I was digging on the radio Thursday morning and stopped on one of my local faves, 107.9FM New Country, and a familiar voice that recently has been anything-but-familiar rang out.
Morgan Wallen's "Chasin' You" came through the speakers, and I sang along instinctively. I'm a Morgan Wallen fan, have been for a while, even since one of his early hits "The Way I Talk" made him a country star way before the way he talked made him a national lightning rod.
In February, Wallen went from rising star to pariah for using the one word we universally deplore. Wallen called one of his white buddies the N-word, and it was caught on phone video by a neighbor.
The reaction was swift. He apologized. His label suspended him. National radio stations shunned him. Sponsors predictably ran from him.
Those outcomes surprised no one, Wallen included. If there's one universal no-no in the public's eye, it's a white dude — especially a country music singer — dropping the N-bomb. We all know this, Wallen included. He was glowing with the radioactivity that that disgusting racial slur can generate.
But as the days and weeks came and went, Wallen's popularity grew amid the radio blackout and the mainstream death stares. His music went blockbuster. His album "Dangerous" debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts and stayed there for 10 weeks. It was the first album to come out of the gate that strong and stay atop the chart for that long since Whitney Houston's heyday.
Still, Wallen was not included in many of the winter/spring music award shows because of his egregious word choice.
In fact, the Billboard Music Awards was the only one that allowed Wallen to be nominated, since its nominees and winners were picked by download metrics, not a committee of people or voters.
Wallen won three awards on May 23, including Country Artist of the Year, even though he was not allowed to accept the award in person.
Which gets us back to Thursday.
Wallen's "Chasin' You" was played a little after 10 a.m. on 107.9, and "Whiskey Glasses" aired around noon on the local Cumulus country station.
Smaller radio chains and some family-owned stations have unapologetically been playing Wallen's work for several weeks. But Cumulus is a national bigwig and makes big-picture decisions.
Scott Chase, the operations manager at the local Cumulus affiliate that operates 107.9 as well as KZ106 and Talk 102.3, referred all questions about everything in the Wallen world to the corporate office. He offered an official "No comment" to all questions, be they on the timing of Wallen's return to the airwaves, frequency of his airplay or whether Wallen's mullet was unruly or unbelievable.
Attempts to reach Cumulus corporate and 107.9's local competitors were unsuccessful by press time.
The end of Wallen's exile, at least for a national radio power player like Cumulus, makes me wonder.
Should such an awful verbal sin torpedo a career? I don't think so, but I guess that depends on the point of view.
Is a three-month exile for a drunken rant enough or not enough? That's hard to know, in either direction, but I firmly pray I am not judged on my worst day.
Is the power of popularity enough to wipe away any social shortcoming? Again, the prism of perspective is paramount, but the clues are clear.
Those answers vary, of course, depending on a multitude of factors.
In this case, though, and in a lot that are similar, it seems rather clear: Our ability to forgive — and our timetable for that forgiveness — is directly comparable to the offender's skill set and money-making capability.
Contact Jay Greeson at firstname.lastname@example.org.