In 2021, the country industry and music tastemakers would have paused before predicting that Morgan Wallen would ever enjoy the dizzying heights of success that Wallen has seen in 2023.
After all, in a video that surfaced in 2021, Wallen was heard using a racial slur outside his Nashville home, which triggered backlash from the public, as well as his record label and peers.
Wallen was dropped by his label Big Loud and banned from being played on country radio and performing at award shows.
A career-ending move for some artists, but Wallen has gone on to record bumper-to-bumper albums, Dangerous and One Thing At A Time, in the wake of his banishing that have set him on a path for even greater acclaim.
Now, after a two-year break from media interviews and press junkets, Wallen has opened up to Billboard about that 2021 incident and how he perceived the subsequent press execution that painted a man he believes could not be further from who he is.
Wallen told Billboard, “I put myself in just such a shit spot, you know? Like, ‘You really messed up here, guy.’ If I was that guy, then I wouldn’t have cared. I wouldn’t have apologised. I wouldn’t have done any of that if I really was that guy that people were saying about me.
“And I think, for me, in my heart, I was never that guy that people were portraying me to be, so there was a little bit of like, ‘Damn, I’m kind of actually mad about this a little bit because I know I shouldn’t have said this, but I’m really not that guy.’”
Wallen is quick to admit that what he said was unacceptable, and he’s used his time out of the limelight not only to reflect on what occurred but also to educate himself on the lives of others and the deep impact of words.
He told Billboard, “That person is definitely not the same person I am now… There’s no excuse. I’ve never made an excuse. I never will make an excuse. I’ve talked to a lot of people, heard stories [about] things that I would have never thought about because I wasn’t the one going through it.”
Wallen has met with black leaders across Universal Music Group and 300 Elektra Entertainment and has been defended by black country artists Kane Brown and Jimmie Allen, with these peers stating they know Wallen not to be racist and that the error he made does come with consequences and an opportunity to learn. It’s also reported that Wallen donated funds to BMAC (Black Music Action Coalition).
If Wallen's record sales and tour attendance are anything to go by, he has been crowned the highest-grossing country touring artist of the year, with 2024 set to be another big year with stadium tours on the cards.
Wallen is the biggest star in country music right now, with Last Night announced as the biggest country radio hit in Australia this year and his recent Australian tour breaking records.
In Australia, Morgan Wallen is the fifth most streamed artist on Spotify behind Taylor Swift, Drake, The Weeknd and Ed Sheeran.