Morgan Wallen witha. backwards cap

Much More Than His Hometown: How Morgan Wallen is Taking Country Global

July 2, 2024 3:07 pm GMT

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Morgan Wallen is currently gearing up for one of the most momentous shows of his career - a headlining slot at BST Hyde Park 2024 in London, UK. It’s a coveted stage that’s been graced by the likes of The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and Celine Dion, and one that will further consolidate Wallen's burgeoning relationship with the UK, following a spectacular debut at the O2 Arena in December.

What makes this all the more impressive is the fact that, once Wallen was unveiled as a BST Hyde Park headliner, the challenge of filling a 60,000-capacity venue across The Pond didn't really feel like a stretch for the ‘Last Night’ hitmaker. Out of all the top-tier names on the glittering BST 2024 bill, which includes SZA, Kings of Leon, Shania Twain and Kylie Minogue, no-one is bigger than Morgan Wallen right now when it comes to chart domination and streaming muscle.

In June, thanks to his ubiquitous collaboration with Post Malone, ‘I Had Some Help’, Morgan Wallen leapt into the lead as the artist with the most weeks at No. 1 on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 this decade. It’s the latest in a dizzyingly long list of accolades, with Wallen's 2023 album, One Thing At A Time, crowned Spotify’s most-streamed album of the year in the US, and his infectious, goalpost-shifting single, ‘Last Night’, the nation's most-streamed song of the year.

To be able to say a country artist is achieving these kinds of milestones is something those in Music City have been dreaming of since Garth Brooks and Shania Twain’s ‘90s revival.

Through his distinctive sound, which incorporates seismic 808s, rattling hi-hats and other rap-inspired elements while always being unmistakably, unwaveringly country, Wallen has contributed to making the genre cool again - crucially, not just cool in the US, but cool enough to headline one of the most prestigious festivals in the UK.

It’s evident this isn’t just another regular festival slot, with Wallen revealing in June that his long-awaited, fan-favourite song, ‘Lies, Lies, Lies’, will be released on July 5th, the day after his BST Hyde Park set. The first time fans heard the entirety of that track - which will kick off the rollout for his One Thing At A Time follow-up - was when Wallen dropped his Abbey Road Sessions in March, a project he recorded at London’s iconic studio of the same name. The decision to effectively use BST Hyde Park to launch his next album, and to do so with a song he first released on a project recorded in one of England’s most historic studios, points to the weight he gives both this set and his connection with the UK as a whole.

Speaking to Holler, Morgan Wallen underlines how special this show will be for him and his band, “Playing Hyde Park is a huge honor for us. We had a blast playing at the O2 last year and the fans were incredible, so we can’t wait to play for them again in an iconic setting”.

This Hyde Park set will again strengthen Wallen's ties with the UK, ahead of a European tour in September, which will see him perform in Glasgow for the first time, as well as Ireland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands. Further underlining this bond is the fact that his charity, the Morgan Wallen Foundation, will be supporting London Youth Choirs while he is in town, following on from the organisation’s UK Music For All donation back in December.

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Morgan Wallen at the O2 Arena (Photo by David Lehr)

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Morgan Wallen at the O2 Arena (Photo by Matthew Paskert)

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Morgan Wallen at the O2 Arena (Photo by Matthew Paskert)

Amidst the playful wordplay, earworm hooks and genre-fusing sonics, there’s a lyric from ‘Outlook’ - a hidden gem on Morgan Wallen's 2023 album, One Thing At A Time - that comes to mind as he delves into the plans he has for his foundation.

“Something in my ramblin' soul said I had to go toe to toe with the devil

Fell in love with a gypsy girl, said she couldn't risk it on a rebel

At least not one that doesn't have a cause

And I'll admit, I guess back then that's all I really was”

Morgan Wallen would be the first to admit he’s a rebel in the way he approaches country music. Few other artists within the genre could drop a snarling, innuendo-laden collaboration with Southern rapper, Moneybagg Yo, ‘WHISKEY WHISKEY’, and it still come across as a wholly natural and authentic piece of artistry.

But now, this rebel has a cause. Through his Morgan Wallen Foundation, the Sneedville singer-songwriter is donating a portion of every ticket sold towards improving children’s access to sports and music. Morgan Wallen doesn’t mince his words when describing to Holler their pivotal role in his own childhood, “Sports and music probably saved my life, gave it meaning and taught me all kinds of lessons in teamwork, perseverance, hard work and more. Both areas mean a lot to me”.

