $500,000 to various causes. He also noted that he had met with members of the Black Music Action Coalition (BMAC), including Black music executives Kevin Liles and Eric Hutcherson, as well as gospel artist BeBe Winans.
USA Today later reported, and Billboard confirmed, that Wallen completed dispersing the $500,000 through his More Than My Hometown Foundation, with a $100,000 donation to the National Museum of African American Music in Nashville. $100,000 went to Rock Against Racism, donated by Wallen’s label/management home Big Loud on behalf of Wallen from his royalties, while $165,000 went to the Black Music Action Coalition, with another $135,000 going to charities selected by those who have counseled Wallen, and overseen by the BMAC.
In 2020, Breland earned a breakthrough hit with “My Truck,” which has gone on to become Platinum-certified by the RIAA. He’s followed that with a No. 1 Billboard Country Airplay hit earlier this year, for his collaboration on Dierks Bentley’s hit “Beers on Me,” which also featured Hardy. He just released a collaboration with Lady A, “Told You I Could Drink,” and will release his upcoming debut album, Cross Country, on Sept. 9. As one of many Black artists making career strides within the country music industry, Breland also took part in the stellar recent Amazon Music documentary For Love & Country, which highlights the journeys and careers of Black artists in country music.