On Wednesday, country singer Morgan Wallen made headlines by announcing he’d no longer be performing on Saturday Night Live. The show canned him for violating its COVID-19 protocols, a decision they made after videos of Wallen ripping shots in a bar, making out with a stranger, and otherwise raging his face off over the weekend in Alabama—all without a mask on—went viral on TikTok. Maybe you didn’t know Morgan Wallen would be performing on SNL; maybe you don’t even know who Morgan Wallen is. But if you’ve seen his name all over Twitter and struggled to place him, here’s a guide to bring you up to speed.
Who is this guy, and where did he come from?
Wallen is from East Tennessee, where he grew up playing guitar, writing songs, and developing an impressively thick Southern accent. In 2014, his mom signed him up to audition for The Voice, and he wound up making the cut, getting all the way to the “playoffs” (at which point just 24 contestants are left) before he was axed from the show. His brush with pseudo-fame led to a record deal with a small Nashville label, which released his first EP in 2015. That led to a bigger record deal with a Nashville label, and in 2018, he released his first full-length LP, “If I Know Me,” which ultimately hit No. 1 on Billboard’s “Top Country Albums” chart.
You’ve probably heard his song “Up Down”—that one that goes “up down, up down, up down”—at a sports bar somewhere. He recorded it with Florida Georgia Line, a group he’s toured with many times. He’s a big deal in the world of country: According to Billboard, his song “Whiskey Glasses” was the most-played song on country radio in 2019. Another hit, “7 Summers,” broke the record for the most first-day streams on Apple Music for a country artist. All in all, he’s had three songs hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart—an impressive feat for a relative newcomer. His SNL performance would’ve been a big win, not just for the notch it would add to his belt, but for the mainstream exposure it would’ve given him.
Why did his SNL performance get canceled?
Over the weekend, Wallen partied with a bunch of his fans in Tuscaloosa, Alabama (home to the University of Alabama), and the folks he was hanging out with posted videos of his escapades on TikTok.
He seemed to handle himself as irresponsibly as humanly possible during a global pandemic. On top of slamming down shots in a crowded, enclosed bar, he also made out with someone who appears to be a total stranger:
On Wednesday, Wallen announced that the folks at SNL had called him to let him know they’d called off his performance, due to the fact that he had violated their COVID protocols.
“I respect the show’s decision because I know I put them in jeopardy, and I take ownership for this,” Wallen said in a video posted to Instagram. “I’d like to apologize to SNL, to my fans, to my team for bringing me these opportunities, and I let them down.”
SNL didn’t say exactly how Wallen violated its COVID-19 protocols, and it hasn’t publicly released the guidelines it mandates for its on-air talent and guests. But Vulture reports audience members are required to take a COVID test upon arrival; submit themselves to a temperature check; wear a face mask at all times; and answer a series of questions about whether they’ve been exposed to the virus in the past two weeks. That includes a question about whether they’ve been in any state with a high rate of COVID transmission—including Alabama—in the past two weeks. Under New York law, visitors from those states are required to quarantine for 14 days—something Wallen didn’t have enough time to do before he was scheduled to appear on SNL.
Has Wallen done anything like this before?
Back in May, Wallen was arrested and charged with public intoxication and disorderly conduct in Nashville. According to the Tennessean, he was kicked out of Kid Rock’s bar—Kid Rock’s Big Ass Honky Tonk Rock N’ Roll Steakhouse, a real place that exists—for “kicking glass items” inside. Outside, he allegedly got in “verbal fights with passersby while officers watched.” An arrest warrant obtained by the Tennessean stated that “officers gave [him] several opportunities to walk away with his friends, but he refused to walk away.” He later apologized, explaining that he was “horse-playing” with his buddies and “didn’t mean any harm.”
What happens now—and why should I care?
According to Wallen, SNL showrunner Lorne Michaels told him they’d find a different date for Wallen to perform. That’s nice for Wallen—but it’s a bit of a concerning example to set. Michaels is effectively saying that there aren’t real consequences for SNL talent who choose to disregard common-sense COVID-safety measures: After a little slap on the wrist, they’ll be welcomed back with open arms. What does that say about how much Michaels actually cares about the celebrities he works with trying to minimize the spread of this virus?
That said, Wallen is apparently going to take some time to reflect on what he’s done. For the foreseeable future, he said, he’ll be laying low.
“I think I have some growing up to do,” he said. “I’m going to take a step back from the spotlight for a little while and go work on myself.”
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