It was the most controversial song of the year (at least until Oliver Anthony came along).
Jason Aldean drew quite a bit of criticism for his song “Try That In A Small Town” – or more accurately, for the music video.
The song, which calls out big city lawlessness, was released back in May, and didn’t really receive much attention until Jason dropped a music video featuring scenes of rioting and looting along with video of Jason performing in front of the Maury County courthouse in his hometown of Columbia, Tennessee.
After releasing the music video, many on the left began criticizing the song as “racist” and pointing out that the courthouse featured in the video was the site of a public lynching in 1927.
Everyone from Maren Morris to Sheryl Crow and Sierra Ferrell jumped in to call out Aldean, and CMT pulled the music video from its rotation during the one hour a day that CMT apparently still shows music videos at 3 AM in between reruns of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders and Last Man Standing.
Many others, including presidential candidates like former President Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy, along with artists like Travis Tritt, Cody Johnson and Brantley Gilbert, and even George Jones’ wife Nancy, defended Jason Aldean and the song from accusations that it had anything to do with race.
The song took off amid the controversy, rocketing to the top of the iTunes chart and the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 chart, despite failing to gain any real traction before the video was released.
At the time, Jason released a statementcalling the accusations “meritless” and “dangerous,” while pointing out that nothing in the song mentions race:
“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…
Try That In A Small Town, for me, refers to the feeling of a community that I had growing up, where we took care of our neighbors, regardless of differences of background or belief. Because they were our neighbors, and that was above any differences.
My political views have never been something I’ve hidden from, and I know that a lot of us in this Country don’t agree on how we get back to a sense of normalcy where we go at least a day without a headline that keeps us up at night. But the desire for it to- that’s what this song is about.”
And while Jason stands by the song and the video – and the message behind them – he admits that he didn’t know about the history of the courthouse when they chose the location for the video, and that if he had known, he would have chosen a different location.
During an interview with CBS ahead of the release of his upcoming album Highway Desperado, Jason defended the song from the accusations of racism and being a “dog whistle” for discrimination:
“There was people of all colors doing stuff in the video. That’s what I don’t understand.
There was white people in there, there was black people. I mean, this video did not shine a light on one specific group and say, ‘That’s the problem.’
Anybody who saw that in the video, then you weren’t looking hard enough.”
Jason says that although he didn’t write the song, it’s one that he was excited to record because he stood behind the message:
“I was excited to cut it, and thought that it was a song that actually said something for a change, not just a, ‘Here’s another song for radio.'”
And when it came time to shoot the video, Jason says that the Maury County Courthouse was chosen for its convenient location – not because of the history of the building, which he admits he didn’t even know:
“I also don’t go back a hundred years and check on the history of a place before we go shoot it either. It’s also the place that I go get my car tags every year. It’s the county that I live in.”
Although he also admits that, knowing what he knows now, he would have chosen a different location for the video:
“Knowing what I know now, probably not. But again, I’m not going to go back a hundred years and check on the history of this building. Because honestly, if you’re in the south, you could probably go to any small town courthouse, you’re going to be hard pressed to find one that hasn’t had some sort of racial issue over the years at some point.”
Ultimately though, Jason says that if you see something racial in the song or video, that may be more of an issue with the listener than the message:
“If that’s what you got out of the song and the video, I almost feel like that’s on you because that wasn’t our intention.”