At the beginning of last week, Lil Nas X’s viral country-trap song “Old Town Road” leaped to Number One on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100, aided by a remix that featured country singer Billy Ray Cyrus. The night before, Keith Urban won his first ACM Entertainer of the Year honor, capping off a big night that included a performance of his new song “Burden.” One week later, Urban tacitly acknowledged that “Old Town Road” was having the bigger week, working up his own acoustic version and posting it to Twitter.
His six-string banjo in hand, Urban mimics the original’s eerie, ghostly intro with characteristic precision, adding a few flourishes here and there. He sings the song’s instantly memorable chorus with the same intensity as Lil Nas X and Cyrus, letting his banjo arpeggios ring out. Absent trap beats, Urban settles on a combination of foot tapping and palm-muted strums of his banjo to keep the propulsive rhythm, dipping down into a low register that he rarely (if ever) uses to sing the verse. It’s kind of ludicrous, and also kind of great.
— Keith Urban (@KeithUrban) April 13, 2019
“Old Town Road” has been the subject of much debate in recent weeks over what gets to belong on the country charts, after it was removed from Billboard‘s Hot Country Songs for failing to “embrace enough elements of today’s country music to chart in its current version,” as representatives for the publication told Rolling Stone. Numerous country performers, from Jimmie Allen to Joshua Hedley, have voiced their support of the song, while others, like Brothers Osborne, were less pleased because of the years of sweat equity performers in Nashville often have to build before getting a break. “I don’t like that there’s this controversy around it. . . John and I, we’ve had some success at country radio, but we still struggle at radio all the time. So to complain about that, to me, is like, ‘Dude … get in line’,” TJ Osborne told Billboard on the ACM Awards red carpet.