It’s been the talk of the chart-watching world for nearly the entire year, and it’s all culminated in this: Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” finally breaking the long-held record of 16 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with his Billy Ray Cyrus-assisted debut smash, the 17-week No. 1 “Old Town Road.”
Yes, despite 16 weeks of worthy challengers — including multiple songs from pop’s best and brightest stars, like Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, Drake, Justin Bieber, Post Malone and Shawn Mendes — “Old Town Road” has held onto the Hot 100’s top spot longer than any song in the chart’s 60-plus-year history. But what comes next at the No. 1 spot? And what comes next for Lil Nas X himself? Below, our staffers debate these questions and more.
1. So that’s it: “Old Town Road” has the Hot 100 record to itself, and nothing else much happened in its Week 17 at No. 1 to give it any kind of new challenge. Are you still excited about the history being made, or after all the drama of the previous 16 weeks, does this feel a little anti-climactic?
Bianca Gracie: Okay, don’t get me wrong — I’m definitely happy for Lil Nas X’s success. But that poor horse was bound to get exhausted sooner or later. After dominating the top slot for what seemed like an eternity, it became pretty obvious the rapper was going to make history by the 17th week. From the ongoing remixes (some of which were brilliant trolls), poking fun of haters who oddly backed out after he came out as gay and even taking over Twitter as CEO, the rapper has played the game perfectly to make sure it happened. So while some Lambs may feel crushed that Mariah Carey’s “One Sweet Day” no longer carries the diamond-encrusted torch (which she clearly doesn’t mind sharing), he earned it.
Jason Lipshutz: The real drama occurred in the week leading up to the record-breaking 17th week at No. 1: when “Old Town Road” was threatening to tie “One Sweet Day” and “Despacito” with 16 weeks in the top spot, Justin Bieber stopped by Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy,” the No. 2 song on the Hot 100 chart, and a race was quickly forged. With “Old Town Road” riding by the Billie-Bieber union a week ago, and no new competition emerging the following week, it was easy to conclude that the record was being broken. And who says the lack of drama is a bad thing? After vanquishing several high-profile songs vying for the top spot in weeks past, it was sort of nice watching Lil Nas X cruise to the record over the past week.
Chris Payne: “Old Town Road” has already fought off so many heavy hitters — with relative ease — that this week’s prolonged coronation ceremony felt deserved. Lil Nas X fended off Taylor Swift (twice), Shawn Mendes, Sheeran and Bieber, “Bad Guy” and Bieber… did we really need to see him punk another industry favorite to prove his place in history? He was essentially competing against himself and I’m glad “Old Town Road” never lost momentum. Well earned.
Andrew Unterberger: Yeah, I could’ve gone for a little more excitement down the final stretch — maybe Adele making a surprise WWE-style entrance from the wings? — but hard to argue the entire race hasn’t been exciting. If you spend four months fending off an entire award show’s worth of pop stars, I guess it’s only right that you should get to coast for one week at the end there. There were only so many final bosses left anyway.
Xander Zellner: Maybe it was a little anti-climactic considering there wasn’t a photo finish between “Old Town Road” and “Bad Guy” (or any other song), but that certainly doesn’t take away from the general excitement behind the record being set. It’s like watching the Super Bowl and the team you’re rooting for wins by a landslide — sure it wasn’t close, but you still had a good time watching it happen. So the drama will certainly die down a bit now, and people may be less inclined to “stream it so we can break the record!” But it’s still fun to see just how far it’ll go. My guess is that it has one more week at No. 1 and then it’ll taper off.
2. It could take another 17 weeks for all we know, but is there another song on the Hot 100 right now with at least a semi-credible chance of taking over from “Old Town Road” that you’re rooting for becoming the next No. 1?
Bianca Gracie: I honestly cannot see another single knock Lil Nas X off his throne anytime soon — unless Rihanna finally decides to grace us with her musical presence. I think the rapper will remain at No. 1 until sometime after Labor Day, when the spectacle dies down a bit and people are looking for a tune that can carry them into autumn. But if the “Old Town Road” novelty does happen to die down before then, Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” could have a chance to dominate. She’s shining even brighter in the spotlight — especially after that incredible “Tiny Desk” performance — which could boost the tune from No. 5 to No. 1 with ease.
