A year and a half after he was videotaped singing in the aisles of Walmart, Mason Ramsey has played the Grand Ole Opry eight times, opened for Florida Georgia Line and performed at Coachella and Stagecoach. But the soon-to-be teen says his latest invitation was his craziest yet: hopping on a remix of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road.” Ramsey’s take on the track brought him full circle; just one year ago, the Golconda, Ill., native was a viral sensation himself.
The footage of Ramsey’s yodel-filled rendition of Hank Williams’ “Lovesick Blues,” which was posted in March 2018, raked in millions of views on YouTube overnight -- and major labels took notice. Within a month, Ramsey signed a recording contract with Big Loud/Atlantic Records.
He’s not the first to convert a viral flashpoint into a traditional recording career; Atlantic labelmate Bhad Bhabie turned a talk show tussle into a rap career. For Ramsey, it happened even before his teen years, and despite saying social media “is literally what my career is living off of right now,” he’s not allowed to run his accounts -- at least, not until he turns 13 in November, according to Twitter’s regulations. Until then, he has tasked his grandmother, who still lives in Golconda (Ramsey and his parents relocated to Coopertown, Tenn., in 2018), with updating his profiles.
Still, his Twitter and Instagram perfectly tap into life as a famous preteen. He’ll post mirror selfies and videos with his grandparents alongside photos with artists such as Shawn Mendes, Miley Cyrus and Post Malone. In one Instagram video, in which he’s lip-syncing to his track “How Could I Not,” he tagged Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown with the caption: “This is for you.”
That playful wholesomeness is echoed in his music and the name of his current headlining tour of 500-capacity venues, How’s Your Girl and How’s Your Family. In April, Ramsey dropped by a high school prom in Oxford, Ohio, on a day off. “I didn’t have a girl with me, but I wish,” he says today from Nashville over FaceTime -- his preferred method of communication.
Though Ramsey was a half-decade younger than the prom attendees, “everyone chased after me as soon as I showed up. They almost stomped on me like a herd of elephants.”
Despite his age, Ramsey comes across like a romantic. On his debut single, “Famous,” which hit No. 4 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, he sings, “I want to be famous for loving you.” And his second EP, Twang, which he released in July, includes the rollicking “Puddle of Love,” which Ramsey co-wrote with Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard and country hitmaker Corey Crowder (Chris Young).
Ramsey has co-written 16 more songs since Twang arrived, and hopes to release a debut album soon, but emphasizes that he’s in no rush. And despite hopping on “Old Town Road,” Ramsey assures he has little interest in blurring genre lines when it comes to his own music; he’s sticking to country, and definitely not going pop.
“It’s really important to me because a lot of my family is traditionally country,” he says. “I wouldn’t want to change from what I know.” Even so, he says he admires Taylor Swift -- not for successfully pivoting, but for doing “everything her way. I want to do things my way.”
“His roots are part of his story; [country music] is his No. 1 priority,” says Ian Cripps, senior vp A&R for Atlantic. One thing Ramsey is willing to switch up? His Western-inspired look. “I want to change my appearance slowly -- very slowly,” he says, suggesting that he may soon trade his cowboy hat for ripped jeans. “I’m just trying to look more like a teenager, now that I basically am one.”
But Ramsey’s biggest challenge remains moving beyond the association with his viral start. Both Cripps and Atlantic A&R vp Jeff Levin understand that Ramsey is still known for the Walmart video, but say that “it was clear his talent would surpass a viral moment.”
“We bet on long-term development and focus our efforts on ensuring Mason, or anyone else in this position, has a long career,” says Cripps. Adds Levin: “We believe we can properly invest in his vision long term. He has so much to say — but equally so much to learn.”
As for Ramsey, he’s more than ready to be known -- and taken seriously as a singer -- and not be, he says, “the yodeling kid.”