Review: Morgan Wallen in L.A.: a country superstar, live and apparently un-canceled

What’s clear about Morgan Wallen at this point — well before the country music superstar landed at the Arena for the first of two sold-out concerts Saturday night — is that he’s caught on video drunk playing the N- Word used to refer to a friend has not derailed his career.

A year and a half after TMZ published a grainy clip recorded by a neighbor as Wallen stumbled through his driveway, the singer’s 2021 LP “Dangerous” has a new record for most weeks in the top 10 for an album – Charted by Billboard. He just received the Milestone Award from the Academy of Country Music. And in November he will compete at the Country Music Assn for Nashville’s most prestigious title, Entertainer of the Year. awards.

Although Wallen seemed briefly threatened with termination when the video surfaced — his songs were temporarily removed from radio and streaming playlists, and even his label said his contract was “suspended” — the only question now is, whether the controversy might actually exist have helped propel the career of the 29-year-old native of tiny Sneedville, Tennessee.

Prior to the video and its aftermath, Wallen was undoubtedly on his way to massive success as a charismatic young performer and gifted songwriter with an instinctive talent for fusing traditional country themes with the textures and attitude of hip-hop. After that, however, he became something bigger: a (perhaps unconsciously) mascot for the opposition to the Cancel culture.

Wallen, who has repeatedly apologized for his “ignorant” use of the N-word, has garnered the support of numerous black artists recently, including Darius Rucker and rapper Lil Durk, who said Wallen is “not a racist.” What Wallen is, of course, is a beneficiary of a racist system that not only allows white ignorance, but enables it. But being a Wallen fan, for some at least, means rejecting the perceived excesses of that worldview – a powerful accelerator for anyone involved in building an audience in a time as fractured as ours.

Not that any of that was explicitly in the air at Crypto, where Wallen arrived near the end of a lengthy tour that was set to conclude with a stadium gig in Arlington, Texas early next month. The singer didn’t mention the TMZ video unless you count a lyric about the mistakes he’s made from “Don’t Think Jesus,” one of several singles he’s quietly releasing this year as part of his comeback Has; He also didn’t play directly with any sort of anti-wake sensibility, unless you count the proud down-home isms of “The Way I Talk,” which, like so many modern country songs, has elements of a black creative lexicon borrow to enshrine a white cultural heritage.

Morgan Wallen

Enter Morgan Wallen.

(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

Then again, the point of winning is no longer making your case, and that’s how Wallen carried himself like a winner on Saturday. Backed by a muscular six-piece band, the singer performed along his many hits — including “Chasin’ You,” “More Than My Hometown,” and the only country song to currently top the Hot 100, “You Proof.” an unalloyed confidence that belied his rapid rise to arena headlining status, not to mention the years of street experience he missed out on due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He was a rowdy party starter on “Up Down” and “Country Ass S—,” on the latter of which he patted a disc in the back pocket of his jeans while singing about “an empty can with a long cut.” For the wistful “Sand in My Boots,” he sat down behind a piano and recounted a lovemaking in a beach town with a woman who was destined to break his heart. Vocally, Wallen is most impressive on his records as a ballad singer, channeling longing and nostalgia on songs like “Somebody’s Problem” and the almost achingly beautiful “7 Summers”; Here both suffered a little from his over-singing to accommodate the pumped up arrangements the size of the room demanded. But the slightly aggressive approach paid off in Wallen’s gritty rendition of Jason Isbell’s “Cover Me Up,” where he stood up to the mic like a baseball player with a bat.

About halfway through the 90-minute show, Wallen invited two of his frequent touring collaborators to support: Ernest, with whom he sang the acoustic “Flower Shops,” and Hardy, who joined Wallen on the rap. rocking “He went to see Jared.” (Earlier, in his own set, Hardy flashed that culture warrior streak that Wallen fought back when introducing his song “One Beer,” about a couple awaiting pregnancy test results “Do you have any pregnant people out there tonight?” he asked with a mischievous grin, before adding, “Stupid joke.”)

It was easy to feel the joy — and perhaps comfort — Wallen felt at having his buddies on stage with him, not least as he and Hardy shot a few beers out of the pistol and then crushed the cans and threw them into the crowd.

For more than a year he has been in the spotlight of his own creation, both an outcast and a figurehead. Still, you wouldn’t say he looked lonely when Hardy and Ernest broke up. He’d been assured he belonged up there, and who was he to doubt that? Review: Morgan Wallen in L.A.: a country superstar, live and apparently un-canceled

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