In the five months after Morgan Wallen was caught on film using the N-word, he completed a 30-day stay in rehab, made apologies, and reportedly met with Black music executives and civil rights organizations. But for all his self-professed education, it’s clear he’s learned nothing.
The country music star sat down for his first TV interview after the scandal on Friday with Good Morning America’s Michael Strahan to clear the air after radio stations pulled his music and his record label curtly announced his contract was “suspended.”
Somehow, despite surely being prepped at length for this interview, which was pre-taped and the result heavily edited, Wallen seemed at best painfully ignorant, and at worst, flat-out faking his sincerity.
Back in February, TMZ published a video of a drunken Wallen stumbling home after a night out in Nashville with a group of friends. He slightly slurs his words as he tells a friend, “take care of this pussy-ass motherfucker…. take care of this pussy-ass [N-word].”
Wallen admitted he sometimes used the slur around that “certain group of friends,” but denied that he used the N-word frequently. “It just happened,” he attempted to explain. “I was around some of my friends, and we say dumb stuff together. In our minds it's playful, you know? That sounds ignorant, but that's really where it came from. And it's wrong.”
Strahan then asks Wallen directly if he understands the weight and historical context of the racial epithet, and Wallen’s response is illuminating.
“I heard some stories in the initial conversations that I had after [using the N-word] just about how people are treated even still today,” he said. “I haven't seen that with my eyes, that pain or that insignificant feeling, whatever it is that makes you feel.”
For a 28-year-old man to walk through life, especially after the events of 2020 when America had a reckoning with racial injustice and police brutality against Black people in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, and to admit that he’s only “heard some stories” about historically documented discrimination against Black people and why the use of the slur is abhorrent, is staggeringly embarrassing.
Strahan must have been equally stunned because he then patiently explained to Wallen why the slur is harmful, pointing out it was often used to dehumanize Black people, especially slaves and during the Jim Crow era.
“If you dig deeper, [it’s] a word that a lot of Black people heard before they were terrorized, beaten, or even possibly killed,” Strahan said. “I've been called it. It makes you mad, makes you angry, doesn't make you feel good at all.”
Strahan posed the question to Wallen again, asking if now understands why the slur “makes Black people so upset.”
“I don't know how to put myself in their shoes because I'm not,” Wallen offered. “But I do understand, especially when I say I'm using it playfully or whatever, ignorantly, I understand that that must sound, you know, like, ‘He doesn't—he doesn't understand.’”
It’s not the first time Strahan, who is Black, has been put in the awkward position of interviewing a white person who found themselves in hot water over insensitive or offensive racial comments, and who then came looking to him to make a mea culpa.
In March, longtime The Bachelor host Chris Harrison spoke with Strahan after Bachelor contestant Rachael Kirkconnell was pictured at an Antebellum South-themed party. Harrison had blindly and repeatedly defended Kirkconnell, questioning if attending such a party was outright wrong, or only wrong through the lens of 2021. Harrison came on GMA to apologize and profess that he was wrong for “perpetuating racism.” After the pre-taped interview wrapped up, Strahan summed it up by saying, “It felt like I got nothing more than a surface response.”
At another point during the seven-minute-long interview, Wallen launched into a story about his personal journey of atonement, saying he went to rehab for 30 days. “I spent some time out in San Diego, California, just trying to figure out why am I acting this way,” he said. “Do I have an alcohol problem? Do I have a deeper issue?”
He also said he met with the Black Music Action Coalition (BMAC), and Black music executives, including Eric Hutcherson and Kevin Liles. Wallen said that he took the $500,000 he made from increased music sales and donated the money to several civil rights organizations, including BMAC.
BMAC and the NAACP did not return The Daily Beast’s request for comment to confirm if a donation was made to the organization on behalf of Wallen. The ACLU said it did not disclose its donors, nor does it disclose if a person met with organization leaders.
Previously, Wallen blew off a meeting with NAACP Nashville President Sherlyn Guinn after his team reportedly agreed to a sit-down talk in wake of the video.
But perhaps the most illuminating example of Wallen’s refusal to actually reflect on what he said and learn from his mistakes came when Strahan asked if he believes there’s a wider problem within country music and issues when it comes to race.
The question came on the heels of Strahan pointing to the fact that Wallen’s music streams increased by “more than 500 percent” as fans rallied around him in a show of support.
Wallen offered that “it would seem that way,” before quickly adding, “I haven't really sat and thought about that.”
It’s a clear showcase that Wallen has not taken the time to actually reflect and learn how this sort of ignorance plays out in his own industry—which statistically has very few Black artists, with only 0.5 percent of the music played on country radio by artists of color. Country music has long faced wider problems with race. And during the pivotal protests of last summer, there was a noticeable lack of artists in the industry who spoke up to denounce white supremacy.
For Wallen to shrug off the question, after reportedly spending the past five months educating himself, it’s a sign that he has learned nothing. Instead, he just wants to be back in society’s good graces, even if that means offering empty apologies and hollow words.
“I'm not ever gonna make, you know, everyone happy,” Wallen said at one point. “I can only come tell my truth, and that's all I know to do.”