Jason Lipshutz: It’s pretty wild that Shawn Mendes hasn’t had a No. 1 on the Hot 100 yet, right? Dude keeps getting stuck in the runner-up spot — it’s happened twice during the run of “Old Town Road” alone, with “If I Can’t Have You” and his Camila Cabello duet “Señorita” each blocked by Lil Nas X. I personally find his new solo single more compelling than his latest team-up with Cabello, but either one hitting No. 1 would be a fine way to reward one of the more consistent voices in pop.
Chris Payne: There are a handful of new singles gaining momentum outside the chart’s top 10, but I’d be full of it if I called Lil Tecca’s “Ran$om” (No. 19) or Blanco Brown’s “The Git Up” (No. 14) as the song to unseat “Old Town Road” with any certainty. I mention those though, because the former is currently No. 1 on Spotify’s U.S. Top 50 and the latter sounds like the industry’s less outsider-y reaction to the record-breaking No. 1. But instinct tells me nothing will unseat “Old Town Road” until it’s lost a good deal of its traction. That could take some time. I think the next Hot 100 No. 1 is a song we haven’t heard yet.
Andrew Unterberger: I’d appreciate the symmetry of “The Git Up” — a song that approaches the same country-rap hybrid terrain, but essentially coming from the other direction — being the song to unseat it. I’d also be happy to see “Bad Guy” get there, but I also kinda like the idea of Billie Eilish’s first No. 1 being more of a long-awaited breakthrough, like it was when Ariana Grande or her guy Justin Bieber finally got their first. “Bad Guy” is already one of the year’s defining hits regardless.
Xander Zellner: I’d love to see Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” reach No. 1, and at the rate it’s going (it’s one of only two songs in the top 15 that’s up in airplay, streaming and sales), it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Similar to LNX, “Truth Hurts” is Lizzo’s first Hot 100 entry, and it’d be great to see back-to-back artists reach No. 1 with their first Hot 100-charting single. I’m also rooting for Blanco Brown (who would also fit into that category), with his similar country-trap single “The Git Up,” which has been inching closer and closer to the top 10. It’s not impossible that his dance challenge will catch on and lift the song to No. 1.
3. All hard numbers and stats aside: Does this feel to you like it’s really been the most popular song in the country for as long as it has been? Can you think of a song from this decade — “Despacito” or otherwise — that feels like it was as big for as long?
Bianca Gracie: Well “Despacito” is the only other song that comes to mind, but the situations are a little different. Justin Bieber was on a roll with his collaborations in 2017, so him hopping on the “Despacito” remix made for a guaranteed smash. And along with his superstar status, the Latin music wave was making another mainstream resurgence at the time. So the hit-making formula was perfect. In the case of “Old Town Road,” this feels more like a pop culture event. With the controversy, memes and artist co-signs, Lil Nas X really disrupted the industry in a way that I haven’t seen in a while.
Jason Lipshutz: “Uptown Funk!” by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars topped out at 14 weeks at No. 1, but it really felt like 30 weeks — that song was absolutely everywhere four years ago. Maybe it’s because “Funk!” became an instant wedding/party/Bar Mitzvah/karaoke staple, blaring from every DJ booth when the person manning it is searching for a cross-generational crowd-pleaser. “Old Town Road” has defined the year in popular music, but I’ve certainly heard it out in the wild slightly less.
Chris Payne: Nothing this decade felt as much a song of the people as “Old Town Road.” Thanks to Lil Nas X’s mastery of all things online, the song was everywhere long before radio or any of the traditional industry mechanisms caught up. It was disruptive and masterful, neatly packaged with its own debate for the kitchen table or the comment section. I don’t even know what constitutes the second-biggest song over its reign. If I had to pick I’d say “Bad Guy,” but even that feels largely due to the ascendance of Billie Eilish at large rather than the song’s own ubiquity. As for other songs this decade, “Despacito” is the only one that can hold a candle to it.
Andrew Unterberger: “Call Me Maybe,” “Uptown Funk,” “Closer” and “Despacito” maybe all felt bigger in the way that I grew up with massive hits feeling massive — they’re always on the radio, they’re unavoidable at public functions, you learn all the words to them without even really trying to. (OK, maybe not all the words to “Despacito.”) But I guess this is what a four-quadrant hit looks like in 2019: Unavoidable on social media, in headlines, in streaming playlists and in general conversation. And not like OTR was a no-show in those old-guard measures of smash-dom either; hell, it was the most-karaoked song in the country on Healsonic last week.
