Morgan Wallen with short hair looking into the camera in the woods
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One Year On: The Legacy of Morgan Wallen's ‘Last Night’

January 31, 2024 3:24 pm GMT

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There was a time when being a country music fan rendered you a second-class citizen in the world of musical opinion, forcing you to sit grumpily on the sidelines as your friends debated which was a better example of lyrical genius - ‘Get Lucky’ or ‘Uptown Funk’.

That all began to change, however, on January 31st 2023, when Morgan Wallen released a three-song sampler ahead of his eagerly awaited third album, One Thing At A Time. It featured the atypically twangy ‘Everything I Love’, the fiery, faith-filled ‘I Wrote The Book’ and - most importantly of all - the sultry, swaggering ‘Last Night’.

With Morgan Wallen's charismatic, laid-back vocals sauntering along on top of an infectious guitar riff and a Hip-Hop-inspired, 808-fuelled beat, ‘Last Night’ had all the hallmarks of an earworm and a multi-week No. 1-in-waiting.

‘Last Night’ quickly surged to No. 1 at Country Radio. This was nothing out of the ordinary, with the inclusion of Wallen's name next to the song-title practically cementing its status as a future country chart-topper. What made people really sit up and start to take notice was when ‘Last Night’ became Morgan's first ever No. 1 on the all-genre Hot 100 on May 18th. It stayed there for a staggering 16 weeks, making the track the longest-running No. 1 solo song in the chart's history.

This run helped to make Morgan Wallen the No. 1 Hot 100 Artist of the Year. He was the first country artist to achieve this honour since the late great Kenny Rogers in 1981.

Amidst the 11 Billboard Music Awards and the shimmering array of broken records that have landed on Morgan Wallen's mantelpiece over the past 12 months, this Kenny Rogers statistic is, in many ways, far more significant than anything else for country fans.

It highlights how Morgan Wallen's current all-genre dominance is bringing country music to a level of recognition it hasn't enjoyed since the so-called ‘golden era’ of the 80s and 90s, when the likes of Kenny, Dolly, Garth and Shania all helped to keep the genre at the forefront of the mainstream consciousness.

Since then, although various artists that would be considered top-tier acts in country have broken through, they've had to be content with winning genre-specific titles and accolades.

Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban, Brad Paisley and Blake Shelton are all household names for even the most casual country fans. But, arguably, the average listener outside of country would be left scratching their head if pressed to name one of their songs.

Country had become insular, cordoned off by a thorny, barbed wire fence of rural tropes and truck-inspired inside-jokes that listeners in New York, Los Angeles and other city hubs simply didn't have the patience to scale. As was consolidated via the Bro-Country wave of the 2010s, the genre had become a caricature of itself, left to seek out Pop-crossovers in an attempt to break into the Hot 100 charts - Florida Georgia Line's Bebe Rexha collaboration, ‘Meant to Be’, a prime example.

The nature of this music at the time seemed to widen the divide between mainstream listeners and die-hard country aficionados. This was exacerbated by the fact that, if you were an emerging country artist during this period, your stripes were earned by how ‘country’ you were perceived to be.

This is where ‘Last Night’ comes in. Particularly on One Thing At A Time, Morgan Wallen delivers relatable, genre-agnostic lyricism, while still anchoring each song unmistakably in country through his now-trademark drawl.

It's a blueprint that helps to explain why, in 2023, you'd frequently hear ’Last Night’ playing in your office, at the hairdressers or in a cocktail bar, slotting in seamlessly alongside Pop staples such as Olivia Rodrigo, SZA, Shawn Mendes and more.

This recipe for success is concentrated on ‘Last Night’, but also pervades the rest of One Thing At A Time, which was the Top Billboard 200 Album of 2023 after spending much of the year at No. 1.

Morgan's Hot 100 takeover has been coupled with the parallel trajectory of country music's singer-songwriter bloom, spearheaded by the seemingly anti-Nashville figurehead, Zach Bryan. It acts as the antithesis of Morgan's well-produced, R&B-influenced sound, but still resonates with the younger demographic.

As a result of country music's explosion in popularity, of which ‘Last Night’ was a catalyst, we're seeing an inversion of the ‘Meant to Be’-style crossover attempts.

Now, Pop and Hip Hop heavyweights are coming to Nashville in the hope of capitalising on this newly successful and attractive brand of country. Morgan Wallen was Post Malone's first port-of-call when deciding who to write with for his upcoming debut country album, while rappers such as Lil Durk, Rod Wave and BigXThaPlug continue to tease link-ups with the megastar. Drake, one of the biggest artists in the world, recruited Morgan for a surprise appearance in his latest music video, with the two supposedly having a collaboration up their sleeves.

Wallen is now readying his One Thing At A Time follow-up, which he'll begin recording at the end of February, and he confirmed in a December 2023 interview with Billboard that he's continuing to expand and broaden his sound - a move that will inevitably strengthen the Sneedville artist's command over the all-genre charts.

Although the foundation for ‘Last Night’ can be heard on other genre-fusing hits in Morgan Wallen's impressive catalogue, such as ‘You Proof’ and ‘Thinkin’ Bout Me’, ‘Last Night’ was the comet that propelled Morgan from country titan to globe-trotting megastar.

The trail of country-curious listeners that ‘Last Night’s meteoric ascent has pulled into its orbit is already proving transformational for the genre. As country fans, our musical habits and perspective are no longer dismissed as corny and trite. We're seen as being on the pulse, as though we managed to uncover a hidden gem that's been kept obscured way out in Texas or Tennessee all these years.

Suddenly, thanks to Morgan Wallen's ‘Last Night’, country is - dare we say it - cool again.

For more on Morgan Wallen, see below:

Written by Maxim Mower
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