After TMZ published a video of Morgan Wallen shouting the N-word at a friend outside of his Nashville home earlier this month, the music industry severed its support for him overnight. Within 24 hours, the rising country star had been dropped by his booking agent; suspended by his label; disqualified for awards consideration by the Academy of Country Music; removed from popular playlists on Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora; and blacklisted by a network of more than 400 radio stations in the U.S.
It seemed inevitable that the popularity of Wallen's music would take a hit. Instead, it exploded.
On February 3, the day after the video surfaced, sales of Wallen's music shot up by 1,220 percent, Rolling Stone reports. That wasn't just a temporary bump; it was the beginning of a surge. Wallen's album sales are currently up by 141 percent compared to where they were before the incident, and his song sales are up by 65 percent, according to Rolling Stone. His latest record, Dangerous: The Double Album, has held the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200, a genre-agnostic chart, for five straight weeks. His first album, If I Know Me, has also jumped from No. 17 to No. 10, the highest it's ever ranked.
Judging from the conversation among Wallen's fans online, he's dominating the charts not despite the backlash to his use of a racial slur, but because of it. A die-hard legion of his followers, outraged that he's been rebuked by the music industry, are buying Wallen's CDs and shelling out for paid downloads en masse. And they're not just doing it to show their support for Wallen; they're doing it to make a political statement.
Wallen's supporters have been pretty explicit about that on Change.org, where they've started more than 30 petitions demanding an end to what they see as unfair treatment of him by the music industry. Many of these petitions hinge on the argument that cancel culture shouldn't exist, and that white people shouldn't be punished for saying the N-word. Collectively, they've garnered upwards of 30,000 signatures.
One of them, "Get Morgan Wallen Back," reads as follows:
"So it’s okay to take Morgan Wallen off all music apps & the radio because he said something “offensive” to people that USE THAT DAMN WORD!! But r Kelly can rape kids & still be on everything. LET MORGAN HAVE HIS CAREER BACK!!!"
Another, titled "Uncancel Morgan Wallen," reads in part:
"I believe that Morgan Wallen should stop getting all of the hate that he is getting…. It is just a word. It had no deeper meaning in that situation. We are not living in civil war and slavery times anymore. There is a lot of reverse racism going on where blacks are being racist to white people and I don’t understand why people can’t see that."
Some of his fans have spread the same sentiment on Facebook, condemning cancel culture and defending Wallen's use of the slur under the hashtag #IStandWithMorganWallen. In private pro-Wallen Facebook groups, they've called on one another to buy multiple physical copies of his albums, and shared photos of the CDs they've purchased. "I've bought three," one member of a fan group recently wrote. "I'm getting a second one, maybe even a third!" another wrote.
All of those individual purchases have added up to a hefty sum: Wallen sold 40,000 albums last week, Rolling Stone reports, the second-highest 7-day total of his career. Notably, it is sales, not streams, that are fueling his reign at the top of the charts. While his streams have mostly held steady—rising from 162 million to 166 million in the week after he was caught on video using the N-word, before dropping to 154 million last week, according to Rolling Stone—it's his song and album sales that are keeping his name at the top of the leaderboard. In other words, his music isn't necessarily more popular than it was before; instead, his fans, and others sympathetic to the cause, appear to be opting to purchase his music as a gesture of support.
For his part, Wallen has apologized for what he said, releasing a video in which he admits that there's "no reason to downplay what I did."
"I appreciate those who still see something in me and have defended me," he says in the video. "But for today, please don't."
His fans aren't listening. For many of them, continuing to support Wallen isn't about what he wants; it's not even about his music. It's about taking a stand against cancel culture, and upholding a world in which white people can do and say reprehensible things without consequence.
Follow Drew Schwartz on Twitter.