Jason Aldean gave his first concert since his song “Try That in a Small Town” caused a national storm on Friday night, mocking the adoration of the Cincinnati community while addressing the “cancellation culture” responsible for the backlash against his divisive and violent songs and videos.
“It’s been a long week. I’ve seen a lot of things to understand that I’m here, to understand that I am,” said Aldean, as the Riverbend Music Center crowd responded to the opposition in front of him. “I think everyone has the right to an opinion. You can think anything you want, it doesn’t make it true. I’m a proud American … I love our country. I want it to go back to how this shit happened to us. I love my country. I love my family. And I’ll do anything to protect it,” he declared, as the crowd chanted “USA! USA!”
He continued: “You know how it is these days, cancel culture… Nowadays, if people don’t like what you’re saying, they try to make sure they can cancel you, which means you’re trying to ruin your life. Everything’s been destroyed. One thing I’ve seen this week is a lot of country music fans who can see through a lot of crap. I’ve seen country music fans come together like they don’t I have never seen it, you have a very bad thing to say.
CMT removes Jason Aldean’s controversial “Try That in a Small Town” video and the singer defends the controversial song on social media
John Waters defends Johnny Depp by addressing ‘cancelled culture’
Some of the criticism leveled at the song and video concerned the long list of things that, according to the song’s lyrics, would be subject to swift revenge if the big boys of the city brought them to a small town. Some have to do with violent crime (car thefts, liquor store muggings), some with common antics even in small towns (“calling out” the police), some with the exercise of First Amendment legal rights (burning flags, the only reference to protests in the song itself), and some with the specter of government gun confiscation. However, the music video goes further, showing footage of mostly protesters – some archive footage from Canadian protests – as well as brief shots of violent crime. The targets of the song’s warning threats seem to be scattered, so to speak.
But the only example Aldean offered to defend the song at the Cincinnati concert was something that doesn’t appear in the lyrics or the music video: mass shootings.
“I know you grew up a lot like me,” Aldean said, “you 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 getting shot. So somebody asked me, ‘Hey man, do you think you’re going to play this song tonight?’ The answer was simple. The people spoke and you spoke very loudly this week.”
Jason Aldean’s speech before he performed “Try That in a Small Town” yesterday in Cincinnati.
(courtesy of Karli Bonne) pic.twitter.com/T77P0MAwod-
SweetPeaBelle (@SweetPeaBell326) July 22, 2023
Some critics have claimed that by projecting images of protesters in a courthouse where a black man was hanged from a second story window in the 1920s, the music video is meant to convey that protesters today deserve the same. Although Aldean defended the song on social media, he did not directly address the issue of the filming location, other than adamantly claiming that the tune is not “pro-lynching”.
Few major country artists have spoken out about Aldean’s song one way or the other so far, even as politicians and right-wing commentators have taken issue with the MAGA-supporting singer.
Contrary to a false meme that spread widely among conservative country fans on social media on Friday, Luke Bryan did not remove his videos from CMT in response to Aldean’s removal from his playlist this week. However, Bryan did show support for Aldean at his own concert, performing “Huntin’, Fishin’, and Lovin’ Everyday” telling the crowd, “I want to send this to my friend Jason Aldean, okay,” then adding, “If you like to love each other, where are you?”
Tennessee-based artists who lean toward Americana haven’t been shy about taking on Aldean’s xenophobic pride, or what some see as an inherently or overtly racist video.
The artist Adeem published on his social networks “Sundown Town”, a parody theme that makes clear what Adeem considers a historical racial background between the lines of the song. Margo Price republished a story about Aldean wearing blackface eight years ago, writing: “Just seen here to say Jason Aldean is a clown. What else do you expect from a man wearing blackface in 2015?” Sheryl Crow wrote: “I’m from a small town. Even small town people are fed up with violence. There is nothing small town or American about promoting violence. You should know better than anyone after a mass shooting. This is not American or small town. It’s just pathetic.”
American artist Jason Isbell and country singer Jake Owen engaged in a brief spat on Twitter in which Owen told Isbell that he should challenge Aldean to a fight personally if he has a problem, not mock him publicly.
Owen warned Isbell after the latter artist made fun of the fact that Aldean rarely had a hand in writing the songs he has recorded (including Try That in a Small Town) during his two-decade recording career. Isbell says: “Aldean dare to write his next single himself. That’s what we’re trying to do in my town… I dare him to write a song by himself. By yourself. If you’re a recording artist, make some art. I want to hear it… Seriously, how do you defend a song you weren’t even in the room for?” To a producer.
Owen repeated, “Jason you’re always the first one to go behind the keyboard and turn off that stupid shit. In ‘my town’ you walk up to the guy and get in his face if you want the smoke… don’t tweet him…” Isbell responded to Owen: “What really bothers me about this is that he’s saying ‘if you don’t think you can physically control me, you’re not allowed to disagree with me. public’ What does that say to the people in your life who aren’t big, strong people? That they need to quit?”
Unsurprisingly, Aldean found an enthusiastic supporter in John Rich, who tweeted: “Why did CMT add an Aldean song in the first place? If it’s so terrible in July, why wasn’t it last May? Is someone going to interview CMT? Or nah?” (Although the single came out in May, and had gone as high as #25 on the most recent weekly radio chart, the video didn’t come out until July 14.) Other artists known for their conservative views, such as Travis Tritt and Lee Greenwood, also offered their support to Aldean. But since most artists are more interested in increasing the country’s audience than reducing it, most can expect controversy, regardless of their political leanings.
The controversy surrounding the video has greatly contributed to a song that has had only moderate success so far in its two months of existence. On Thursday, “Small Town” did not appear on Spotify’s daily Top 50 chart in the United States, but on Friday it entered the top 20, and on Saturday it rose to No. 7 (although it’s still behind Morgan Wallen’s “Last Night,” which is ranked No. 3 among country songs).
(Read the previous comment on Aldean’s song and video here.)
“Try That in a Small Town” makes no mention of trans or LGBTQ+ issues, or vaccines or masking, to name a few of the issues the singer and his wife have controversially addressed over the past two years. However, the singer’s wife, Brittany Aldean, who rose to fame last year for the transgender community, took to her Instagram Story amid the storm to share a message that some saw as homophobic: “Advice to our young boys: In a world full of Sam Smiths, be Jason Aldean.”