UPDATE (2/4): Performing rights organization BMI has issued a statement condemning Morgan Wallen’s use of a racial slur and says they’ve asked their diversity advisor, the gospel singer BeBe Winans, to “reach out to Morgan to help him understand the gravity and impact of his words. Our hope is that BeBe’s outreach can help Morgan become a more inclusive and empathetic person.” BMI named Wallen’s hit “Whiskey Glasses” (which wasn’t written by Wallen) its 2020 Song of the Year.
Wallen’s booking agent, WME, has also dropped the singer in the aftermath of the controversy, a source close to the situation tells Rolling Stone.
The country music industry swiftly withdrew its support for Morgan Wallen after video surfaced of the musician using a racial slur.
The video of Wallen is reportedly from late Sunday night in Nashville and captures the country music streaming star — whose Dangerous: The Double Album has topped Rolling Stone‘s 200 chart for the past three weeks — appearing to be inebriated and shouting expletives, including the “n-word,” to a group of friends. In response to the video, Wallen issued a statement on Tuesday night saying he was “embarrassed and sorry.”
“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,” said Wallen, who also issued an apology back in October when he was booted off Saturday Night Live for breaking the sketch series’ Covid-19 safety protocols. (He went on to make his SNL debut two months later.)
Repercussions first came early Wednesday morning by the radio industry. Per Variety, Cumulus Media directed its more than 400 stations around the country to remove Wallen’s songs from rotation. “Team, unfortunately country music star Morgan Wallen was captured on video Sunday evening using a racial slur. Effective immediately we request that all of Morgan Wallen’s music be removed from our playlists without exception. More to follow,” the message read. It was signed by Brian Philips, EVP of programming, and John Dimick, Cumulus’s head of programming operations.
iHeartMedia and Entercom quickly followed suit. A spokesperson for iHeart told Rolling Stone, “In light of Morgan Wallen’s recent actions involving the use of a racial slur, we have made the decision to remove his music and content from our stations effective immediately.” iHeartMedia owns more than 800 stations. A rep for Entercom, who operate 200-plus stations, said in part, “We’ve discussed the incident with our Country brand leadership team and together have made the decision to remove Morgan’s music from Entercom’s playlists.”
CMT, the country-music cable network, followed, tweeting that it’s “in the process of removing his appearances from all our platforms. We do not tolerate or condone words and actions that are in direct opposition to our core values that celebrate diversity, equity & inclusion.” The Country Music Association, whose voters named Wallen the New Artist of the Year at November’s awards, said in a statement they were removing his digital content and considering additional action: “We will confer further with our Board of Directors to review additional measures and will continue to examine our industry’s inclusivity efforts.”
It also seems as if Wallen won’t be winning awards this spring at the upcoming ACM Awards. The Academy of Country Music says it’s halting his “potential involvement and eligibility” for this year’s awards cycle. “As a result of this unprecedented situation,” the ACM said in a statement, “the Academy will be reviewing our awards eligibility and submission process, ensuring our nominees consistently reflect the Academy’s integrity.” The second round of ACM Awards voting begins February 10th.
On Wednesday afternoon, Wallen’s record label, Big Loud, announced that “in the wake of recent events, Big Loud Records has made the decision to suspend Morgan Wallen’s recording contract indefinitely. Republic Records fully supports Big Loud’s decision and agrees such behavior will not be tolerated.”
Big Loud entered a strategic partnership with Republic Records, the Universal Music Group subsidiary and home to major stars including Taylor Swift, Drake, Post Malone, and the Weeknd, last year. It remains unclear what specifically an indefinite suspension to Wallen’s contract actually means. Reps for Big Loud and Republic did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
The distancing from Wallen in light of the incident also extended to streaming services. On Wednesday morning, Wallen’s songs were noticeably absent from Apple Music’s flagship country playlist, Today’s Country, and Spotify’s Hot Country Songs. Sirius XM and Pandora confirmed to Rolling Stone that they removed Wallen content from their platforms. That country radio and streaming services are, at least temporarily, withholding Wallen’s songs from rotation is a remarkable development given the Tennessee native’s emergence as the genre’s next superstar.
Condemnation from Wallen’s peers came swift on social media. “The news out of Nashville tonight does not represent country music,” Kelsea Ballerini tweeted, prompting Maren Morris to reply, “It actually IS representative of our town because this isn’t his first ‘scuffle’ and he just demolished a huge streaming record last month regardless. We all know it wasn’t his first time using that word. We keep them rich and protected at all costs with no recourse.”
After one Ballerini supporter tweeted that “if a female artist did 5% of the shit he has pulled she would be dropped immediately by everyone,” Morris replied, “Yup. we’d be dropped, endorsements lost, social pariahs to music row.”
Mickey Guyton commented on a news story about Wallen with “The hate runs deep,” before adding, “How many passes will you continue to give? Asking for a friend. No one deserves to be canceled [but] this is unacceptable … This is not his first time using that ‘unacceptable’ racial slur and we all [know] that. So what exactly are y’all going to do about it. Crickets won’t work this time.”
Country radio personalities, who are perennial cheerleaders for the genre and its stars, are also voicing their displeasure. Elaina Smith, host of Cumulus’ Nights With Elaina, tweeted that she’s “done” with Wallen. “After a long night of work in an industry I continue to fight for…trying to contribute towards making it a better, more inclusive space, I wake up to a man setting everyone’s work back 20 years. I’m disgusted.”
Additional reporting by Jason Newman