It’s been more than a year since Morgan Wallen was caught on camera yelling the N-word and other expletives on Feb. 2, 2021, and the embattled country star said he was spending the rest of the year out of the spotlight to work on himself.
“I’m embarrassed and sorry,” Wallen told TMZ in a statement at the time, after the outlet posted the video. “I used an unacceptable and inappropriate racial slur that I wish I could take back. There are no excuses to use this type of language, ever. I want to sincerely apologize for using the word. I promise to do better.”
Since then, Wallen has seemingly moved past the controversy and has taken part in surprise performances, announced a tour, took home major awards (including album of the year at the 2022 ACM Awards) and broke chart records. Billboard has compiled a timeline of the direction Wallen’s life and career have taken since the controversy.
Feb. 3, 2021: Music Pulled From Radio & Streaming, Suspended by Label, Declared Ineligible for ACM Awards
Just one day after the video surfaced online, iHeartMedia and Entercom pulled Wallen’s music from hundreds of radio stations. And Wallen, country music’s most popular artist for streaming, was pulled from the leading platforms’ curated playlists, including 14 playlists from Spotify and 21 from Apple Music. Furthermore, his label Big Loud Records suspended his recording contract “indefinitely.” In a statement posted to both Twitter and Instagram, Big Loud wrote, “In the wake of recent events, Big Loud Records has made the decision to suspend Morgan Wallen’s recording contract indefinitely. Republic Records fully supports Big Loud’s decision and agrees such behavior will not be tolerated.”
The Academy of Country Music also announced that Wallen would be ineligible for the 56th annual ACM Awards, which were presented April 18. It also barred him from appearing on the ACM Awards for one year. “The Academy does not condone or support intolerance or behavior that doesn’t align with our commitment and dedication to diversity and inclusion,” the ACM said in a statement. Even though Wallen was declared ineligible, digital billboards in support of the singer being named entertainer of the year at the ceremony began popping up around Nashville.
Feb. 4, 2021: Dropped by Booking Agent
His booking agent WME dropped him from its roster at a time when Wallen’s team was plotting an arena-headlining North American tour for late 2021-22, which would more than triple the size of the venues he was playing pre-pandemic.
Feb. 5, 2021: Airplay Plummets, Streams Steady, Sales Surge
His U.S. airplay continued to evaporate, while streams stayed mostly steady and sales exploded in the wake of the TMZ video. Looking at airplay Jan. 30-Feb. 5, his song catalog was averaging 1,500 to 1,600 plays daily on reporters to Billboard’s Country Airplay chart through Feb. 2, according to MRC Data, and on Feb. 3, as multiple radio groups dropped his music, his catalog fell by 74% in plays that day. His totals then cratered to a relatively minuscule 55 and 25 plays on Feb. 4 and 5, respectively. Wallen’s streams experienced light daily gains, despite the removal of his songs from over 30 influential playlists across Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora. On Feb. 4, Wallen’s songs tallied 28.66 million on-demand streams (audio and video combined), according to reports to MRC Data — his best daily streaming total since Jan. 29. And his sales increased dramatically after Feb. 3. According to MRC Data, Wallen’s total sales — across all of his albums and songs — vaulted from 5,100 on Feb. 2 to 35,200 on Feb. 4.
Feb. 10, 2021: First Apology Video Released
Wallen broke his silence in a five-minute video, announcing that he had spent the nearly two weeks after the video’s release being sober (since he confirmed he was under the influence of alcohol in the video, saying, “The video you saw was me on hour 72 of 72 of a bender”) and meeting with Black leaders that have left him with an understanding of how deeply painful his words were. “I accepted some invitations from some amazing Black organizations, some executives and leaders, to engage in some very real and honest conversations,” he said. “This week I heard first-hand some personal stories from Black people that honestly shook me, and I know what I’m going through this week doesn’t compare to some of the trials I heard about from them. I came away … with a clearer understanding of the weight of my words.”
And he told his fans to heed his words by pleading with them to not defend him and his actions: “It’s on me to take ownership for this and I fully accept any penalties I’m facing. The time of my return is solely on me and the work I put in.”
Feb. 19, 2021: Major Sales Boost
Billboard estimated that the Dangerous artist’s catalog garnered $8.005 million in revenue from U.S. sales and streams in 2021, with a quarter of that number — $2,028 million — being generated during the nine full days after the video of Wallen yelling the N-word surfaced online.
Feb. 20, 2021: Breaks Artist 100 Record for Country Artists
March 27, 2021: Dangerous: The Double Album Spends 10 Weeks on Billboard 200
Regardless of the controversy, Wallen continued to thrive on the Billboard charts. His sophomore set Dangerous: The Double Album spent 10 weeks on top of the Billboard 200, making it the first album to spend its first 10 weeks at No. 1 since 1987. It also had the most total weeks at No. 1 since Drake’s Views spent 13 nonconsecutive weeks in the lead in 2016. Dangerous is one of just four country albums to spend at least 10 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. The album also spent 15 weeks at No. 1 on Top Country Albums.
