April 12, 2019


Welcome to the Yeehaw Agenda: The Black Cowboy Trend Behind the Internet's Favorite Song (RACHEL TASHJIAN, April 9, 2019, GQ)

And then, suddenly, a "country-trap" song called "Old Town Road," by a 19-year-old Atlanta rapper who called himself Lil Nas X, was everywhere. Since early December, it had been humming along as a meme on TikTok, but became known to the rest of the world in late March, when, after it charted on the Billboard Hot 100, Hot Country Songs, and Hot R&B/Hip Hop charts, it was unceremoniously plucked off the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, with the company telling Rolling Stone that, "While 'Old Town Road' incorporates references to country and cowboy imagery, it does not embrace enough elements of today's country music to chart in its current version." The move ignited a conversation about genre and race, and last week, Billy Ray Cyrus jumped on a remix, adding to Lil Nas X's descriptions of his "Cowboy hat from Gucci / Wrangler on my booty" with lines about "Fendi sports bras" and "ridin' down Rodeo in my Maserati sports car." The song is currently Number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Finally, the yeehaw agenda has its anthem.

The yeehaw agenda wasn't the only piece of internet ephemera behind the explosion of Lil Nas X's song, though. In fact, the song is a perfect, algorithmically engineered combination of internet savvy and trends. As New York reported last week, Lil Nas X started as a Tweetdecker, or an anonymous account that creates and rips off viral content from smaller accounts in a kind of "forced, gamed virality." In October of last year, Lil Nas X spent $30 on the beat, created by a producer from the Netherlands, that would become "Old Town Road," and wrote the lyrics with Twitter in mind, he told Rolling Stone. (Truly: a song that mentions both Gucci and Wrangler is basically daring you not to tweet about it.) He was thinking about the cowboy video game Red Dead Redemption 2, he said, although he wasn't necessarily responding to the "yeehaw agenda," which "definitely wasn't at the level it's at now," he told Rolling Stone. By the time he was ready to release it, he had the audience to make it go viral, and, as multiple reporters have pointed out, was smart enough to label the song as country rather than hip-hop, thereby giving himself a less competitive playing field.

But even if Lil Nas X geniusly Svengali'd his single, it was the fervor for cowboy clothing that propelled "Old Town Road" to worldwide popularity. On TikTok--the Chinese social media platform that has everyone above 25 scratching their heads, and every teenager in suburban America coordinating complex dances with large groups of friends after football practice--the song emerged in December as the "yeehaw challenge," a 10-second-long fantasy about total cowboy transformation. By allowing users to view videos based on the soundtrack, and by making relatively complex editing techniques--you know, the quick jumps and cuts that made comedy gold on Vine--easy to use, TikTok is built for memes, making it easier than ever for someone, or something, to go viral. In the yeehaw challenge, a user stands in front of the camera for the song's first few banjo plucks, and--after taking a swig of liquid labeled "yeehaw juice"--is suddenly dressed into head to toe cowboy apparel when the beat drops.

It seems crazy that teens across suburban America have enough cowboy apparel laying around their house for so many of them to make this meme--what kind of 16-year-old has a Stetson and leather boots just sitting in their closet? But whether the song revealed that most bored teens do, indeed, harbor a secret stash of Americana gear, or that they were simply compelled to head to their nearest costume store or Western clothing dealer and cop the goods, the virality of the meme makes it clear that the internet was primed to embrace the style.

Posted by at April 12, 2019 4:06 AM