Country-Rap You Can Dance To: How ‘The Git Up’ Bested ‘Old Town Road’

The second most-viewed version of Blanco Brown’s “The Git Up” on YouTube — after the original, audio-only clip — is a video in which he teaches the country singer Lainey Wilson the song’s accompanying dance.

“The Git Up” is an instructional number: almost every lyric is a direction for where to place your foot, your arm, your cup. And it has been extremely popular on TikTok, the social-video sharing app. In the casual video, the two dance side by side in a parking lot, Wilson taking her cues from Brown, sashaying and spinning and doing the butterfly just a split second behind him. It’s all very amiable and inclusive — it would be hard to feel like you couldn’t be in that parking lot, too.

There is, however, one twist to this feel-good story. “The Git Up” has just arrived at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, an unexpected turn of fate given that the song is, well, if not exactly rapped, at least melodically spoken. And its performer is black, still a relative rarity in the country music industry.

And yet not even four months have passed since Billboard heaved Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” off the same chart, saying it “does not embrace enough elements of today’s country music to chart in its current version.” (The remix with Billy Ray Cyrus, an actual onetime country star, fared no better, apart from spending 14 weeks and counting at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.)

The apparent about-face shows that the country music industry isn’t strict in its dogma, only in its hypocrisy. It is historically cloistered, presenting significant roadblocks to outsiders — the charts reflect those pressures. (Just ask the women of country music.)

But there are several reasons “The Git Up” thrived where “Old Town Road” failed. Brown is signed to a country music record label (BBR Music Group). He deploys a country twang earned growing up spending summers in the rural South. He plays lap steel guitar.

The most crucial reason might be structural. “Old Town Road” didn’t arrive through Nashville’s front door. It rose up from the SoundCloud murk with an arched eyebrow, fortified by the language of memes. On TikTok, where young people transformed into cowboys to its theatrically comic country boom-bap, it was a shared idiom. It leapfrogged right over the country music industry to the pop world, leaving Nashville in the cold, and resentful.

“The Git Up,” on the other hand, is a direct invitation. You see it in the videos. The one in which Brown coaches Wilson is one of a few circulating online where he gamely demonstrates the dance for white people. In another, he suffers the rhythmlessness of the longtime radio and TV personality Storme Warren, who currently hosts a morning show on Sirius XM.

In the clip featuring the renegade syndicated morning radio host Bobby Bones and the singer Caylee Hammack, Brown appears mysteriously in the background about halfway through, like a curious judge, before joining in.

There’s at least one — and likely soon to be many more — of Brown demonstrating the dance for hapless radio D.J.s around the country (though credit goes to Otis Oshow of 94.9 The Bull in Atlanta, who appeared grateful to have an opportunity to show off his rhythm).

Where “Old Town Road” demanded engagement on its own flamboyant terms, “The Git Up” is an extended hand of camaraderie. These videos are testaments to cross-cultural understanding, and they are premised upon a fundamental lack of it. What Brown offers here is cachet, a little confidence, an opportunity to safely transgress while not fundamentally disrupting the genre’s power dynamic.

Brown, 34, has a career that predates “The Git Up,” working behind the scenes with both country and pop stars, including Fergie and Kane Brown. “The Git Up,” he’s said in interviews, is part of a sound he calls “trailertrap” — “country music with 808s, hi-hat snares, kick drums and beatboxing.”

Or in other words, the same country-rap framework that Lil Nas X was working with (albeit flecked with irony in his case), and which has been deployed in Nashville by country rappers like Colt Ford and crossover stars like Sam Hunt. For the most part, that sound has been held at bay by country tastemakers. “The Git Up” is still more of a viral concern than a radio presence in Nashville. Though it has received a smattering of spins on country radio, it hasn’t even appeared on Billboard’s country airplay chart.

So even if the song’s a little dim, “The Git Up” appearing on a country chart, and topping it, is significant. Whether the track is being included on the basis of its genre bona fides is dubious at best — it is the very definition of a novelty song.

“The Git Up” is the Hokey Pokey, the Hustle, the Macarena (which is not, in fact, about a dance, though it was popularized via a dance). It could have been a “Hee Haw” sketch. The lap steel — played by Brown — is just a touch fuzzy, as if plucked off some old 78 r.p.m. record. It is warm, welcoming shtick.

But while “The Git Up” is lighthearted fun, it doesn’t make much of a case for Brown as an artist. As a singer, he has an interesting, rich voice, as heard in a video of him singing a Chris Stapleton song backstage at the Grand Ole Opry a few days ago.

But he doesn’t rely on it in his music. Brown recently released an amiable but largely banal self-titled EP that features songs that feel ideologically half-cooked, stitching together genres but not hiding the seams (though it contains two songs — “Georgia Power” and “Tn Whiskey” — that more credibly fit in with contemporary country than “The Git Up”).

If “Old Town Road” was a provocation, politically and aesthetically, then “The Git Up” feels like a step backward. Its acceptance is a victory for excluding those who push hard against old tropes as much as for those who seek a toothless path to inclusion.

At the end of “The Git Up,” Brown raps, a few times, “That was not so bad, was it?” — a slyly pointed coda aimed at skeptical insiders who might be leery of a country-rap song, or a viral dance craze, or a black performer in the country music industry. Or maybe it’s just a metaphorical arm around the shoulder — an act not of defiance, but reassurance.

Jon Caramanica is a pop music critic for The Times and the host of the Popcast. He also writes the men’s Critical Shopper column for Styles. He previously worked for Vibe magazine, and has written for the Village Voice, Spin, XXL and more. @joncaramanica

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