Morgan Wallen: 5 things to know about his life, fame and career after racial slur

Hardy and Morgan Wallen perform onstage during CASH FEST In Celebration Of YouTube Originals Documentary THE GIFT: THE JOURNEY OF JOHNNY CASH at War Memorial Auditorium on Nov. 10, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Hardy and Morgan Wallen perform onstage during CASH FEST In Celebration Of YouTube Originals Documentary THE GIFT: THE JOURNEY OF JOHNNY CASH at War Memorial Auditorium on Nov. 10, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. (2019 Getty Images)

By now, you’ve likely heard of Morgan Wallen, the rising country star who was caught on camera last week, yelling racial slurs at his friend after an apparent night of drinking.

Wallen told TMZ: “I’m 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.”

The backlash has been … a bit unexpected, as along with those condemning him, his album sales have surged.

If Wallen’s name is relatively new to you, we’ll fill you in on a few things about the controversial singer.

1. Early life

He grew up with a preacher father and teacher mother, both of whom loved music -- hard rock and contemporary Christian, respectively.

Morgan Wallen performs onstage at the Ryman Auditorium on Jan. 12, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. (2021 John Shearer)

Wallen began singing in church at the young age of 3, and he picked up the violin at age 5. He later learned to play piano and guitar, according to AllMusic.

After an injury in high school prevented him from playing baseball -- of which he was passionate and quite good at, according to AllMusic-- he began to consider a career in music.

2. ‘The Voice’

Wallen was a contestant on “The Voice” in February 2014, and he did rather well.

During the blind auditioning, Wallen sang “Collide” by Howie Day and was picked by Usher to be on his team. Then, Adam Levine stole Wallen from Usher’s team after the second round, but ultimately, Wallen was eliminated in the playoffs.

However, being a part of the show gave Wallen national exposure. He moved to Nashville, where he formed a band called Morgan Wallen & Them Shadows.

3. The climb to stardom

Before becoming a singing sensation, Wallen landed a publishing deal. Several of his songs were recorded by up-and-coming artists (Jason Aldean later covered Wallen’s “You Make it Easy,” which he co-wrote with others), and he quickly got a chance to record as a solo act under a record label called Big Loud Music.

In 2016, he toured radio stations and released a song called “The Way I Talk,” which made an impression. The following year, he collaborated with the popular Florida Georgia Line on a song that made the Top 10 Country Singles charts, as well as earned him a gold record.

He went on to release more hit songs, including “More Than My Hometown,” “This Bar,” “Whiskey Glasses” and “Chasin’ You,” to name a few. He released his second album, “Dangerous: The Double Album” in January and it had a ton of momentum behind it.

Morgan Wallen attends the 55th Academy of Country Music Awards at the Grand Ole Opry on Sept. 13, 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee. (2020 [DCP Rights, LLC, Academy of Country Music, and Getty Images])

4. The fallouts

Wallen’s time in the spotlight in the last two weeks isn’t the first time he’s been in hot water.

In October, he was scheduled to perform as the musical guest on “Saturday Night Live,” but a video from the weekend before showed Wallen kissing a woman and drinking at a bar surrounded by people who were not wearing masks or social distancing.

Wallen was disinvited from SNL, citing a violation of COVID-19 protocols. He apologized for his “pretty shortsighted” actions and was back on the show two months later.

In fact, the group did a skit poking fun at his bad judgment.

You can watch the skit on YouTube by clicking here.

5. The repercussions

Following Wallen’s caught-on-camera racial slurs, the backlash has been quite stout, yet there also seem to be fans coming out in droves to support him.

A few hurdles Wallen has met since the ordeal include being:

  • Dropped from radio airplay on iHeartMedia, SiriusXM, Entercom and Cumulus Media stations.
  • Suspended by his record label indefinitely.
  • Denied eligibility for major awards competitions.
  • Reportedly dropped by his booking agency.

Not great consequences to face following the recent release of his sophomore album, but it hasn’t all been bad publicity.

Despite being shunned by the music industry, fans have seemingly stood by his side. In the days after news broke of the video showing him yelling racial slurs, Rolling Stone reported Wallen had a:

  • 1,220% increase in digital album sales.
  • 327% increase in song sales.
  • 6% increase in on-demand audio streams.
  • 16% increase in programmed streams.

It remains to be seen what Wallen’s career will ultimately look like long-term, following the controversy, but experts say radio is such a major driver of music consumption.

We will have to watch and see.

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