Digging in the heels of his cowboy boots on Tuesday, country singer Jason Aldean defended his controversial song “Try That in a Small Town” and its accompanying music video from critics who have accused it of promoting gun violence, lashing out at the Black Lives Matter movement, and fetishizing sundown towns.
In a statement posted to social media, Aldean noted, “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 BLM protests.”
He went on to rail against the allegations as “not only meritless, but dangerous,” insisting, “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.”
Meanwhile, CMT, a broadcast network tailored towards country music, confirmed that it had taken the music video for “Try That in a Small Town” out of its lineup amid the firestorm of criticism. Billboard first reported the network’s move.
Backlash against the song, which was released in May and peaked at No. 35 on Billboard’s Hot country chart, didn’t begin in earnest until the release of its music video on Friday. As Aldean warbles his way through lyrics warning the listener not to “act a fool” in a town of “good ol’ boys, raised up right,” he stands in front of the Maury County Courthouse in Columbia, Tennessee.
The setting proved telling for critics, who pointed out that the courthouse was the site of a 1927 lynching in which a white mob dragged an 18-year-old Black man named Henry Choate through the streets before hanging him from a window. Angry crowds also gathered outside the courthouse during the Columbia race riot of 1946. Aldean did not address the choice of location in his Tuesday statement.
The video also heavily features superimposed footage of protesters demonstrating—conflating, as a writer for Variety put it, “the act of protesting with violent crime. Leading a march and getting in a policeman’s face is on the same level as rioting, or carjacking grandma.”
Other critics took issue with the song’s use of the kind of come-and-get-‘em rhetoric that some pro-gun conservatives favor, with Aldean singing, “Got a gun that my granddad gave me / They say one day they’re gonna round up / Well, that shit might fly in the city, good luck.”
The inflammatory lyrics were especially appalling, some argued, since the Grammy-nominated singer was infamously onstage at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas in 2017 when a gunman opened fire on the crowd, killing 60 concertgoers and injuring more than 400 others.
Aldean referenced the tragedy in his statement. “As so many pointed out,” he continued, “I was present at Route 91 – where so many lost their lives – and our community recently suffered another heartbreaking tragedy,” he said. “NO ONE, including me, wants to continue to see senseless headlines or families ripped apart.” (Aldean is not credited as a writer on “Try That in a Small Town.”)
Instead, he explained, the song was his attempt to rekindle “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.”
Aldean went on to say he’d never shied away from proclaiming his conservative views, but maintained that his song was a call for unity, not to arms. “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 said. “But the desire for it to- that’s what this song is about.”
The 46-year-old previously caught flak in 2021 for cheering on his influencer wife as she posted photos of their young children wearing anti-Biden clothing. Last year, his publicity firm of 17 years parted ways with him over a number of transphobic comments his wife had made online.