Morgan Wallen's Ups and Downs: From The Voice and Breaking Records to SNL and Racial Slur Controversy

It all started on The Voice

Morgan Wallen got his start on The Voice in 2014 where he formed part of Adam Levine’s team (after being stolen from Team Usher).

Although he didn’t win and was eliminated in the playoffs, he started to gain recognition thanks to that moment — and he was glad he didn’t win.

“I didn’t even know what The Voice was,” Wallen told PEOPLE in 2019 when he was selected as a Ones to Watch. “That whole experience kind of kick-started me a little bit.”

“It was a big first step — I guess that’s the first time in my life where I realized that maybe I actually have a shot at this,” he added, before saying, “I’m thankful that I didn’t win because it gave me a chance to take a couple years after that show and really figure out who I was as an artist and get the right team around me. When I got there, I had no clue what I was doing.”

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A big feature to kick it off

In 2017 — three years after The Voice — the singer enlisted the boys of Florida Georgia Line on his first major hit single: “Up Down.”

“Five years ago, I never would have thought that I would have them on my song,” Wallen told PEOPLE then. “It’s really kind of crazy how it all unfolded, and I can’t wait to get it out for the rest of the world to see.”

Wallen had gone on tour with FGL, stopping at select locations with the duo. The song catapulted Wallen’s career and was the second single off his 2018 album, If I Know Me.

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‘Whiskey Glasses’ changes his life

With nearly 300 million plays to date and 4-times platinum certification, his 2018 single “Whiskey Glasses” cemented Wallen in country music.

Ahead of last year’s ACMs, the singer told PEOPLE the track was his breakthrough.

Before that, it kind of felt like we were on the cusp of breaking out and still trying to establish ourselves,” Wallen said. “When that song came around and had the success it did, I feel like it really sent us in a huge, right direction to be cemented in this format.”

“With the shows, it’s been insane to see how people react to that song and how it doesn’t seem to ever get old,” he added. “It’s changed me and my band’s whole life, for sure.”

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Arrested in Nashville

Problems with Wallen began last spring when he was arrested on public intoxication and disorderly conduct charges in May 2020.

 “I went out downtown last night with a few old friends. After a couple bar stops, we were horse-playing with each other,” the singer-songwriter clarified on Twitter the following day. “We didn’t mean any harm, and we want to say sorry to any bar staff or anyone that was affected.”

The charges were eventually dropped.

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He’s a dad — and a ‘changed man’

On July 10, the singer welcomed a baby boy named Indigo Wilder with his ex KT Smith.

Sharing a photo with his newborn, he said he was now a “changed man.”

“Since you came into the world Friday, I see mine differently now,” Wallen wrote on Instagram alongside a photo holding his son. “It’s not just me anymore, and I’m glad it’s not. This year has been the hardest of my life in so many ways, but that’s not what I will remember it by. You are. You are a gift and this tough year just made sense.”

“Since you were born, I know that every decision I make will be with you in mind,” he added. “I promise I’ll always protect you, and do my best to be an example of a good, godly man just like my daddy was for me.”

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He’s disinvited from SNL

After being filmed partying days before he was set to perform on Saturday Night Live, Wallen invitation from the show was revoked for breaking coronavirus protocols.

“I’m in New York City, in a hotel room. I was getting ready for SNL this Saturday, and I got a call from the show letting me know that I will no longer be able to play. And that’s because of COVID protocols, which I understand,” Wallen said in an Instagram video that has since been deleted.

“I’m not positive for COVID, but my actions this past weekend were pretty short-sighted and that have obviously affected my long-term goals and my dreams,” he added. “I respect the show’s decision because I know that I put them in jeopardy. I take ownership for this.”

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Taking time to clear his mind

In a lengthy interview with radio show host Bobby Bones on his podcast, the singer opened up about the criticism he faced, saying he turned off his phone and “cleared my head.”

“I’m not gonna let people control the way I live my life, [but] I do also want to be mindful,” he said, before adding, “And honestly, having a son, obviously now I don’t know that I’d be proud to show him those videos.”

He described the low moment as “almost a good thing for me.”

“I took a while, like almost two weeks, and just turned my phone off and didn’t even look at it,” he said. “Drove on the tractor, things like that, and just cleared my head. It was really, really good to me.”

“There’s been times where I would just be like, ‘I’m kind of like lonely and I don’t know if I even like this,'” he added. “Then you know there’s another high and you’re like, ‘Wow yeah I love this.’ It just goes through phases.”

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Wins CMA New Artist of the Year

In Nov. 11, Wallen won a tough category when he beat out Carly Pearce, Jimmie Allen, Gabby Barrett and Ingrid Andress for CMA New Artist of the Year.

“Well, I did not expect to get this,” Wallen said in his acceptance speech. “I’d like to thank the good Lord, first of all. I’d like to thank my mama for always being the one to push me to sing, for my dad for always making the sacrifices for me and my family so I could sing.”

He added, “And for my team, and for Nashville for accepting me into your family. It’s been a great five years since I’ve moved here. Thank you guys so much, God bless you.”


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SNL is back on

A month and a half after being disinvited, the singer was welcomed back on the SNL stage — and even joked about it during a skit.

“I am you from the future and I came here to stop you from partying tonight,” Jason Bateman’s character said, later adding, “Trust me somebody’s gonna post a video of you ignoring COVID protocols, the whole internet’s gonna freak out … Once people hear about the party, you’re in big trouble man, you’re gonna get kicked off Saturday Night Live.”

“Well I don’t want to screw up an opportunity like that or let my fans down. I guess I’ll leave the party then,” Wallen’s character said before he was convinced otherwise.

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Shattering records

Dropping his double album Dangerous, the country star broke several records.

The album debuted No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album as it received the largest week of streaming ever for a country album.

Dangerous also marked the biggest week for a country album since Carrie Underwood dropped Cry Pretty. Wallen’s project became only the 12th album to reach No. 1 in the last five years.

“I didn’t want anything else of mine associated with the year 2020,” Wallen said in a video for Spotify. “So we decided to wait until now to do it.”

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Owning up to his mistakes

At the end of January, the singer talked to PEOPLE about learning from his stumbles.

“I guess that’s when I truly figured out that things are different now,” Wallen said about the SNL controversy. “That was the moment for me. I knew that I was becoming more and more popular, but I didn’t realize it was to that extent.”

“I’m not a malicious person, just kind of….” he added. “I should have been more aware.'”

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Backlash after using racial slur

On Feb. 2, a video obtained by TMZ showed the singer using the N-word while speaking to one of his friends.

Telling PEOPLE he was “embarrassed and sorry,” the singer said “there are no excuses to use this type of language, ever.”

“I want to sincerely apologize for using the word,” he added. “I promise to do better.”

But things went downhill… quickly.

The following morning, his music was pulled from the two major radio station networks, he was “indefinitely” suspended by his label and he was made ineligible for the ACM Awards this spring.

“This is not his first time using that ‘unacceptable’ racial slur and we all known that,” tweeted fellow star Mickey Guyton. “So what exactly are y’all going to do about it. Crickets won’t work this time.”

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