Xander Zellner: It sounds crazy to think of this song consistently being the most popular thing when you realize everything that’s happened, culturally, in the past 17 weeks, but yes, it undoubtedly has been. The sheer number of remixes and memes attached to this song in each passing week has kept it top of mind to not just active music followers, but anyone who hasn’t been living in a cave. And when something notable happened in the news, “Old Town Road” managed to quickly insert itself into the storyline (see: “Old Town Road (Area 51 Video).”) No other song has ever been so successful at adapting each week to keep itself popular. If I had to think of another song that feels like it was as big for this long… Adele’s “Hello” comes to mind, but it still feels incomparable to OTR.
4. Now that the record’s been set, and he can presumably move on with his career, what advice would you give Lil Nas X about what he should do next?
Bianca Gracie: Many are going to brand him as “The Old Town Road Guy,” but what has prevented him from becoming too gimmicky is his down-to-earth personality and self-awareness. If he doesn’t want to be confined into a box, he should remain as authentic as possible — both in and outside the studio. And his 7 EP saw him experimenting with various styles, so I think he should keep trying different hats on to figure out which sounds he really loves and expand on them in his unique way.
Jason Lipshutz: Look, I’m sure Lil Nas X is going to release more new music, or promote the songs on his 7 EP, and answer some calls to collaborate, and perform “Old Town Road” for the rest of his days. That’s all well and good! But I need a Christmas remix of “Old Town Road” later this year. The timing would be perfect — he should wait four months or so, when “Old Town Road” has finally tapered out of the public consciousness and the world is ready for another visit — and as for a guest star, how about Mariah Carey, the queen of Christmas whose tied Hot 100 record Lil Nas X just surpassed (and who warmly congratulated him on social media)? I don’t want a lot for Christmas, Lil Nas X. There’s just one thing I need: “North Pole Road,” or “Old Saint Nick Road,” or whatever you want to call it. Just give it to me.
Chris Payne: The 7 EP, his first actual project, arrived last month and it’s not very good. Reviewing it for Pitchfork, Alphonse Pierre remarked, “For the entirety of 7, it’s unclear if Lil Nas X actually likes music” — one of the most painfully accurate lines of criticism I’ve read in a while. Lil Nas X is consistently one of the funniest posters on my Twitter feed, but as for his music, I’ve gotten to the point where I need some humanity beyond the memes, the irony, and what “sounds like B.o.B. got hired to make a J.C. Penney commercial in 2010” (sorry, that review once again said it better than I ever could). I’d advise him to step away, take several deep breaths, and hold off on new music until he has a project he feels speaks to where he’s at once the “Old Town Road” madness subsides.
Andrew Unterberger: I’m not sure this is advice I’d give to pretty much anyone else in pop music in the year 2019, but I might tell him to collaborate a little more. Search out some opportunities to make low-stakes guest appearances, and use those verses as opportunities to try out some new approaches without having the pressure of it being an “Old Town Road” follow-up in any way. And in the meantime, work on finding your comfort zone as a performer and artist, with producers and mentors that you trust (and have your best interests at heart) hopefully helping to lead the way.
Xander Zellner: I feel like he doesn’t need any advice at this point, considering how well his methods are working. But if he were to ask, I’d say to focus all of his energy on his second single “Panini” and to keep experimenting with new genres. It’s a testament to his talent that the track (which interpolates Nirvana’s “In Bloom”) debuted at No. 16 earlier this month without any additional guest vocalists — perhaps he can return to No. 1 again with an unaccompanied solo song.
5. 40 years from now, your pop-obsessive grandkid or great-niece/nephew asks you to explain how this very unusual song was able to become the longest-reigning hit in Hot 100 history. Do your best to explain it to them in one sentence.
Bianca Gracie: The YeeHaw agenda unexpectedly came galloping through the music scene and shook everyone — especially your pop faves — to their core.
Jason Lipshutz: There was this platform called TikTok, and a rapper who stumbled upon the perfect hook, and then this older country artist who snapped on the remix, and it didn’t make much sense, but it made everyone really happy.
Chris Payne: It got really big on Tik Tok and YouTube, kind of like our president, Logan Paul.
Andrew Unterberger: Nobody in 2019 pop better understood how to make a smash that was transparently contrived yet inspiringly organic than a 19-year-old SpongeBob and Nicki Minaj stan with too much time on his hands.
Xander Zellner: He was an underdog who created a genre-bending song that was undeniably catchy, original and innovative enough to change the way artists think about releasing and marketing their music.