Jason Aldean performed his first concert Friday since his vigilante anthem “Try That in a Small Town” sparked a national firestorm, soaking up the adoration of a Cincinnati crowd Friday night as he railed against the “cancel culture” responsible for opposition to his divisive song and video that threatens violence.
“It’s been a long week. I’ve seen a lot of things suggesting I’m this, suggesting I’m that,” Aldean said, as the audience at the Riverbend Music Center booed the opposition he faced. “I think everyone is entitled to their opinion. You can think something all you want, that doesn’t mean it’s true. What I am is a proud American… I love our country. I want to see him restored to how he was before all this bullshit started happening to us. I love my country. I love my family. And I will do anything to protect that,” he said, as the crowd began chanting “USA! UNITED STATES!”
He continued, “You know how it is these days, cancel culture… These days, if people don’t like what you say, they try to make sure they can cancel you, which means trying to ruin your life. Mess it up. One thing I’ve seen this week is a bunch of country music fans who can see through a lot of bullshit. I’ve seen country music fans come together like I’ve never seen before and that’s was pretty badass, I have to say. Thank you guys so much.”
Some of the criticisms on the song and video have had to do with the long list of things that the lyrics say will be subject to swift punitive action, if big city types bring them to a small town – some involving violent crime (carjackings, liquor store robberies), some having to do with hooliganism that would be common even in small towns (“swearing” at the cops), some involving the exercise of legal rights protected by the First Amendment (flag burning, the only reference to the protests in the song itself), some bogeymen (government gun confiscators). The music video goes further, however, showing mostly footage of protesters — some of which is stock footage of Canadian protests — as well as brief shots of violent crimes. The targets of the song’s vigilante threats seem to be scattered, so to speak.
But the only example Aldean offered in his defense of the song at the Cincinnati concert was something that doesn’t appear in either the lyrics or the music video: the mass shootings.
“I know a lot of you grew up like me,” Aldean said. “You kind of have the same values, the same principles as me, which is that we want to take our kids to the movies and not worry about some asshole coming in and shooting up the theatre. So someone asked me, ‘Hey man, do you think you’re gonna play that song tonight?’ The answer was simple, people have spoken and you have spoken very, very loudly this week.
Some critics said that by projecting footage of protesters onto a courthouse where a black man was hanged from a second-story window in the 1920s, the music video means making it clear that modern protesters deserve the same. Although Aldean has defended the song on social media, he hasn’t directly addressed the issue of the filming site, other than to firmly state that the song is not “pro-lynching”.
So far, few major country artists have spoken about Aldean’s song one way or another, even as politicians and right-wing commentators have rushed to align themselves with the MAGA-supporting singer.
Contrary to a fake meme that was widely circulated among conservative country fans on social media on Friday, Luke Bryan made not moving to have his videos pulled from CMT in response to the network removing Aldean’s video from his playlist this week. However, Bryan gave a show of support for Aldean at his own gig, performing “Huntin’, Fishin’, and Lovin’ Everyday” telling the crowd, “You wanna send this one to my homie Jason Aldean, okay,” then adding, “If you like loving yourself, where are you?”
Tennessee-based artists who lean towards the American side have had no qualms about tackling Aldean’s proudly xenophobic track, or what some consider an inherently or overtly racist video.
Adeem the Artist took to his social media to post “Sundown Town”, a parody track clearly explaining what Adeem sees as historic racial undertones between the lines of the song. Margo Price reposted a story about Aldean wearing blackface eight years ago and wrote: “‘I just came here to say Jason Aldean is a clown. What else do you expect from a man who wore blackface in 2015? Sheryl Crow wrote, “I come from a small town. Even people in small towns are tired of the violence. There is nothing small town or American about promoting violence. You should know that better than anyone who survived a mass shooting. It’s not American or like a small town. It just sucks.
American entertainer Jason Isbell and traditional country singer Jake Owen had a brief back-and-forth on Twitter, with Owen telling Isbell he should challenge Aldean to a fight in person if he has a problem, not publicly ridicule him.
Owen warned Isbell after the latter artist mocked that throughout his two-decade recording career, Aldean almost never participated in the writing of the songs he recorded (including “Try That in a Small Town”). Jibed Isbell: “Dare Aldean to write his own next single. That’s what we try in my small town… I challenge you to write a song yourself. All alone. If you’re a recording artist, make art. I want to hear it… Seriously, how do you defend the content of a song you weren’t even in the room for? You have just received it from your producer.
Owen clapped back, “Jason, you’re always the first one to get behind your keyboard and spout out that stupid shit. In ‘my little town’ you just walk up to the guy and be a man to his face if you want the smoke…not tweet him…. A badass. Isbell replied to Owen, “What really appeals to me about it is that it says ‘if you don’t believe you can physically overpower me, you’re not allowed to publicly disagree with me. What does that say to the people in your life who aren’t big strong boys? They just have to shut up?
Unsurprisingly, Aldean found a strong advocate in John Rich, who tweeted, “Why did CMT initially add Aldean’s song? If it’s so terrible in July, why wasn’t it terrible last May? Is anyone going to interview CMT? Or not?” (Although the single was released in May and peaked at No. 25 on the last weekly radio airplay chart, the video was not released until July 14.) Other artists known for their conservative views, such as Travis Tritt and Lee Greenwood, have also offered their support to Aldean. ra, regardless of their political allegiances.
The video controversy gave a substantial boost to a song that had so far been only a modest hit in its two-month run. “Small Town” didn’t appear on the daily Spotify USA Top 50 chart on Thursday, but on Friday it entered the top 20, and as of Saturday it climbed to No. 7 (although still lagging Morgan Wallen’s No. 3 “Last Night” as country songs go).
(Read Varietyprevious comment on Aldean’s song and video here.)
“Try That in a Small Town” makes no reference to trans or LGBTQ+ issues, nor to vaccines or masking, to name just some of the topics the singer and his wife have controversially tackled over the past two years. However, the singer’s wife, Brittany Aldean, who rose to prominence last year for antagonizing the trans community, also shared on her Instagram Story feed amid the firestorm a message that some took to be tinged with homophobia: “Advice for our young boys: In a world full of Sam Smith, be a Jason Aldean.”
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