Before Big Loud Records suspended Morgan Wallen last week for making a racial slur, the 27-year-old singer was on his way to becoming country music’s next big superstar. Music executives say he ticked all of Nashville’s boxes: a compelling voice, well-crafted songs about small towns, drinking and relationships, a commercial sound made for radio and a little old-school swagger. Most importantly, he became a streaming giant—a rarity in country music, which historically has lagged behind hip-hop and other genres on streaming services.
His rapid rise appeared to falter last week after the East Tennessee star was captured on video calling one of the people in his group of friends the N-word as he said goodnight. Mr. Wallen apologized immediately. But the reaction was just as swift: Last Wednesday, Feb. 3, country-music radio stations dropped him from the airwaves and streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music removed him from important playlists, though he remained searchable. WME, his talent agency, dropped him, according to a spokesperson. Many believed the distancing would lay a blow to his streaming prospects.
On Wednesday night, Mr. Wallen made a five-minute video statement expanding on his initial apology and saying he’s been sober for nine days. “I appreciate those who still see something in me and have defended me, but for today, please don’t. I was wrong,” he said.
He said he’s “accepted some invitations from some amazing Black organizations, some executives and leaders to engage in some very real and honest conversations.”
On Sunday, Mr. Wallen’s latest album, “Dangerous,” hit No. 1 on Billboard’s all-genre album sales chart for the fourth straight week since its release—which hasn’t happened for a country album in about 18 years. Early indications suggest it could be No. 1 again next week. Music-industry experts answered key questions about Mr. Wallen and what the controversy means (and doesn’t mean) for country music: