Last week, American artist Lil Nas X’s monster hit ‘Old Town Road’ was knocked from the number one spot on the ‘Billboard Hot 100’ chart after an impressive and record-breaking 19 weeks at the top. The ‘country trap’ song is still massive on streaming services, but how has it performed on global radio? We decided to investigate.
More specifically, we wanted to see how the three main versions of the song, the original, a remix featuring country legend Billy Ray Cyrus, and a second remix with both Cyrus and EDM star Diplo, have performed compared to each other. The results were very interesting!
‘Old Town Road’ sparked controversy back in March after charting on Billboard’s ‘Hot Country Songs’ chart only to removed again as Billboard didn’t think the song contained enough country music elements to be considered a ‘real’ country song. In response, shortly after Lil Nas X released a remix featuring country star Billy Ray Cyrus, and in late April an EDM-flavoured remix of this version appeared by Diplo.
North America and Europe are, unsurprisingly, the territories where ‘Old Town Road’ has gotten the most radio airplay overall by far. However, the two territories have very different preferences when it comes to which version they like. So while the original version has been more popular on North American radio than in Europe, the two remixes have performed much better in Europe.
For example, in the top 10 cities in Germany, the Billy Ray Cyrus remix was played a total of 5885 times compared to 4305 times in the top 10 US cities over the same time period. Considering the huge size of the American market, it’s also very interesting to see how much radio in Italy (2350), France (1894) and Austria (1799) have played it during that same time.
When looking at the remix by Diplo, the differences are even more dramatic. Here, the total number of airplay in Europe is almost five times that of North America (21.935 vs 4469). And even though US radio started playing it roughly two months before German radio, German stations have still managed to play it more than twice as much.
So why are the remix versions more popular in Europe, especially the more country-flavored version with Billy Ray Cyrus since Europe isn’t known as a particularly big market for country music compared to the US?
One explanation could be that American radio has long been very tightly formatted, meaning that artists and songs have to fit into very narrow genre definitions in order to get airplay. ‘Old Town Road’ doesn’t do this, since it’s basically a parody of a country song performed by a hip hop/trap artist.
Radio stations do this to better cater to advertisers and country radio is known to be especially conservative and hesitant to play music coming from outside the Nashville music industry. On the flip side, the American Top 40 and urban stations who are the ones to mostly play the original version of the track have probably avoided the remixes for the same reason.
In contrast, European radio stations have traditionally been less tightly formatted and therefore more likely to play a song they find catchy even if it doesn’t fit nicely into a specific genre category.
So while ‘Old Town Road’ is a great example of how remixes can be used as a form of cross-promotion to reach new audiences, it also shows that you have to think carefully about which territories you target and that the strategy has it’s limitations, especially in places like the US.