First the Internet gave us "'David After Dentist.'" Then it gave us Doge Dog. And now we have Mason Ramsey.
But this time, the social media sensation might be here to stay. Dubbed the "Walmart Yodeling Boy" after a video of Ramsey singing Hank Williams' "Lovesick Blues" inside a Harrisburg, Illinois location of the big box store went viral in March, the young musician has been on an upward trajectory ever since. Within a month of its posting, the video racked up millions of views, landing Ramsey an appearance on Ellen, a performance at the Grand Ole Opry and a $15,000 scholarship from the mega-store chain where he was first caught crooning. Soon after, he signed a dual record deal with Nashville-based Big Loud Records and Atlantic Records, the music industry mainstay that represents big names like Cardi B, Coldplay and Janelle Monáe.
By the end of April, Ramsey managed to break the Internet at least two more times, surprising crowds at Coachella alongside 19-year-old DJ Whethan and opening for country megastars Florida Georgia Line at the Stagecoach Festival in California less than two weeks later.
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"I was in front of 100,000 people at Stagecoach," says Ramsey, grinning. "And 50,000 at Coachella. First there was, like, 30,000, and then when I started singing, another 20,000 came in."
With the fleeting nature of virality, most of us might've assumed that Ramsey's first whirlwind month of stardom would be a passing phase. Another "Charlie Bit Me" or LOLcat would come along and grab our attention soon enough. But that hasn't been the case at all; Ramsey continues to steal the spotlight thanks to his loveable spirit — and his genuine musical chops.
His first single, "Famous," quickly became the #1 country song on iTunes after its release on April 27. The single now counts over 34 million streams on Spotify. In July, his EP of the same name debuted at number seven on Billboard's Heatseekers Albums chart, and his management has inked partnerships with Fruit by the Foot, Cracker Barrel and major social media meme accounts. Ramsey himself has over 2.2 million followers on Instagram, which his grandmother manages.
When we meet, he's about to wrap a two-month, 21-city tour with country musician Chris Lane, hitting stops from Atlanta to LA. Before the end of the year, he'll join Florida Georgia Line for five nights during their residency at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas. Yet despite catapulting from small town to stardom (he was raised by his grandparents, Ernie and Francis, in the 700-person town of Golconda, Illinois), Ramsey, who turned twelve in November, is still very much a typical boy.
In an epic display of both silliness and boyhood self-confidence, he dressed up as himself for Halloween. His favorite thing about recording music isn't the mixing equipment or the pros who play guitar with him — it's singing and listening to his own songs.
That, and the access to an Xbox.
"The recording studio is fun. They have an Xbox," he says. "As long as you have an Xbox and NBA 2K19, I'm good."
Ramsey is a huge fan of the Oklahoma City Thunder (he loves Russell Westbrook and Andre Roberson) and the Golden State Warriors (thanks to his favorite player, Steph Curry), often choosing sneakers and an NBA jersey over cowboy boots and bowties.
He's also a curious kid; he just entered sixth grade and takes classes online while on tour.
"I like science and reading," he says. "I'm learning about inventions and stuff right now."
This country boy wonder manages to strike the balance between precocious preteen and professional prodigy insanely well.
Jason Davis, his publicist from Atlantic Records (whose talent includes Meek Mill and Ty Dolla $ign), wasn't sure what it would be like to represent a child star. Would he be bratty? Would he have overbearing pageant parents? But Mason and his family quickly proved the stereotypes wrong.
"His manners are what stand out the most," says Davis. "He's professional and polite, always saying 'thank you' and 'nice to meet you.' He's just a good kid."
Ramsey's family is a big part of that — never pushing, always encouraging, making sure he still has time to feel like a kid. "We always make sure Mason has family around," says his aunt, Vicki. "We want to support him and keep him grounded."
Perhaps that's why he navigates fame with equal levels of nonchalance and enthusiasm. Ramsey says he doesn't get nervous and describes the feeling of walking on stage as "normal." But he also says touring is "way fun."
"I love the audience and when they sing along," he shares. "That's what makes it fun."
During his show in Charleston, South Carolina, the 800-person venue was almost at capacity, packed with college kids, young professionals and older adults. Before the show started, an older gentleman excitedly scooped up Mason Ramsey T-shirts for he and his wife. Upon seeing Ramsey's name in large letters on stage, a college-aged woman asked the bartender if he was really playing that night. She was there for Chris Lane, but quickly shifted her anticipation to the opening act.
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"Oh my god," she gasped. "Mason Ramsey is playing tonight? That just made my life."
If it weren't for his falsetto, you'd never know a middle schooler was on stage. He chatted a bit between songs, gave shout-outs to the band and wooed the crowd like an industry veteran. During his seven-song set, nearly every person in the venue was filming, cheering and singing along.
The thing is, you can't help but root for him. He has captivating star power that could turn any hater into a fan. He's an Internet phenom whose endearing Hank Williams covers inspire some major Mayberry nostalgia. He's posted selfies with Justin Bieber and Post Malone and has regular Twitter convos with Lil Yachty. He's goofy. He's sweet. And, perhaps best of all, he's legitimately talented.
"It's been fun, and hopefully it'll keep going," says Ramsey.
Whatever happens next, we are very much here for it.
Photography: David Rinella