It’s been a banner year for Lil Nas X, and he’s got the receipts to prove it.
After becoming the first gay musician to win Song of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards and the first to be honored by the Country Music Association, the 20-year-old made history yet again by earning a spot on Forbes’ list of the highest-paid country acts. Lil Nas X (neé Montero Lamar Hill) made $14 million before taxes in 2019, good enough for no. 18 in the money magazine’s rankings.
In addition to being the first out LGBTQ+ person to make Forbes’ list of the highest-earners in country music, Lil Nas X is the first person of color. He’s also the youngest person in the top 20, which is dominated by Nashville mainstays like Luke Bryan (no. 1), Keith Urban (no. 3), and Blake Shelton (no. 4).
Diego Farias, co-founder of music streamer Amuse, told Forbes that Lil Nas X’s inclusion on the list is as unprecedented as his breakout smash’s chart dominance. “Old Town Road” ruled the Billboard Hot 100 for 19 weeks, a record number.
“It was on viral charts in countries where no country song has ever positioned itself,” said Farias, whose service was among the first to stream “Old Town Road.” “Everything from Southeast Asian markets to eastern European markets. I mean, I’m talking about places that you don’t necessarily associate with cowboy hats and boots.”
A major part of the “Old Town Road” success story, however, is that it became a phenomenon while receiving little support from the industry. Although Lil Nas X has argued the country-trap song “leans more toward country,” Billboard deemed it ineligible for inclusion on the Country charts.
That decision infamously backfired. When “Old Town Road” was officially removed from Billboard country-specific metrics, the rapper released a remix with “Achy Breaky Heart” singer Billy Ray Cyrus — one that only cemented its dominance in the overall Hot 100. The genre hybrid went onto best Mariah Carey and Boys II Men’s “One Sweet Day” as the longest-charting Billboard number-one in history, all without the Country charts.
Thus, the Forbes bid must feel like sweet, sweet revenge.
Lil Nas X may get another taste when the Grammy Awards are announced in 2020. He is nominated for six Grammys, including Record of the Year (for “Old Town Road”) Album of the Year (for his debut EP, 7), and Best New Artist. Taking home any of those awards would make him the first Black, gay man to be awarded in the category.
However, the Forbes rankings show that music still has a lot more work to do before the playing field is leveled for everyone. Only six women made the list of country’s highest earners, and Shania Twain (no. 7) was the sole member of the top 10. Gay icon Dolly Parton came in at no. 15, followed by Carrie Underwood (no. 16), and Faith Hill (no. 17), Lady Antebellum and Miranda Lambert are tied at no. 20.
You can read the full list here.