“Old Town Road” is the Western wear brand’s newsinspiration, a vote of support for the controversial country-trap star.
“Old Town Road” star Lil Nas X’s latest move is into fashion, courtesy of a collaboration with Wrangler, the legacy denim and apparel brand that’s become a signature element of the Western aesthetic.
The chart-topping rapper has partnered with the company to launch a capsule clothing collection inspired by his hit song and featuring graphic T-shirts, jeans, and other denim apparel. The collaboration is essentially an extension of one of the most memorable lyrics in “Old Town Road,” which shouts out Wrangler by name: “Cowboy hat from Gucci / Wrangler on my booty.”
Wrangler describes the capsule collection, which launched May 20, as “fresh remixes of classic Wrangler styles for the kind of modern cowboy that can’t be put in a box.”
That’s a cheeky reference to “Old Town Road” itself, which sparked an intense debate over whether the song counts as country music when it debuted on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart in March, and was subsequently removed. Despite its references to established Western themes and imagery — the song’s lyrics revolve around a lone cowboy riding his horse into the sunset, after all — Billboard said the song “does not embrace enough elements of today’s country music to chart in its current version.”
Some country music fans and industry observers agreed, arguing that “Old Town Road” qualifies more as hip-hop than country. Others criticized Billboard for feeding rigid ideas about who or what qualifies as country enough, and suggested that Lil Nas X’s race played a part in the song’s reclassification; the fact that Lil Nas X is a black teenager from Atlanta and country is a predominantly white genre did not go unnoticed.
The song quickly became the catalyst for an industry-wide discussion about the definition of country music and racially tinged gatekeeping within the genre. It also became the top song in the country, and has now been No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for six weeks straight.
Just like the song itself riled some country music fans amid an outpouring of support for Lil Nas X from his own expansive fanbase, the rapper’s collaboration with Wrangler has met with a polarized response.
The Lil Nas X capsule collection is clearly intended to celebrate and capitalize on the success of “Old Town Road.” Although many Lil Nas X fans have expressed interest in buying the collection, Wrangler is also facing criticism from some consumers, many of whom are threatening to boycott.
Much of the backlash is playing out on social media, where Wrangler has received thousands of comments from customers expressing anger and “disappointment.” (It is unclear if customers have also been contacting the company via other, less public methods; Vox has reached out to Wrangler for comment.) And much of the current conversation revolves around how Wrangler seems to be promoting inclusivity by branching out from its reputation as a brand worn by cowboys and farmers.
Two recent Instagram posts from Wrangler showcasing items from its Lil Nas X collection have received more than 1,000 comments each. While plenty of people have commented on how awesome it looks or asking questions about where to buy, several have declared that the “Old Town Road” items are “ruining the cowboy name that y’all have.”
“Wranglers are to be worn by cowboys and farmers not rappers this is very disappointing,” reads one representative Instagram comment.
Some commenters have more explicitly mentioned race — or called out others’ racism.
“This is the dumbest thing i have seen all day,” one user wrote. “Wtf @wrangler? Why is it about diversity and equality ? There jeans. Quit playin politics.”
WRANGLER JUST PARTNERED WITH LIL NAS X AND THE RACIST ARE MAD GO BUY UP ALL THE WRANGLER LIL NAS X COLLAB JEANS YOU CAN PEOPLE SUPPORT DIVERSITY pic.twitter.com/gwH2G7dULj
— tyler (@tylerujhazy) May 21, 2019
Lil Nas X, for his part, seemed mildly surprised by the response.
i mean honestly white people act like they are the only ones who are cowboys. come to my town in louisiana, we pull up to mcdonalds on horses and have rodeos every weekend.
— Blair Waldorf (@teonnyspears) May 21, 2019
These comments are in the same vein as those used by some country music fans to describe “Old Town Road” when the song made its chart debut, arguing that rappers have no place in the genre (often while neglecting to acknowledge modern country’s own hip-hop influences). Lingering over this debate is race, which many Instagram users have called out in the comments on Wrangler’s posts. Country music is perceived as an insular, predominantly white genre, while Lil Nas X is a black rapper who draws influences from black artists and musical styles.
But Wrangler’s continued support of Lil Nas X is clear; the brand has been actively responding to its detractors on social media, simply repeating on that is devoted to creating high-quality products for all of its customers.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the drama over the Lil Nas X collection has only served to draw more attention to it. Some pieces have already sold out, like a pair of shorts that say “Wrangler” on the booty, in keeping with the lyrics of “Old Town Road.” Considering that items in the collection cost between $39 for a graphic T-shirt and $129 for a pair of jeans, the outcry, at least from Wrangler’s perspective, seems to have paid off.