Country music star Jason Aldean is facing immense backlash over his new music video “Try That in a Small Town,” which combines news footage of Black Lives Matter protests, violence and crime with lyrics such as:
“Try that in a small town/ See how far ya make it down the road/ Around here, we take care of our own.”
“Got a gun that my granddad gave me/ They say one day they’re gonna round up/ Well that s--- might fly in the city/ Good luck.”
A channel devoted to country music videos has pulled the video out of rotation after accusations that it promotes racism and violence. But “Try That in a Small Town” has also leaped to the top of many streaming charts, and top Republicans are defending Aldean, who insists the song has nothing to do with race.
The music video features Black Lives Matter imagery
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The video is made up largely of news clips showing protests, riots and police confrontations in cities — at least some of which took place during Black Lives Matter demonstrations prompted by police killings. Other clips show an attempted convenience store robbery and other apparent crimes.
These alternate with shots of Aldean and his band performing in the public square of Columbia, Tenn. — population about 45,000.
“Cuss out a cop, spit in his face/ Stomp on the flag and light it up/ Yeah, ya think you’re tough,” he sings, and at another point:
“Try that in a small town/ Full of good ol’ boys, raised up right/ If you’re looking for a fight.”
After two minutes of violent images, the video concludes with a brief montage of grainy footage depicting peaceful townspeople and their crops and families.
The Maury County Courthouse was the site of a lynching
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Some who accuse the video of racism point to its setting in downtown Columbia — the site of historical acts of violence against Black people.
Aldean’s performance backdrop is the Maury County Courthouse, which at times appears to be on fire as images of burning American flags are projected onto it. It’s the same building where a mob hanged 18-year-old Henry Choate from the balcony in 1927. The teen had been accused of attacking a White girl who never identified him as her assailant, and whose mother begged the mob to let him stand trial.
Columbia is also the site of an infamous 1946 race riot that nearly resulted in the lynching of future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall.
This small town “full of good ol’ boys,” as Aldean sings, is in his home state of Tennessee, which was scandalized in the 1990s by an annual law-enforcement gathering called the “Good Ol’ Boys Roundup” that featured racial slurs and a simulated lynching.
While Aldean highlighted Columbia and its courthouse in a behind-the-scenes feature, the music video’s producers say he didn’t choose the location, which they portrayed as innocuous.
The production company TackleBox said in a statement to The Washington Post that the video was shot at a “popular filming location outside of Nashville” that has also been featured in the Lifetime movie “Steppin’ Into the Holiday” and Disney’s “Hannah Montana: The Movie.” (Both movies were filmed in Columbia, according to local news reports. The Tennessee Entertainment Commission did not respond immediately to a request for comment.)
The company emphasized that Aldean did not choose the location, and said “any alternative narrative suggesting the music video’s location decision is false.”
Aldean defends ‘Try That in a Small Town’
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The singer, however, has stood by the song and its video.
“In the past 24 hours I have been accused of releasing a pro-lynching song … and was subject to the comparison that I (direct quote) was not too pleased with the nationwide [Black Lives Matter] protests,” Aldean tweeted Tuesday. “These references are not only meritless, but dangerous. There is not a single lyric in the song that references race or points to it- and there isn’t a single video clip that isn’t real news footage -and while I can try and respect others to have their own interpretation of a song with music- this one goes too far.”
Aldean also noted that he survived a mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas in 2017, in which dozens were killed and hundreds injured. “Our community recently suffered another heartbreaking tragedy,” he tweeted. “NO ONE, including me, wants to continue to see senseless headlines or families ripped apart.”
The song, he said, “refers to the feeling of a community that I had growing up.”
“My political views have never been something I’ve hidden from, and I know that a lot of us in this Country don’t agree on how we get back to a sense of normalcy where we go at least a day without a headline that keeps us up at night,” he wrote. “But the desire for it to- that’s what this song is about.”
Aldean’s wife, Brittany, criticized media coverage of the song, saying on Instagram that there should be more focus on “real” stories such as child trafficking.
Representatives for Aldean pointed to the singer’s social media statement when asked for comment.
The country music world and conservatives react
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“Even people in small towns are sick of violence. There’s nothing small-town or American about promoting violence,” the country star Sheryl Crow tweeted. “You should know that better than anyone having survived a mass shooting.”
Country Music Television confirmed to The Post that it has stopped airing the music video, which Billboard reported was previously getting heavy play on the channel.
The Country Music Association aired prerecorded footage of Aldean playing “Try That in a Small Town” during its “CMA Fest” broadcast Wednesday evening. The ABC show, however, did not include the music video.
Many conservatives, on the other hand, have rushed to defend Aldean and his music video.
Former president Donald Trump called Aldean “a fantastic guy who just came out with a great new song” in a Truth Social post Thursday. Trump’s rival for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, had previously tweeted that Aldean had nothing to apologize for. “When the media attacks you, you’re doing something right,” DeSantis wrote.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said Aldean was the victim of “cancel culture,” and South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem posted a video defending the singer and his wife as “outspoken about their love for law and order and for their love of this country.” The singer has generally been lauded by conservative pundits on Fox News.
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Aldean’s conservative history
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Aldean, a 46-year-old Georgia native, is successful in the country music industry as well as the broader music scene.
He has been nominated for five Grammys, twice for best country album in 2012 and 2014. His song “Dirt Road Anthem” — which is his only song to crack the top 10 for the Billboard Hot 100 — was nominated for best country solo performance in 2012.
Aldean used to keep his political beliefs largely private. It’s “one subject I do stay away from,” he told Rolling Stone in 2016. “Politics is a no-win.”
But he became outspoken about his right-wing views during Trump’s presidency. He has attended a party at Mar-a-Lago with Trump, posted a photo where his children wore anti-President Biden T-shirts, and praised fans at a 2021 concert in New York for not wearing masks during a coronavirus surge.
His wife, Brittany, has shared similar political views on social media, including a post showing Vice President Harris pushing Biden out of a wheelchair and off a cliff.
Last year, Billboard reported that Aldean’s publicity team dumped him after he supported transphobic comments made by his wife.
Millions are listening to the song
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While the music video for “Try That in a Small Town” is being pulled from some platforms, as of Thursday morning it was still available on YouTube, where it has been viewed more than 4 million times in less than a week.
While the song has not cracked any Billboard charts, it was listed as the No. 15 most-played U.S. song on Apple Music as of Thursday morning — just below Taylor Swift’s “Cruel Summer.” It was the top U.S. song on iTunes on Tuesday, according to TMZ.
The New York Post reported Wednesday that the song had nearly 4 million streams on Spotify, though that’s nowhere near Aldean’s most popular tracks on the service. His top song is the 2018 hit “You Make it Easy,” with more than 400 million listens.
“Artists are often caught between pursuing sales and airplay — the commercial side of music — and taking a stand and representing their personal beliefs,” said Don Cusic, a professor of music business at Belmont University and country music historian. “Aldean may believe he has accomplished both with this video.”