With a well-carved out spot as one of country music’s best-loved renegades, Eric Church is no stranger to seeing both sides of an issue. The “Hell of a View” star admits that seeing Morgan Wallen’s fall from superstardom early this year was a deeply troubling experience.
After TMZ published doorbell cam footage of the breakout star volleying a racist slur — specifically, the N-word — at the end of a night out, Wallen was swiftly removed from his spot at the top of the country music industry. His singles were pulled from radio networks across the country, platforms such as CMT and Pandora removed his music and likeness from their materials, and Wallen’s label suspended his record contract “indefinitely.” The Academy of Country Music also declared him ineligible for the 2021 ACM Awards, a ceremony where he was expected to be a top contender in multiple categories.
Wallen may have been ostracized by the music industry in the wake of the scandal, but not all of his fans agreed: On the contrary, he received so much fan support that his January sophomore album, Dangerous, remained at the top of the Billboard 200 for 10 consecutive weeks, accruing the most total weeks spent at No. 1 on that chart by any album since Drake’s Views spent 13 non-consecutive weeks at the top in 2016. (Finally, on March 28, Wallen was unseated by Justin Bieber’s Justice.)
In a new Billboard feature, Church empathizes with both sides of the Wallen divide. In the immediate aftermath of the scandal, he sent the younger singer a note to offer his prayers and encourage him to keep “hanging in there.”
Dangerous includes “Quittin’ Time,” a song Church co-wrote, and Wallen previously told Country Now that including that song on his album was particularly meaningful because of what a hero Church has always been to him.
“Having him allow me to sing a song that he’s a writer on is truly one of my favorite accomplishments so far,” Wallen said at the time. “I love his style, his attitude, just the way that he’s handled himself has always really resonated with me.”
For his part, Church has also applauded the younger singer for remaining true to himself as an artist. “That’s the key. Morgan is not trying to be somebody else,” Church told Billboard back in January. “He’s just doing him. It’s refreshing to see and hear.”
And while Church spoke about his support of Wallen’s artistry prior to the scandal, and he’s continued to offer the young singer prayers and empathy, he has strong words for Wallen’s harmful, racist actions.
“That was indefensible. I was heartbroken when it happened,” Church says. “I think Morgan’s trying to work on that and on himself. And I hope he does.”
Another star who has reached out to Wallen in the wake of the scandal is Jimmie Allen, who has stressed the importance of both accountability and forgiveness. Mickey Guyton also spoke out, cautioning against complete cancel culture but also stressing that country music must face its racism problem head-on.
“When I read comments saying ‘This is not who we are,’ I laugh because this is exactly who country music is,” she tweeted. “I’ve witnessed it for 10 gd years.”
For his part, Wallen offered up a statement to his fans in a five-minute video posted a week after the incident. In it, he apologized to the people he “let down,” particularly his parents and his infant son. He also revealed that the video footage was taken “on hour 72 of [a] 72 [hour] of a bender, and that’s not something I’m proud of, either,” going on to say that he has since become sober. He also explained that he has accepted invitations from “some amazing Black organizations” in an effort to educate himself and “engage in some very real and honest conversations.”
He also asked fans to stop defending him.
“I have one favor to ask: I appreciate those who still see something in me and have defended me, but for today please don’t,” the singer said. “I was wrong. It’s on me to take ownership for this and I fully accept any penalties I’m facing.”