BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – Legendary documentary director Ken Burns isn't at all shocked about the chart dominance of Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus' "Old Town Road," especially after making a 16-hour documentary series about the history of country music.
"We always make it in our media culture a binary thing. So everybody's fretting," he told USA TODAY Monday while promoting his new PBS documentary, "Country Music," an eight-part epic chronicling the origins of the music genre and its evolution through the 20th-century. "And I said, it's just like 'Country Music.' Everybody's listening to it, everybody loves it, so it's a No. 1 song!"
This week, "Road" overtook Mariah Carey's "One Sweet Day" for most weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard chart. Carey set the record in 1996, and the only song to come close to breaking it was "Despacito," which tied the 16-week record in 2017. This milestone is even more notable after the controversy caused when Billboard, at the beginning of the song's reign, chose to remove the original version from its country music chart for having too much hip-hop influence.
"Now that Billboard has just ratified it, that's like saying the sky is blue and water is wet," Burns says. "We already know this! So this proves every point that we make in the series. There are no borders between this stuff."
Burns also points out that one of the legends of country music also had hip hop and rap influences.
"And just remember what Johnny Cash's last years were like, with Rick Rubin, who's a rap and hip-hop producer, helping Johnny Cash resurrect his career. There's nothing new under the sun."
But, most, importantly, Burns believes "Road" is just "a great song."
One of the central tenets in Burns' "Country" (Sept. 15, check local listings) is that the genre isn't as cordoned off from the rest of popular music as many people think, something the director emphasized to reporters earlier Monday.
"Country is one of the parents of rock and roll with R&B; the porousness of it is the theme," he says. "What people discover is that they know a lot more about country music than they think they do."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Old Town Road': Ken Burns isn't shocked about Billboard chart record