Wallen's appearance comes less than a year after a video of him using the N-word was shared by TMZ. Following the release of the video, Wallen was suspended from his record label and his music was pulled from country radio airwaves. However, in recent months, Wallen's album sales have skyrocketed and, last summer, country radio stations began quietly lifting the "ban" on Wallen's music. In November, Wallen announced The Dangerous Tour, which will hit over 50 cities.
Several artists and country fans criticized the Opry's decision to invite Wallen for a surprise performance.
Jason Isbell, who wrote "Cover Me Up," which Wallen covered on Dangerous: The Double Album, was among the artists to speak out.
"Last night @opry you had a choice - either upset one guy and his 'team,' or break the hearts of a legion of aspiring Black country artists," Isbell wrote. "You chose wrong and I'm real sad for a lot of my friends today. Not surprised though. Just sad."
Last night @opry you had a choice- either upset one guy and his “team,” or break the hearts of a legion of aspiring Black country artists. You chose wrong and I’m real sad for a lot of my friends today. Not surprised though. Just sad.
— Jason Isbell (@JasonIsbell) January 9, 2022
In a thread, Rissi Palmer, a country artist and host of Color Me Country on Apple Music, wrote, "I believe now is the time to watch and move. Watch how people are responding and reacting and move accordingly. Systems only work when we continue to participate in them. The moment we stop and divest, they lose their power."
"It felt like a slap in the face to see you all celebrate Charley Pride, only to pull this stunt 24 hours later," the letter reads. "You should know that our community is extremely disappointed, though many are not surprised. A stage that was once a dream destination for many Black artists has now cemented itself as one of the many Nashville stages on which we know we are not respected."
To date, only two Black artists have been invited to join the Opry: Pride (invited in 1993) and Darius Rucker (invited in 2012).