Country Star’s Small-Town Anthem Stirs Controversy
A country music star is getting backlash after releasing a music video disparaging riots and rising crime rates. Jason Aldean released a music video last week for his single “Try That In A Small Town,” a song praising the close-knit communities found in (as the title might suggest) small towns and rural areas while criticizing riots and rising crime rates common in more urban areas. Country Music Television (CMT) stopped airing the music video days after its release in the face of criticism accusing Aldean of encouraging violence and racism.
Although the song received little publicity when released as a single in May, it has shot to a number one spot on iTunes since the music video’s release, topping songs from all other genres. The song contains lyrics daring would-be criminals to “Carjack an old lady at a red light / Pull a gun on the owner of a liquor store” and “Cuss out a cop, spit in his face / Stomp on the flag and light it up” in a small town, warning ne’er-do-wells, “See how far ya make it down the road. / Around here, we take care of our own. / You cross that line, it won’t take long / For you to find out, I recommend you don’t / Try that in a small town.” The music video contains news footage of flag burnings and riots, especially the Black Lives Matter riots from 2020, and contrasts those images against home video footage of families playing ball and riding bikes, fathers and sons hunting together, and a young boy raising the American flag.
Fellow singer Sheryl Crow, a gun control activist, accused Aldean of promoting violence, tweeting, “Even people in small towns are sick of violence. There’s nothing small-town or American about promoting violence. … This is not American or small town-like. It’s just lame.” Another gun control advocate, Moms Demand founder Shannon Watts, said Aldean’s song is “about how he and his friends will shoot you if you try to take their guns.” She also publicly claimed credit for CMT scrubbing the Aldean music video, saying she is “[p]roud to have had a hand in getting CMT to reject this racist and violent song.”
The music video has also been smeared as racist, with critics saying it encourages racially-motivated violence and endorses lynchings. That claim is chiefly rooted in the location the video was shot, the Maury County Courthouse in Columbia, Tenn. The city has allegedly been the site of several lynchings in the early 20th century. Mississippi Free Press editor Ashton Pittman tweeted, “Jason Aldean shot this at the site where a white lynch mob strung Henry Choate up … after dragging his body through the streets with a car in 1927. That’s where Aldean chose to sing about murdering people who don’t respect police.” The use of Black Lives Matter riot footage has also drawn criticism, with many major media outlets referring to the images of rioters smashing windows, firebombing cars, throwing Molotov cocktails, and attacking police officers as footage of “protests.”
Aldean has vehemently denied his song endorses violence or racism. In response to criticism, the singer wrote on social media:
“In the past 24 hours I have been accused of releasing a pro-lynching song (a song that has been out since May) and was subject to the comparison that I (direct quote) was not too pleased with the nationwide BLM protests. 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 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.”
He explained that the song “refers to the feeling of a community that I had growing up, where we took care of our neighbors, regardless of differences of background or belief. Because they were our neighbors, and that was above any differences.” When releasing the music video, Aldean wrote on Twitter, “It feels like somewhere along the way, that sense of community and respect has gotten lost. Deep down we are all ready to get back to that. I hope my new music video helps y’all know that u are not alone in feeling that way.”
Additionally, the production company responsible for Aldean’s music video, TackleBox Productions, clarified that the singer did not choose the location where the video was shot. TackleBox founder Shaun Silva explained, “Any alternative narrative suggesting the music video’s location decision is false.” Aldean ended his statement saying:
“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 one day without a headline that keeps us up at night. But the desire for it to — that’s what this song is about.”
Aldean and his wife Brittany have been supportive of former President Donald Trump, promoted anti-Biden clothes, and been critical of the trans agenda, with Brittany Aldean releasing a series of t-shirts featuring the slogan “Don’t tread on our kids.” Brittany wrote on Instagram last year, “I’d really like to thank my parents for not changing my gender when I went through my tomboy phase. I love this girly life.” Her husband responded, “I’m glad they didn’t too, cause you and I wouldn’t have worked out,” accompanied by a laughing emoji.
Despite the backlash, Aldean has also seen a rise in support after the music video’s release. In addition to the song taking the top spot on iTunes, several prominent conservatives have publicly supported Aldean and his intended message. Trump posted on Truth Social, “Jason Aldean is a fantastic guy who just came out with a great new song. Support Jason all the way.” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) tweeted, “When the media attacks you, you’re doing something right. Jason Aldean has nothing to apologize for.” Speaking to Fox News on the subject, DeSantis quipped, “We need to restore sanity to this country. I mean, what is going on that that would be something that is censored?”
Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) tweeted, “The Left is now more concerned about Jason Aldean’s song calling out looters and criminals than they are about stopping looters and criminals. That tells you everything you need to know about the priorities of Democrats and woke companies like CMT that cave to the liberal mob.” South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem (R) posted a video online, saying, “I am shocked by what I’m seeing in this country, with people attempting to cancel the song and cancel Jason and his beliefs.” She said she’s appalled that Aldean is being “persecuted” for writing a song about “law and order” and “the freedom and liberty that this country was founded on,” adding, “Thank you for writing a song that America can get behind.” She also invited Aldean to perform outside the South Dakota governor’s residence.
Fellow country singer Travis Tritt tweeted to remind Aldean “that Twitter and social media in general is not a real place. The views shared by many accounts on this platform are not actually representative of the vast majority of the population of this country.” He encouraged his friend to “[s]ay what you want to say and be who you want to be. Damn the social media torpedoes.”
Legendary gospel singer Pat Boone also weighed in on the controversy, saying that the backlash against Aldean’s song is symptomatic of a “moral sickness” in the nation. Holding a Colt .44 given to him by his grandfather, Boone explained:
“In our earliest days, our most productive, positive days, we knew that what we had these guns for was not for offense and usually not even for animal hunting — because shotguns or rifles were for that — but for a pistol, if somebody broke into your house. That’s what small town America is geared for. They’re not wanting to kill anybody in the streets. They don’t want to break into stores. They don’t want to deprive any citizen of whatever color of anything they’re entitled to, but they do want to defend their lives and their honor.”
Despite the controversy, ABC aired a live performance of “Try That In A Small Town” during Wednesday night’s Country Music Awards. The music video currently has nearly four-and-a-half million views on YouTube.
S.A. McCarthy serves as a news writer at The Washington Stand.