“Try that in a small town,” goads country music megastar Jason Aldean in his most recent hit song of the same name.
The track released in May 2023 and mostly flew under the radar but exploded into the zeitgeist when it’s music video counterpart dropped on YouTube several weeks later. Many accused the artist of glamorizing racially insensitive imagery, but that hasn’t it stopped it from being used in 250,000 TikTok videos and stacking 26 million views on YouTube.
TikToker @thejohnnyman has the top video with nearly 4 million views, where he comically juxtaposes country vs. hip-hop lyrics. In the original song, Aldean names activities of which he finds to be despicable, many of them criminal, while showing real footage of said acts, “Sucker punch somebody on a sidewalk. Carjack an old lady at a red light. Pull a gun on the owner of a liquor store. Ya think it’s cool, well, act a fool if ya like. Cuss out a cop, spit in his face. Stomp on the flag and light it up,” then begs the perpetrators of these acts to, “Try that in a small town.”
@thejohnnymann A lot of people are callin themselves out with this one 😭 #fyp #jasonaldean #smalltown #racism #debate #politics #blacktiktok #blm #viral #trending #usa #xyzbca #trythatinasmalltown ♬ Try That In A Small Town – Jason Aldean
Many headlines touting rising crime statistics across the country have dominated news cycles in the past several years, most citing the psychological and economically damaging effects of the pandemic as catalysts. Aldean thinks this is no excuse and promises repercussions of such acts, “See how far ya make it down the road. Around here, we take care of our own. You cross that line, it won’t take long. For you to find out, I recommend you don’t…”
Many have argued that the song’s lyrics don’t mention race once, including Aldean himself, however, they have cited that the backdrop of the music video portrays Aldean and his band performing in front of the Maury County Courthouse in Columbia, Tennessee, a site where a Black teenager was lynched in 1927. “Try That In a Small Town” aside, Aldean and his wife Brittany have been controversial figures in the music, pop culture, and political scene for years now. Aldean’s PR agency, GreenRoom, dropped him in 2022 shortly after his wife made an Instagram post where she remarked that she was happy her parents didn’t change her gender when she was going through her tomboy phase. Was his most recent song just the straw that broke the camels back?
The uproar from the “Try That In a Small Town” video has ignited a diverse range of reactions. While Country Music Television pulled the video from its lineup amidst accusations of promoting violence and racism, Aldean’s conservative supporters, including former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, rallied to his defense, asserting his right to free speech. The incident also rekindles past controversies, shedding light on Aldean’s political statements and his wife Brittany’s outspoken views.
Amidst the fervor, Aldean’s track has surged up the Billboard Hot 100 charts, reigniting discussions about the role of artists and their influence on society. As the dust settles, the “Try That In a Small Town” saga underscores the complexities of artistic expression, political alignment, and societal sensitivities, prompting introspection about the intertwined nature of music and culture. You may have only heard of Aldean because of this recent controversy, but he’s been in the news for well over 10 years now. Here are some of the highlights:
- 1) September 2012: Cheating Scandal – Aldean was caught kissing American Idol contestant Brittany Kerr while married to Jessica Ussery, leading to divorce.
- 2) September 2015: Remarks on Female Singers – Aldean’s comments about female country singers’ similar voices sparked criticism for lack of diversity in the genre. When asked by the Washington Post about the emergence of more female voices in country, Aldean remarked, “I feel like a lot of times female singers, to me, when they’re singing and I’ll probably kick myself for saying this a lot of times, it just seems like I can’t distinguish one from the other sometimes if I just listen to them, you know?“ Aldean said. “A lot of times they just sound really similar to me.”
- 3) October 2015: Blackface Incident – Aldean faced backlash for dressing as rapper Lil Wayne in blackface at a Halloween party.
- October 2017: Mass-Shooting Incident – Aldean was performing his song “When She Says Baby” at the Las Vegas Route 91 Harvest Festival when shots were fired into the crowd by Stephen Paddock, resulting in at least 58 deaths and more than 500 injuries. Fortunately, Aldean and his crew were not injured.
After an initial post expressing his sadness, thoughts, and prayers for the victims, Aldean now penned a longer letter that touches on his fear at the current state of the world, the need for people to come together, and his continued thoughts and prayers for the victims of the largest mass shooting in U.S. history.
- 5) October 2021: Vaccine Mandate Protests – Aldean criticized school vaccine mandates particularly in California, leading to debates about parental rights and freedom.
- 6) August 2022: Controversial Transgender comments – Aldean’s wife, Brittany Kerr, made anti-trans comments on social media, drawing backlash and accusations of insensitivity. Brittany posted to Instagram with the message, “I’d really like to thank my parents for not changing my gender when I went through my tomboy phase. I love this girly life.”
- 7) September 2022: PR Company Split – Aldean’s longtime Nashville publicity firm ended its association with him after his wife’s further doubling down about her issues with “gender affirming care” writing in an Instagram post, “Advocating for the genital mutilation of children under the disguise of love and calling it ‘gender affirming care’ is one of the worst evils.”
- 8) July 2023: “Try That in a Small Town” Music Video Controversy – Accusations of racism in the music video led to public outcry, with CMT pulling the clip from rotation.
This is the latest publicized controversy in a series of conservative v. liberal cultural battles that have dominated headlines and social media feeds. Most recently the fallout of Bud Light after putting trans-activist Dylan Mulvaney on a special edition beer can comes to mind. Also, Jim Caviezel, most known as portraying Jesus in the Mel Gibson’s film “The Passion of the Christ”, starred in a movie called The Sound of Freedom about real-life Department of Homeland Security operative Tim Ballard taking down a child sex-trafficking ring. Many accused the film’s star Caviezel of parroting Qanon and far-right talking points.
It should be noted that Jason Aldean is not credited as a writer of “Try That In a Small Town.” Instead the credits go to Kelley Lovelace, Kurt Allison, Neil Thrasher, and Tully Kennedy but Aldean has happily become the face and voice of its message.
Nevertheless, Jason Aldean’s current dominance of the Hot 100 charts signals a remarkable milestone in his career, marking his first leadership on America’s most significant song chart. However, this achievement is enveloped in controversy, heralding a potential era of chart-topping hits that polarize the nation. Many have accused Cardi B’s “WAP” to be its left-leaning political opposite. Our own Catherine Caruso covered the comparison here. “Small Town’s” trajectory from obscurity to chart supremacy gained momentum upon the release of its contentious music video weeks after its Spotify and iTunes drop, igniting both fervent support and vehement criticism. Amid accusations of racial insensitivity, the song’s success paradoxically owes itself to the very controversy it generated, drawing attention from those who opposed its message.
Jason Aldean’s bold embrace of provocative content has yielded tangible results, propelling his single to meteoric heights on the charts. This accomplishment may serve as a blueprint for future artists seeking notoriety through controversy, potentially paving the way for a trend where outrage becomes a strategy for achieving chart-topping status. This phenomenon mirrors the broader political landscape, where extreme viewpoints gain traction and divide society further. As the allure of leveraging controversy to achieve musical success grows, listeners confront a moral quandary of whether to engage with songs that thrive on controversy or to disengage as an act of protest. Aldean’s track proves the former is probably more likely. The power of controversy in elevating otherwise potentially forgettable or cliche songs to chart-topping glory raises both the potential for musical triumph but also the ethical complexities of perpetuating societal divisions through art.
The DailyDot has reached out to Jason Aldean’s label, BBR, for further comment.