More than three months after the video for Jason Aldean‘s “Try That in a Small Town” was pulled from CMT and labeled by some detractors as being pro-gun, pro-violence and akin to a “modern lynching song,” the country star spoke to Audacy’s Coop’s Rockin’ Country Saturday Night show about the controversy surrounding the song.
“If you’ve got common sense, you can look at the video and see, I’m not sayin’ anything that’s not true,” said Aldean about the video for the song that features lyrics challenging those who would “carjack an old lady at a red light,” “cuss out a cop” or “pull a gun on the owner of a liquor store.” The visual found Aldean performing the song in front of the Maury County Courthouse in Columbia, TN, the site of the 1927 lynching and hanging of 18-year-old Henry Choate over allegations that he sexually assaulted a white girl, as well as the spot of a 1946 race riot in which two Black men were killed.
“In the video I’m showin’ you what happened — I didn’t do it, I didn’t create it — it just happened, and I saw it, and I’m not cool with it,” Aldean said of the clip, which features images of an American flag burning, protesters clashing with police, looters breaking a display case and thieves robbing a convenience store; the video was later seemingly edited to remove images of a Black Lives Matter protest following the backlash.
Aldean has continued to say he’s confused about why the song — which in the new interview he again noted was released in May — became contentious months later, noting that he thought a line about a handgun was going to be the thing that critics pounced on. “The biggest issue, I think, people had when we released the song was that it mentioned ‘having a gun that my grandfather gave me,’” he said of the song whose chorus warns, “Well, try that in a small town/ See how far you 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.”
“I mentioned a gun, that’s a no, no right now and I just remember thinking, ‘Man, you guys haven’t even seen the video yet,’” he added. Aldean has repeatedly denied that the song, and video, are pro-violence, telling Coop that, “between mainstream media and social media, things kind of take on a life of their own. They start making the song and the video into something that it’s not. It’s fine, we just live in a world that does that right now, and I’m not gonna go out and explain myself every time somebody gives their own opinion of what my song or video means.”
Shortly after the song’s release, CNN spoke to Tennessee State Rep. Justin Jones — who earlier this year was expelled, then re-instated to the House after leading a gun control protest on the House floor following a school mass shooting in which three children and three adults were killed — who condemned what he called a “heinous vile racist song that is really about harkening back to days past.”
Jones said he thought it was “no accident” that the video was filmed at the Courthouse, dubbing the track as an attempt to normalize “racist, violence, vigilantism and white nationalism,” while “glorifying” a vision of the South that he said the state is trying to move forward from.”
“Try That” hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the last week of July, then fell to No. 21 a week later, marking one of thein the chart’s history.
Aldean said country music is “blue-collar music, it’s for the every man out there, and that was always my thing — it’s like, I feel like this.” Conservative media outlets including Fox News have been focusing on what they have said is a drastic uptick in violent crime during the Biden administration and, without getting specific, Aldean seemed to co-sign that view, saying, “I got eyes, I can see what’s goin’ on. I feel like I’ve got common sense and I can see that right is right and wrong is wrong.”
Thereported this week that murders in the U.S. dropped just over 6% in 2022 compared to 2021, with preliminary figures from the F.B.I. indicating that the decline has accelerated this year; the F.B.I. also said that violent crime was down slightly in 2022 over 2021.
Aldean — who in the past has courted controversy by wearing a t-shirt featuring aand dressing in blackface as Lil Wayne for Halloween — has repeatedly denied that the song had any ill intent.
In the Coop interview, he said he doesn’t care “which side of the political fence you want to stand on,” and that he stepped up because he felt like nobody — especially in the music and entertainment industry — was saying anything about the “wrong” things he was observing. “It’s very uncommon for someone to say something for fear of losing a job or losing some money… losing friends or whatever,” he said. “It just kind of reaches a breaking point to where you’re like ‘somebody needs to say something, and if nobody’s gonna do it, then I’ll be the guy.’”
Listen to the interview (“Try That in a Small Town” talk begins around 6:30 mark) below.