(July 21, 2023).  If you’re gonna stick your neck out there, you might as well stay out there.

Last Friday (July 14), country singer Jason Aldean’s two-month-old song, “Try That In A Small Town,” which was struggling at radio and threatened to end his streak of 20 consecutive top-10 hits on the Billboard Country Airplay chart, received an accompanying video…one that was confirmed to have been partially filmed at the site of a famous lynching of a Black man (Henry Choate) 96 years ago in Tennessee, and one that is wrought with footage from modern-day protests of racial injustices.

Except it’s his own kind of justice the song promotes—that of vigilante “good ol’ boys” who were “raised up right”—while he brags of a “gun my granddad gave me.”  He sings in the lyrics: “They say one day they’re gonna round up / Well, that shit might fly in the city, good luck / Try that in a small town / See how far you make it down the road.”

No, this isn’t your John Mellencamp’s “Small Town.”  You know the one where he daydreamed and was “taught to fear of Jesus” while surrounded by people “who love me”?

Nah, this was Jason Aldean’s “Small Town,” full of flag-burning, cop-spitting, old-lady-mugging dog whistles meant to stir up trouble.  A rebel-rousing, gun-toting, future anthem for anyone who might even think about exacting vigilante justice on those who cross the line—whatever that line may be—particularly in Aldean’s “small town.”

Now they have the country singer’s full endorsement, one that’s causing him to have to defend his intentions about a song he didn’t even write (but chose to record), and a video whose location apparently wasn’t his decision but that of the production company. 

But what’s curious about this first single from Aldean’s upcoming new album is the timing.  Why now?

Except for the typical political back-and-forth between left- and right-wing extremists about today’s cultural and social issues, there hasn’t been a serious racially motivated riot or protest to speak of in the national headlines for what seems like years.

The Black Lives Matter upsurge of 2020–in the wake of the unjustified murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery—hasn’t been “a thing” for the past couple years at least.  Even the most recent high-profile, unjustified killing of a Black man by cops—that of Tyre Nichols in Memphis this past January—was met with mostly peaceful protests.  In that case, the cops were brought to swift justice as all five—who also happened to be Black—were arraigned within days of Nichols’ horrific murder.

Noticeably absent from all of the civil unrest depicted in Aldean’s faux-patriotic video is any footage of the most anti-patriotic violence this country has seen—the attack on the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6, 2021.

All of which returns us to the question—assuming Aldean was motivated by these protests (among other headlines centered around violent crimes)—why this song and why now?

In full disclosure, Aldean has denied any racial motivation behind his song and now video.

In a tweet he posted on July 18–as the outcry over his inflammatory video grew (and just one day after CMT pulled it from their rotation)—Aldean wrote: “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 continued, “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.”

True, there isn’t a lyric that specifically references race or lynching.  But who is it that’s gone too far?

The song’s and video’s references are clear.  When he speaks of “good ol’ boys” who “take care of their own,” he ain’t talking about The Dukes of Hazzard County bumbling and stumbling about as they dodge bad guys hired to do the corrupt law enforcement’s dirty work.

Whether or not he directly mentions race, or the specific act of lynching, Aldean’s sentiment is, at best, insensitive, with his “taking care of our own” line recalling the fatal, real-life situation that Ahmad Aubrey found himself in three years ago when vigilantes in a small Georgia town decided to exact their own brand of justice for an imagined crime he never committed.

Three years removed from the most intense of the protests depicted in his video, many of which didn’t take place in a “small town” in the first place, it begs the question of why Aldean decided that now was the time to bait would-be protesters, or more dangerously, incite folks in his audience who are just looking for a reason to fight in this highly charged and polarized environment.

There are certainly more honest ways of honoring the close-knitness of the small town community he grew up in (is Macon, GA really that small?)—as the “Hicktown” singer claims he was doing—than invoking violent scenes and endorsing vigilante vengeance…and then proclaiming that he meant no harm in doing so.

If that isn’t the bully inciting a brawl, but then being nowhere to be found when the black eyes are handed out, I don’t know what is. 

The country video channel CMT pulled the clip for “Try That In A Small Town” on Monday (July 17), but only after the uproar around its imagery surfaced. 

But Aldean doesn’t have to worry too much about career implications.  As country radio has shown before, they definitely “look out for their own.”  Once-embattled singer Morgan Wallen’s career has exploded since he was caught on video uttering the N-word in February 2021.  In the two-and-a-half years since, he’s gone from rising country star to the biggest artist of the decade (rivaled maybe by only Taylor Swift).

In Aldean’s case, country radio had been playing “Try That In A Small Town” for two months before the video was released, although the song wasn’t setting the charts on fire like his previous stuff. 

In its eighth week of release, “Try That” inched its way to No. 25 without a bullet (after having peaked earlier at No. 24) on the 60-position Country Airplay chart, not a pace that suggests it would be joining his prior 20 singles as a top-10 hit.  In fact, of Aldean’s prior 38 chart hits, only two failed to reach the top ten (and they still managed to hit the top 20).  Without a major upsurge, “Try That,” would become his third miss, and possibly his worst.

Of course, no publicity is bad publicity, and Aldean’s latest move may just be part of a clever publicity stunt—one designed to elicit exactly the kind of response it’s received. 

To wit, both the song and the video were catapulted to the top of the iTunes charts, a non-factor in the big scheme of things given how easy that is (iTunes download numbers are minuscule these days), but an accomplishment conservatives love to tout nonetheless whenever these faux-patriotic tunes (see Loza Alexander’s “Let’s Go Brandon,” Aaron Lewis’ “Am I The Only One,” Donald Trump’s “Justice For All”) get a momentary iTunes blip before fading into oblivion days later.

Having the song’s video pulled from CMT isn’t the worst thing that could happen to a big time celebrity who recklessly promotes gun violence (just ask NBA star Ja Morant whose career is on hold and who’s reportedly lost millions of dollars in salary and endorsement money after senselessly flashing guns on Instagram).

Aldean’s video is still available on YouTube where it’s now been viewed millions of times. 

The real test for the “Dirt Road Anthem” singer will be whether or not this latest media blast translates into increased radio spins for “Try That,” and whether this continues his streak to 21 straight top-ten hits.  

And, even more importantly, will it translate to higher-than-expected album sales for his forthcoming release (his last three sets have fallen short of the No. 1 peaks of his previous four albums).

Whatever happens, Aldean’s video picked a hell of a fight, one from which his supporters (mostly conservatives) don’t want him to back down. The usual suspects, including Travis Tritt and Donald Trump, Jr., have tweeted in support of the singer and his message.

Aldean’s claim that it was merely a reflection of the good ol’ days of growing up in a small community where people respected each other and had one another’s backs is largely falling on deaf ears, and rightfully so.

It’s a case of the alibi not matching the evidence. This definitely wasn’t Mellencamp’s “Small Town” Aldean was referring to.  He can try and insult some of his audience (including decent people who live in a small town), but don’t try to insult our intelligence.

And if he’s gonna put this kind of violent message out there, he might as well own it.

His supporters and those who were encouraged by the video certainly have. 


DJRob (he/him/his), whose truth they can’t handle, is a freelance music blogger from the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop, rock and (sometimes) country genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog and on Meta’s Threads.

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