April 13, 2021: Note About Live Summer Performances
Wallen posted a four-page handwritten letter on his socials, saying he has spent the past few months out of the spotlight to reflect on his various misdeeds and will use the rest of the year stepping away from performing live and continuing to work on himself. His announcement also confirmed that Wallen would no longer accompany Luke Bryan on the Proud to Be Right Here Tour slated to kick off this summer, nor would he headline country music festivals such as the Kicker Country Stampede in Kansas and Country Jam USA in Wisconsin as originally announced.
April 29, 2021: Not Included in the Billboard Music Awards Ceremony, But Still a 6-Time Finalist
dick clark productions, which produces the Billboard Music Awards, released a statement explaining why Wallen was a BBMA finalist six times in five categories, and why he wouldn’t appear on the show this year. “Morgan Wallen is a finalist this year based on charting. As his recent conduct does not align with our core values, we will not be including him on the show in any capacity (performing, presenting, accepting),” the statement read. “It is heartening and encouraging to hear that Morgan is taking steps in his anti-racist journey and starting to do some meaningful work. We plan to evaluate his progress and will consider his participation in future shows.”
May 19, 2021: First Live Performance
Wallen surprised the crowd at Kid Rock‘s Nashville honky tonk on May 19 with his first performance since the video of him using a racial slur was caught on camera. The performance seemed to contradict what the country singer said in an April 13-dated statement about not hitting the stage this summer, though he specifically ruled out tour dates and festivals, not all performing.
May 21, 2021: Eligibility Reconsidered by CMA
The Country Music Association’s board of directors opened up about Wallen’s eligibility for the 55th annual CMA Awards in November. The ruling declared he will be eligible in categories that honor artistic works (single, song, album, musical event, and music video of the year), “so as not to limit opportunity for other credited collaborators,” in the words of the CMA. But he won’t be eligible in individual artist categories (entertainer and male vocalist of the year).
May 22, 2021: Reportedly Skips NAACP Meeting & Previews New Song
After saying in his first apology video that he accepted “invitations from some amazing Black organizations, some executives and leaders to engage in some very real and honest conversations,” Wallen was a no-show at a meeting with the Nashville chapter of the NAACP. NAACP Nashville President Sheryl Guinn told TMZ that her team reached out to the country singer in February after he expressed a desire to educate himself, and his team was willing to schedule a sit-down, which was likely to include multiple Black leaders. But no further details were ever hashed out after the initial phone call.
Meanwhile, Wallen checked in with his 2.5 million Instagram followers to tease a new song titled “Thought You Should Know.” In the song — which Miranda Lambert revealed in the comments section of his IGTV clip that she and Nicolle Galyon co-wrote — he updates his mom on his life and questions the “bad decisions” he’s made. “I wrote this song for my mom a while ago, seemed like an appropriate time to share it,” Wallen said before breaking out into the emotional solo acoustic performance.
May 23, 2021: Wins 3 BBMAs
Wallen won three BBMA trophies, for top country artist, top country male artist and top country album with Dangerous: The Double Album.
June 14, 2021: Second Live Performance
Wallen performed at the afterparty of the inaugural Brett Boyer Foundation Invitational, where earlier in the day at Marshwood Club in Georgia, Wallen participated in a charity golf tournament with fellow country singer Luke Bryan. In addition to his Hot Country Songs chart-topper “Whiskey Glasses” and other hits, he also performed his unreleased song “Thought You Should Know.”
June 16, 2021: Airplay More Than Doubles
Four months after his airplay initially plummeted following the release of the TMZ video, his radio presence has now surged. At the beginning of May, his number of weekly spins across the nearly 150 radio stations that report to Billboard‘s Country Airplay chart was still in the low 1,000s. But after lifting from 1,100 in the week of May 7-13 to 1,500 the week of May 14-20, they’ve risen each subsequent week, and are now at 2,900 for the week of June 4-10 — a total gain of 164% over the same period a month earlier.
June 24, 2021: Wallen Shares “Sand in My Boots” Performance
The singer posted a performance of “Sand in My Boots” to Instagram with Eric Church, Hardy and Darius Rucker. The run through an acoustic version of the track from Wallen’s Dangerous: The Double Album featured Wallen, Church and Hardy strumming acoustic guitars as they sang the tune while Rucker sat on the couch next to Wallen but did not appear to join in. The unplugged performance was his latest public appearance hinting at an attempted comeback.
July 23, 2021: Wallen Speaks Out
In a Good Morning America interview, the singer said he was “not sure” why he used the racial slur, explaining that he and his friends “say dumb stuff together.”
“I was around some of my friends, and we we say dumb stuff together,” Wallen told GMA. “And it was — in our minds, it’s playful … that sounds ignorant, but it — that’s really where it came from … and it’s wrong.”
