Trent Reznor, the musical mind behind Nine Inch Nails, has won his fair share of awards for his work. NIN has taken home Grammy Awards for “Best Metal Performance” (in 1992 and 1995, respectively), Golden Globes and Academy Awards for his film scoring work with Atticus Ross, and countless others. Nine Inch Nails is also up for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2020.
On Wednesday, however, Reznor officially won an award no one—not even the artist himself—expected him to win: A Country Music Association Award for “Musical Event of the Year” for his contributions Lil Nas X‘s viral smash hit, “Old Town Road (Remix)” featuring Billy Ray Cyrus, along with Lil Nas X, producer YoungKio, and his frequent collaborator Atticus Ross.
Oh, you didn’t know that Trent Reznor was a co-writer on the biggest, most controversial “country” smash of 2019? At first, neither did he.
Lil Nas X ft. Billy Ray Cyrus – “Old Town Road” [Official Video]
[Video: Lil Nas X]
The story of the unlikely dominance of “Old Town Road” has plenty of twists and turns on its way to the fastest Diamond certification from the RIAA (denoting the equivalent of 10 million total units sold in the U.S.) of any song in history. In 2018, then-19-year-old Lil Nas X dropped out of college to pursue a music career. In October of that year, he found the YoungKio-produced beat he’d eventually use for “Old Town Road” online and purchased the rights to use it for a whopping $30. Since the site on which it was purchased was anonymous, YoungKio didn’t even realize his beat had been used for the track until it started to go viral on social media, particularly Tik-Tok.
Soon after “Old Town Road” was released, Trent Reznor got a call from Lil Nas X’s manager regarding clearance for a sample used in the production. As it turned out, YoungKio had used a snippet of a banjo part from Nine Inch Nails’ “34 Ghosts IV”, which appeared on 2008’s Ghosts I-IV. Reznor gave his blessing to the track’s sample. Soon after, country music stalwart Billy Ray Cyrus appeared on a remix of the track, which would go on to become a global sensation despite being controversially removed from the Billboard “Hot Country Songs” chart for “not [embracing] enough elements of today’s country music.”
As Reznor told Rolling Stone in October, “The way it was presented to me originally is I got a call from my management saying, ‘We got a call from a panicked manager saying they had used the sample of something off Ghosts. They should have cleared it, but it didn’t get cleared. It’s picking up some steam on the viral Spotify charts. What do you think about that?’ And I said, ‘Look, I’m fine with it. I get how stuff goes. They’re not saying they didn’t sample it. Just work it out, but don’t be a roadblock to this.’ I hadn’t heard it yet. Then a few weeks later, I was like, ‘Holy shit.'”
“At first, when you hear your stuff turned into something else, it always feels awkward because it’s something that intimately came from you in some way,” Reznor explained. He did, however, note that the song was “undeniably hooky.”
Trent Reznor was initially slow to comment on his “involvement” with “Old Town Road”. “It was a material that was used in a significant way and it turned into something that became something else, and those guys should be the ones the spotlight is on,” he explained to Rolling Stone. “They asked if I wanted to do a cameo in the video, and it was flattering, and I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I don’t feel like it’s my place to shine a light on me for that. I say that with complete respect. … Having been listed on the credits of the all-time, Number One whatever-the-f*ck-it-is wasn’t something…I didn’t see that one coming. But the world is full of weird things that happen like that. It’s flattering. But I don’t feel it’s for me to step in there and pat myself on the back for that.”
Of course, while the new recognition marks Reznor’s first CMA Award for production, this is not his first brush with the world of country music. In 2003, Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” was transformed by country legend Johnny Cash on his American IV: The Man Comes Around LP. The album went on to win “Album of the Year” honors at that year’s CMA Awards, while “Hurt” took home prizes for “Single of the Year” and “Video of the Year”.
[H/T Rolling Stone]