Morgan Wallen’s love for sports radiates throughout his music, with ‘Had Me By Halftime,’ ‘98 Braves’ and ‘Tennessee Fan’ using baseball and football as lenses that sharpen his vignettes of romance and heartbreak. Given how influential sports has been on Wallen, it’s striking to see the impact he now has on a different arena of popular culture on a global level. Morgan Wallen regularly walks out to the stage with leading figures from the NFL, NBA and more; titans known across the world like DeAndre Hopkins, Tyrese Haliburton and Eli Manning, as well as being widely cited as a key part of teams’ pre-game warm-up soundtracks.

Kathleen Flaherty, Wallen's co-manager and Executive Director of the foundation reveals, “Morgan was a baseball star in high school and then an injury derailed that dream. He returned to his musical roots and has never looked back”, before fondly sharing an anecdote from one of his packed-out 2023 tour-stops, “I remember when he played Fenway Park in Boston last summer, he told the audience, ‘I always thought I’d get here one day playing baseball for a World Series. It's music that got me here…so I guess that’s just a different version of my World Series’”.

Each donation the foundation has made carries a layer of personal significance. In June, the Morgan Wallen Foundation gifted $100,000 to rejuvenate two youth baseball fields in Jefferson City, one of which was a site where Wallen played in Little League.

This makes his decision to support both London Youth Choirs and Music For All all the more significant. Morgan Wallen's ‘Outlook’ may have once been Tennessee-bound, then US-bound, but now, his mission is clear - he wants to reach as far as possible.

Morgan Wallen's drive to amplify his reach and impact beyond the US is not only evident through the work of his foundation, but also through subtler indicators, such as the outward-facing textures and stylistic choices of his new music. The brooding electric guitar and Wallen's drawn-in delivery on ‘Lies, Lies, Lies’ gives the track an ambience that flirts with indie-rock. It feels pertinent that ‘Lies, Lies, Lies’ was joined on his Abbey Road Sessions by a left-field cover of British band Nothing But Thieves’ distinctly alternative hit, ‘Graveyard Whistling’.

Other recently teased tracks, such as the breezy, 80's-pop-influenced ‘Love Somebody’, the spacey, synth-laden ‘Come Back As A Redneck’ and the sparse, folksy ‘I Guess’ signify how Wallen is continuing his progression towards a more open sound.

Country music boxed itself in during the 2010s by leaning heavily into tropes and themes that were not only uniquely American, but specific to a rural - and often Southern - lifestyle. When Florida Georgia Line were singing about circling up their monster trucks around a bonfire after a day of hunting in the woods, the only thing on offer to British listeners was escapism. Now, Morgan Wallen is helping to expand the genre's horizons, both sonically and thematically, so that country music's appeal can stretch beyond US borders - as it is today.

Florida Georgia Line have two of the most popular country songs in history to their name, the Diamond-certified ‘Cruise’ and ’Meant To Be’ - yet neither cracked the UK Top 10. Morgan Wallen's ‘Last Night‘ is now the 20th most streamed country song of all time in the UK - as well as being the most recently released song in the Top 30 - while his 2024 duet with Post Malone, ‘I Had Some Help’, surged to No. 2 in the UK all-genre chart, marking Wallen's first ever UK Top 10 single.

Morgan Wallen's debut album, If I Know Me, was drenched in - as he put it himself on ‘Talkin’ Tennessee’ - ‘whiskey whisperin’ and ‘Southernisms’, with much of the record being coloured by the tail-end of the FGL-led Bro-Country craze. 2021's Dangerous contained plenty of rowdy, redneck anthems, but hinted at a shift towards a more expansive, fluid style, while One Thing At A Time consolidated this, with the title-track sounding closer to The 1975 than Tim McGraw and ‘180 (Lifestyle)’ building on the trap experimentation of ‘Broadway Girls’ with Lil Durk. Then, in December, we learned that Morgan Wallen is the only country artist that could appear in a Drake video and it not seem absolutely bonkers.

It's no coincidence that the more Morgan Wallen has broadened his sound, the better his albums have performed in the UK; If I Know Me didn't chart, Dangerous peaked at No. 77 and One Thing At A Time rose to No. 40, spending 16 weeks on the ranking.

Headlining BST Hyde Park 2024 will officially secure Morgan Wallen's status as a global megastar and, coupled with the increasingly open-minded musicality he's been displaying of late, will likely give him the momentum to secure his first Top 10 UK album.

To return to the lyrics of that evocative One Thing At A Time stand-out, ‘Outlook’, as Morgan Wallen is ‘looking down and looking out’ across Hyde Park, with tens of thousands of adoring fans screaming his lyrics back at him, he’ll no doubt gain an added sense of satisfaction knowing he's looking out beyond the boundaries that previously kept country music largely contained to US shores.

For more on Morgan Wallen, see below:

Written by Maxim Mower
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