Asked about his use of the racial slur, Wallen claimed that he didn’t use it “frequently” in the past, but that when he did, it was only around a “certain” group of his friends. He did not elaborate. As for the leaked clip with the slur and other offensive language, Wallen said he didn’t “mean it in any derogatory manner at all … It’s one of my best friends — he was, we were all clearly drunk,” as host Michael Strahan pressed him to talk about whether he understood the history and painful impact of the word.
Saying he was “not sure” why he felt comfortable using the N-word, Wallen said, “I think I was just ignorant about it. I don’t think I sat down and was, like, ‘Hey, is this right or is this wrong?’”
Asked by Strahan what he had to say to those who saw the GMA appearance as an attempt to rehabilitate his image, Wallen answered, “I understand that. I understand that I’m not ever gonna make everyone happy. I can only come to tell my truth and that’s all I know to do.”
Sept. 30, 2021: Wallen Barred From CMA Awards
Despite his album of the year nomination, the CMA Awards revealed to the Los Angeles Times that it would not allow Wallen to attend, perform or accept an award at the show, including not walking the red carpet.
“This is the first time in the history of the CMA, to my knowledge, anyone has ever been disqualified for conduct,” CMA CEO Sarah Trahern told the LA Times. “Honoring him as an individual this year is not right, and he will not be allowed on the red carpet, on our stage, or be celebrated in any way.”
Oct. 18, 2021: Wallen Announced as Country Thunder Festival Headliner
Morgan Wallen is announced to headline three of the five Country Thunder festivals in the U.S. in 2022. Wallen will headline Country Thunder Arizona in Florence (April 7-10, 2022), Country Thunder Wisconsin in Twin Lakes (July 21-24) and Country Thunder Florida in Kissimmee (Oct. 21-23). He is the first headliner announced for the multi-day festivals.
Oct. 29, 2021: Wallen Sells Out Three Shows at Kentucky’s Rupp Arena
The “Sand in My Boots” singer sells more than 36,000 tickets in less than 90 minutes after they went on sale, according to the venue; the Dec. 5 show was added due to fan demand. The three shows featured openers — and Wallen’s Big Loud Records labelmates — HARDY and Ernest.
Nov. 11, 2021: Wallen Reacts to CMA Loss
“I wake up every morning and thank the Lord for my blessings,” Wallen tweeted after losing the album of the year award at the 2021 ceremony to Chris Stapleton’s Starting Over. “Tomorrow morning will be no different. I love y’all.”
Nov. 15, 2021: Wallen Announces 2022 Tour
The 46-city The Dangerous Tour began Feb. 3 at the Ford Center in Evansville, Indiana.
The tour includes Wallen’s debut headlining performance at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on March 17, 2022, as well as his debut at New York’s Madison Square Garden and Atlanta’s Cellairis Amphitheatre at Lakewood. The seven-month tour will conclude at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sept. 24, 2022.
Nov. 16, 2021: Tortuga Music Festival Headliner
Luke Combs, Thomas Rhett and Wallen are set to headline Tortuga Music Festival when it returns to Fort Lauderdale Beach Park in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on April 8-10, 2022.
Dec. 2, 2021: ‘Dangerous: The Double Album’ Is the Top Billboard 200 Album
Dangerous was No. 1 on Billboard’s year-end Billboard 200 albums chart, as well as the year-end Top Country Albums and Top Canadian Albums rankings, while Wallen led the Top Country Artists, Hot Country Songs Artists, Country Streaming Songs Artists and Top Country Albums Artists recaps.
Jan. 17, 2022: Lil Durk Brings Out Wallen at MLK Freedom Fest
Lil Durk was joined by Wallen for a performance of their collaboration “Broadway Girls” during the MLK Freedom Fest at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. “Can’t nobody cancel s— without me saying it, you know what I’m saying?” Durk told the crowd.
Feb. 2, 2022: Wallen Announced as Watershed Festival Headliner
Feb. 9, 2022: The Faster Horses Festival Headliner
Feb. 23, 2022: “Sand in My Boots” Hits No. 1 on Country Airplay Chart
“Sand in My Boots” reached the summit of Billboard‘s Country Airplay chart dated Feb. 26. In the tracking week ending Feb. 20, the song, released on Republic/Big Loud Records, increased by 4% to 24.9 million in audience, according to MRC Data.
March 7, 2022: Wallen’s Dangerous Wins Album of the Year at 2022 ACM Awards
“I wrote some stuff down,” he said in his acceptance speech on March 7. “When I started this album, I was a kid. By the time I put it out, I was a father, and that’s become more important to me than anything else. To my son: This album and this award will signify that his daddy was a fighter, that he chased his dreams and worked hard to make them a reality. I want to say a special thank you to all the songwriters, producers and musicians who played on this album. I wish you were standing next to me now. This project would not be complete without each of you. I’d also like to thank my good lord and savior Jesus Christ, my family, my close friends, my band, my team in Nashville, country radio and everyone who has shown me grace along the way. Most importantly, I have to address my fans personally and directly: Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’m blown away by you guys. God bless.”