KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — After East Tennessee native and country music star Morgan Wallen was seen on a video shouting a racial slur, controversy has surrounded him and stars are talking about racial issues.
His recording company has suspended his contract and he has been dropped by country radio. Wallen has also issued a statement saying he is "embarrassed and sorry."
Despite the controversy, 2021 launched new successes for him. For weeks, his songs continued to top the charts, but within seconds it all changed.
East Tennessee native and country music star Kelsea Ballerini was one of many to condemn his actions.
"The news does not represent country music," she said.
Hours after the news broke, Knoxville's Hallerin Hilton Hill talked about what should happen next during his talk show.
"12 seconds ... throws a hand grenade into the middle of your career," said Hill. "This is 2021, so I have no love for the word, not at all. But I want to hear from Morgan Wallen."
He continued to ask if the measures taken were because of a higher level of accountability or were due to "cancel culture."
"Is it what you did or is it who you are?" he said.
He had viewers call in with their opinions. One asked why other artists, like rappers, are able to use racial slurs in their songs.
"You’re assuming all Black people don’t care about the word. They heard the word and went 'Oh' no matter what. You’re making a broad assumption," he said.
Knoxville's poet laureate Rhea Carmon understands the power of words and said that they can have a major impact on people and on the world.
"That racial slur brings up so much pain and negative history in our country that we have to stop the use of it," she said. "You have to think about the history behind a word and what damage it can do if it is heard."
She said this moment teaches an important and hard lesson for many people.
"It's so sad that he had to be the example of what can happen when we are not guarding our mouth gate or things we say and how they'll be taken or affect people," she said.
She encourages people to start a conversation and that while talking with others, they should use words to bring unity instead of division. It can help to explain why people shouldn't use slurs during these conversations, she said.
"Don't just say 'Don't use that word'. Give a why," said Carmon. "I want everybody to start thinking of words that will bind us together and unify and inspire the next generation."
Academy of Country Music has also halted Wallen's participation in its awards this year.