Country star Jason Aldean is facing a massive wave of backlash against his song Try That in a Small Town over accusations that its lyrics, and newly released music video, encourage vigilantism and racial violence.
Country Music Television (CMT) pulled the music video off the air amid the uproar. The video was released on Friday and had been playing on the broadcaster’s rotation through the weekend before it was removed on Monday, according to Billboard, which was first to report.
CMT declined to comment on the reason for the music video’s removal.
While controversy over Try That in a Small Town had been brewing since the song was released in May, the backlash reached new heights after Aldean shot the music video for the song in front of Maury County Courthouse in Columbia, Tenn.
The courthouse was the site of the 1927 lynching of a Black man named Henry Chaote, who was dragged behind a car by a white mob before he was hanged in a second-storey window. The courthouse also served as a backdrop for the 1946 Columbia race riots, when Tennessee Highway Patrol officers stormed a Black neighbourhood in the wake of a controversial court case.
In the music video, Aldean performed his song as news footage of Black Lives Matter protests were projected on the front of the courthouse. Aldean also used clips of violent muggings, leading some critics to argue that Aldean was conflating protests against police brutality with violent crime.
One listener called the tune a “modern lynching song,” while other critics argue the lyrics encourage violence against protesters and gun reformers.
Some of the lyrics are:
“Cuss out a cop, spit in his face / Stomp on the flag and light it up / Yeah, ya think you’re tough.
“Well, try that in a small town / 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.
“Got a gun that my granddad gave me / They say one day they’re gonna round up / Well, that s–t might fly in the city, good luck.”
Aldean defended the song, which was written by Kelly Lovelace, Neil Thrasher, Tully Kennedy and Kurt Michael Allison, in a tweet Tuesday.
“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,” he writes.
“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.”
Instead, Aldean says the song is about “the feeling of a community that I had growing up, where we took care of our neighbors, regardless of differences of background or belief.” Aldean grew up in Macon, Ga., a mid-size city home to a population of 150,000.
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Some politicians and celebrities have joined in condemning the song, including Sheryl Crow and Tennessee lawmakers.
Crow tagged Aldean in a Twitter post, writing: “I’m from a small town. Even people in small towns are sick of violence. There’s nothing small-town or American about promoting violence… It’s just lame.”
Tennessee State Representative Justin Jones tweeted Tuesday: “As Tennessee lawmakers, we have an obligation to condemn Jason Aldean’s heinous song calling for racist violence. What a shameful vision of gun extremism and vigilantism. We will continue to call for common sense gun laws, that protect ALL our children and communities.”
Some listeners were puzzled that Aldean would release a song seemingly glorifying gun violence because of his history with mass shootings. The country star was performing at the Route 91 Music Harvest Festival in Las Vegas in 2017 when a mass shooting left 58 people dead and hundreds injured in the crowd.
Crow referenced the 2017 mass shooting when she called out the country singer, saying Aldean “should know better” as a survivor of gun violence himself.
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