Radio airplay has plummeted in the wake of the country superstar’s use of the racial slur, but he’s seen double-digit gains in streaming, song downloads and more than doubled his album sales week to week.
Country music stations across the nation acted swiftly in the wake of TMZ’s video of Morgan Wallen using the n-word, yanking him from airplay. But while his music was disappearing from the airwaves, country music fans were seeking him out more than ever.
Already a smash crossover success with his latest effort, a double album called “Dangerous,” having spent three weeks at the top of Billboard’s Top 200 albums chart, Wallen easily made it four in a row.
Remarkably, in the wake of his use of the racial slur and all the repercussions he quickly experienced, fans started scooping up his album in even more record numbers. Album sales for “Dangerous” were up 102 percent (to 25,000 copies) for the week ending February 4, per Billboard.
Song downloads from the album also saw an increase of 67 percent. While Wallen’s music was pulled from popular playlists created by Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora and other streamers, his music was still available for targeted streaming.
Those figures saw an increase as well, though by a far more modest 3 percent. Still, that figure represents 160 million people seeking out and playing his music during that same reporting week.
Billboard’s editorial director, Hannah Karp, suggested several reasons for the sharp uptick in interest for Wallen’s music in the wake of the controversy. At least some of it, she suggests, is just people curious about him and his music after such a high-profile scandal.
“His fans are likely streaming him more because they can’t hear him on the radio anymore,” she said, suggesting that many are choosing this as a way of supporting him. However, she said it’s possible that if he stays off of radio, these numbers could start to drop.
“We haven’t seen the full effect of radio dropping his music from playlists,” she said. “Radio is a really powerful driver of consumption, so it’s possible that will end up in decreasing streaming and sales eventually.”
Should things not play out that way, it could be indicative of the growing power and influence of streaming and other musical platforms over radio in driving consumer interest and awareness of artists.
It is worth nothing that TMZ’s story broke on February 2nd, just two days before Billboard tracking closed for his fourth week atop the Billboard 200 chart.
It could well be that he sees an even bigger spike when a full week of post-controversy sales are factored in. Or will it just prove an initial blitz in response to him being yanked from radio, among other consequences?