Red Dead 2, "Old Town Road," And The Cowboy Meme Explained
Can't nobody tell me nothin'.
On the morning of March 29, 2019, a Red Dead Redemption 2 AMV was shown on the news program Good Morning America. You might not have heard of it if you don't browse TikTok, the short-form video platform colloquially known as "cursed Vine," but that music video has, as of this writing, nearly 16 million views on YouTube and counting. It got over 80,000 views in the time it took to write this article.
The song, "Old Town Road" by rapper Lil Nas X, is at the center of both an explosively popular cowboy meme and country music drama, and it also slaps. It shot up the Billboard Hot 100 list and on Spotify and iTunes, reaching #1 on global Apple Music by March 26. It was so popular that DJs had to rip it from YouTube in order to play it on the radio. All the while, RDR2 was wrapped up in the hype--Lil Nas X tweeted on March 13 that Rockstar Games had followed him, and when he was signed by Columbia Records, he was welcomed using the Red Dead font.
"Old Town Road" debuted at #19 on the Billboard country charts, but by March 27, Billboard had confirmed that it removed "Old Town Road" from the charts because "it does not embrace enough elements of today’s country music." This resulted in a bit of an uproar about what genre "Old Town Road" belongs in, be it country, hip-hop, or something else--though Lil Nas X listed it as a country song, and while noting that it's not as serious, has said that it's not simply a parody. That's when the song really hit the mainstream, gaining attention beyond music publications and the meme-literate.
So how did this all happen? Lil Nas X, who was largely unknown before dropping the banger, uploaded "Old Town Road" in December 2018. It took off around February this year thanks in part to TikTok, where people use the opening moments of the song--right when the trap beat hits and the country drawl begins--to transform themselves or their pets into cowboys, among other things. It often involves accidentally drinking "yeehaw" or "yeeyee juice." (It's what it sounds like.)
The power of teens making jokes really can't be overstated. Compared to Vine, TikTok is currently a much more insular meme community, iterating on itself until the trends die out--often before they make it to Twitter or elsewhere. But TikTok has been responsible for songs going viral before, including the origin of the "hit or miss" meme, iLOVEFRiDAY's "Mia Khalifa." TikTok is also to thank for Solid Snake voice actor David Hayter saying the phrase "dummy thicc."
Lil Nas X himself has a strong shitpost vibe on Twitter, where he recently became verified. He's even tweeted about how he "was literally promoting ["Old Town Road"] via twitter memes" himself. But jokes aside, "Old Town Road" is simply a banger, and the music video is what's good about AMVs. No yeehaw juice needed.
If you want more Red Dead 2 goofs, go ahead and check out our let's play series Dirty Arty, where we do dirty dirty stuff as Arthur Morgan and friends. There are even multiple timelines, somehow.