Why is Morgan Wallen so big?

Jon Bream, Star Tribune on

Published in Entertainment News

MINNEAPOLIS — Morgan Wallen is huge, like almost Taylor Swift huge.

He has sold 21.8 million albums, mostly with his past two projects, the double albums "Dangerous" and "One Thing at a Time." He has landed at No. 1 on Billboard's country singles charts 11 times in the past four years and eight of his songs have made it to the pop Top 10.

Why is he so big?

—He has very good songs. "They're hooky," said K102 radio programmer Gregg Swedberg. "They're easy to sing along with. They're not super-complicated. He's not telling a lot of stories. He has strong appeal for both men and women. He's one of the few guys in our format where we can get away with playing six semi-current songs of his. We don't have the same rules for him."

—He collaborates with such ace songwriters as Hardy, Ernest and Ashley Gorley from a stable assembled by Craig Wiseman, arguably Nashville's top songwriter of the past three decades.

—He works with producer Joey Moi, who helped make Nickelback a dominant force in the rock world. Like Mutt Lange did with Shania Twain in the '90s, Moi has brought non-country sensibilities to Nashville and scored with Florida Georgia Line, Hardy and Wallen.


—With Moi's production featuring a hip-hop undercurrent, Wallen's songs are compatible with both country and pop audiences. "Last Night" was a waltz with a trap beat underneath it, Swedberg said. "I've never heard anyone do that before. What a smart idea!"

—Wallen embraced social media before other country singers did. "In his early days he would like every single tweet about him, positive or negative, regardless of if they actually tagged him or not, which led to more buzz and promotion by fans themselves," said Chicago promoter Ed Warm. "He also was one of the first acts to consistently tease new music online before releasing it, keeping himself top of minds with fans and using their feedback to inform release strategy."

—He keeps his fans engaged with a steady stream of songs.

—He's relatable. "He looked like every young man," Nashville editor Holly Gleason said. "He's got a winsomeness in his voice that you can feel. It's palpable. You believe him."

—Controversy propels him. He got disavowed by the industry when he was caught on video uttering a racial slur in 2020 and, in April, he was arrested for throwing a chair off the roof of a six-story bar in Nashville. "He's really gifted at giving both sides of the fence something to talk about," said country star Ashley McBryde. "You're either supporting him 'cause he's an outlaw or 'shame on him.' That may be a tactic that's a very useful tactic."

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