“I am not positive for covid,” he continued. “My actions this past weekend were pretty shortsighted, and they have obviously affected my long-term goals and my dreams. I respect the show’s decision because I know that I put them in jeopardy. I take ownership for this. I’d like to apologize to SNL, to my fans, to my team, for bringing me these opportunities. And I let them down.”
Over the past several days, many TikTok videos emerged that showed Wallen, one of Nashville’s fastest-rising young stars, partying maskless in crowds of people in Tuscaloosa, where he attended the Alabama-Texas A&M football game Saturday. Various clips showed the singer drinking in a crowded bar, kissing multiple women, taking pictures with fans, riding in the back seat of someone’s car and playing guitar in a tightly packed gathering indoors. The people who have masks appeared to be wearing them around their chins, while Wallen wore a neck gaiter that was pulled down in the majority of the videos.
That behavior, already risky in a pandemic, was especially notable for someone about to appear on SNL, which returned for Season 46 last week and is filming live in the studio under strict pandemic protocols.
Last week’s small live audience, partially made up of first responders, were all wearing masks. Host Chris Rock signed off surrounded by the cast and crew wearing face coverings and implored anyone watching to wear a mask, as well. SNL creator Lorne Michaels gave interviews in the lead-up to the new season explaining the show’s new safety procedures, including everyone taking rapid coronavirus tests before they enter the building. There are restrictions on the number of crew members. Each person has to wear a mask at all times, including performers until right before they go on camera. And if someone tests positive, Michaels told the New York Times, everyone will be required to quarantine for two weeks.
Wallen being dropped from the show seemed to be only a matter of time, as many alarmed fans criticized his actions on social media and flagged their concern to SNL. On Instagram, the singer said he knows he is taking “a lot of heat” but said he plans to spend some time in private to try to “work on me.”
“On a more personal note, I think I have some growing up to do. I think I’ve lost myself a little bit. I’ve tried to find joy in the wrong places, and I don’t know, it’s left me with less joy, so I’m going to try to work on that,” Wallen said in his video. “I’m going to take a step back from the spotlight for a little while and go work on myself. I wish I could have made country music and my friends proud this Saturday. But I respect the decision once again.”
He said that Michaels gave him “a lot of encouragement” and said the show would find a time to reschedule.
Despite their content, it’s no surprise that videos of Wallen, 27, blew up on TikTok — he is particularly beloved by the genre’s younger listeners. This past year, he had one of the biggest TikTok country song success stories since Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” went from a meme to the top of the Billboard chart. Toward the beginning of nationwide shutdowns, country singers were challenging one another on Instagram to post demos of songs that were never recorded; Wallen posted a verse and chorus of “7 Summers,” a somber track reflecting on a past relationship.
TikTok users quickly co-opted the snippet of the song and started using it in videos of their own. It reached such a frenzy that Wallen wound up releasing it as a single in August. “This came out because of y’all. do what ya do,” he wrote on Instagram. His fans promptly followed suit: The song broke country streaming records and rocketed into the top 10 of the all-genre Billboard 100. It’s currently climbing the country radio charts at the same time as his previous single, “More Than My Hometown.”
Wallen’s rise is unusually fast for Nashville standards, as fans have embraced his no-holds-barred persona as an everyday, bemulleted guy from east Tennessee who loves to party. (When he was arrested in May and accused of public intoxication outside Kid Rock’s bar in Nashville, he issued a public apology, and it was quickly forgotten.)
Wallen first broke out in the industry on Season 6 of “The Voice” in early 2014. Shortly after, he moved to Nashville and landed a recording contract with independent label Big Loud Records and was signed to the same management company as superstar duo Florida Georgia Line. His first single was “The Way I Talk,” which celebrated his Southern accent; his first major hit, “Up Down,” was a collaboration with FGL in which he name-dropped their whiskey brand.
Last year, his career exploded with breakup anthem “Whiskey Glasses,” a bona fide smash that extols the virtues of getting wasted after someone breaks your heart. It was the most-played song on country radio in 2019.