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Shelton takes a shot at ‘Road’

Hawke debuts two singles

Blake Shelton and Trace Adkins

Blake Shelton and Trace Adkins have just released a duet, “Hell Right”, that seems to have a beef with “Old Town Road”. But is it a light-hearted, maybe even affectionate slam – or should anyone read culture-war significance into the two country stars expressing a preference for Hank Williams Jr over Lil Nas X, the breakout sensation of the year?

The eyebrow-raising passage has Shelton singing, “Then the girl from the small town took off the ‘Old Town’, put on a little Hank Jr,” followed by a clearly relieved Adkins intoning: “Thank God”.

To some listeners, that’s just Shelton and Adkins pitting real country, as represented by Williams Jr, against fake country, in the form of Lil Nas X’s country-trap hybrid. Others have wondered about the optics of bringing up Lil Nas X, one of the few black stars in history to have a substantial hit with a country (or at least country-adjacent) song, in an unfavorable comparison to, of all people, Williams Jr, who for decades has been practically a poster boy for the Confederate flag and pro-Confederacy sentiments.

Among those expressing concern over the juxtaposition was David Cantwell, a country music author and historian whose books include an acclaimed Merle Haggard biography (and who wrote about Hank Jr’s complicated legacy for the New Yorker). “On the new Blake Shelton single, saying ‘Hell Right’ to someone taking off ‘Old Town Road’ and putting on something else is, in this moment, a … move,” Cantwell tweeted. “OK, whatever. But taking off Lil Nas in favor of Hank Jr will be predictably, understandably read as a racist … move. WTF Blake?” Other country music journalists and observers chimed in in agreement with Cantwell’s take.


A spokesperson for Shelton insists no disrespect toward Lil Nas X was intended in the new song: “It’s absolutely not throwing any kind of shade at Lil Nas X at all. Blake says this literally has nothing to do with anything at all except how much the song is played. It could have been ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ or any other (overplayed) song.” Speaking of Billy Ray Cyrus, who did a duet with Lil Nas X on a remix of “Old Town Road”: “Blake talked to Billy Ray,” said the spokesperson, “and he thought it was funny.”

Reps for Adkins did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Lil Nas X is having a particularly good week: He’s on the cover of Time magazine alongside the headline “It’s His Country”, and the song set the record for most weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 even before it got to its current 19-weeks-straight mark. Its reception in the mainstream country community has been mixed. Fans have largely embraced “Old Town Road”, with younger country fans clearly having a taste for hip-hop sounds. Music Row has cast an indifferent, if not necessarily antagonistic, eye on the song’s success. In preliminary balloting for the upcoming CMA Awards, “Old Town Road” failed to make the second ballot in any division except the “musical event” category, where it remains to be seen whether it’ll make the final five when nominations are announced in September.

The potential awkwardness of the Lil Nas X/Hank Jr juxtaposition is heightened by past controversies involving the use of Confederate flag imagery or advocacy by all the performers involved. Shelton defended the “rebel flag flying” in his hit “Kiss My Country A–”, and Adkins once apologized after wearing a Confederate flag earpiece on a TV appearance, vowing not to do so again.


LOS ANGELES: Fresh off her Manson cult role in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”, Maya Hawke is turning to music.

The “Stranger Things” star released two new singles Friday, “To Love a Boy” and “Stay Open”, both of which will appear on her yet-to-be-titled upcoming album. Hawke wrote the lyrics and Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Jesse Harris, who worked with Norah Jones on her blockbuster 2002 album “Come Away With Me”, wrote the music.

Both singles feature Hawke’s soothing vocals accompanied by some soft guitar strumming and a number of pared down instruments. “To Love a Boy” also features muted synth sounds in the background, reminiscent of her “Stranger Things” role. (RTRS)

Earlier in the week, Hawke released a snippet of one of the songs on Instagram and announced an upcoming performance at the Sultan Room in Williamsburg on Aug 21.

Ethan Hawke, Maya Hawke’s father, also celebrated the release on Instagram, writing, “These two gorgeous new songs released yesterday by @maya_hawke. Check them out on Spotify and iTunes. Album to follow.”

Hawke skyrocketed into fame earlier this summer with her scene-stealing role as Robin Buckley, a sarcastic ice-cream scooper who came out as a lesbian on the show. Soon after, Hawke appeared in Quentin Tarantino’s latest film effort “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” as a Manson cult follower who gets cold feet en route to the family’s infamous murders. (RTRS)

By Chris Willman

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