Morgan Wallen, country music’s most popular artist for streaming, has been pulled from the leading platforms’ curated playlists following the emergence of a TMZ video showing the rising star using a racial slur.
The impact could be massive for Wallen, whose album, Dangerous: The Double Album, is currently spending its third week atop the Billboard 200, bolstered in large part by streaming. All of the top terrestrial radio chains have also pulled Wallen’s music.
Spotify has yanked Wallen, who was seen as a potential global superstar, from at least 14 playlists, according to music data analytics firm Chartmetric. Those include the Hot Country playlist, which has 6.239 million followers, and the Pop Rising playlist with 2.04 million. Wallen had two songs on Hot Country — “Still Going Down,” which had been on for 54 days, and “Somebody’s Problem,” which had been on for 75 days — and the playlist was his top source of discovery on Spotify, according to his artist page.
Apple Music has also removed Wallen from at least 21 playlists, including Today’s Country and A-List Pop, according to data provided by Chartmetric. Many of these — such as Back Porch Country and Little Bit Country — were playing not just the hits, but deep cuts from Dangerous.
As well, Amazon Music has pulled Wallen from playlists it programs, as has Pandora, according to sources. YouTube has not responded to a request for comment.
Tuesday night (Feb. 2) TMZ posted a video recorded over the weekend of Wallen yelling expletives, including the N-word. In the clip, Wallen is seen arriving home with some friends and he advises his pals, who are getting into another car, to “take care” of his buddy twice, adding profanities, including the N-word, at the end.
Wallen offered an apology to TMZ, taking responsibility for his words uttered in the grainy video.”I’m embarrassed and sorry,” Wallen told TMZ via a statement. “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.”
Dangerous has been a streaming monster. Following its Jan. 8 release, it moved 265,000 equivalent album units in the tracking week ending Jan. 14. Streaming equivalent album (SEA) units comprised 184,000 of the tally, equaling a record-setting 240.18 million on-demand streams.
In the second week, SEA units accounted for 133,000 of the Dangerous’ 159,000 equivalent album units and for the most recent tracking week, ending Jan. 28, SEA units tallied 115,000 of the set’s 130,000 equivalent album units.
While the services have pulled Wallen’s music indefinitely from their curated playlists, he has not been pulled down fully from any platform. That becomes a slippery slope for any digital service provider, as Spotify found when it temporarily removed R. Kelly, XXXTentacion, Tay-K not only from its editorial playlists, but also from its algorithmic recommendations in May 2018 under a Hate Content and Hateful Conduct policy.
Spotify scrapped the program after three weeks. “While we believe our intentions were good, the language was too vague, we created confusion and concern, and didn’t spend enough time getting input from our own team and key partners before sharing new guidelines,” Spotify CEO Daniel Ek wrote in a blog post in June 2018.