I don't believe for a second that Jason Aldean's latest single, "Try That in a Small Town" is an innocent song.
It's intentional. It's exactly as we interpret it. The art - specifically when partnered with the visual concept of the music video - is designed with a purposeful message.
And yet, I don't particularly care about canceling or censoring it.
The two can be true in this scenario.
We find ourselves in the midst of a society that is searching for its equilibrium after 2020. More than ever are the words that ring true from Dr. King's "The Other America" speech. "Culture Wars" or "Cancel Culture" is at the root of our inability to see American life from another perspective. To have empathy for the American experience through other prisms.
...to deal with this problem of the two Americas. We are seeking to make America one nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.- Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Music has long been an art form filled with messages, ideologies, words, lyrics, and statements that were offensive, discriminatory, attract a specific audience, or push forward a specific message. Look no further than Eminem's discography which truly has aged poorly.
If Jason Aldean wants to release his art form with such messaging, then by all means, let him. Music video included. Both sides of these culture wars, especially as it has become so grounded in political identity, have called for the cancellation of art, information, and expression. Canceling items because they do not agree with our political identity, beliefs, or ideology is not a solution to the larger issue at hand - why Aldean would publish such a track? Or why others would relate to such lyrics?
So yeah, go ahead Aldean, do your thing. If you find Jason Aldean's latest song endearing, even after research, then your musical taste isn't the biggest problem you have. And for others who find it offensive, voice your opinion, don't listen, and keep it moving. If you've listened to one Jason Aldean song, you've likely heard his others - not an insult, just my musical opinion.
This whole situation feels like everyone wants to be a victim - those against Aldean, and even Aldean himself - for more in-the-moment rage and stoking the political narratives for each side.
However, whether Aldean's music is available and accessible is low-hanging fruit to disect.
There is an obvious (and avoided) gorilla in the conversation and that is the status and historical positioning of country music. Once a heralded genre, the genre has become synonymous with an audience that is right-wing leaning, and this song was nothing more than an attempt to cash in on the country's current divisiveness.
We've recently seen country music historically struggle with inclusion efforts (mainly race); accepting political rhetoric that goes against the core audience machine; and artists who still freely love using racial slurs that fill their Southern-loving heritage.
Look no further than the Dixie Chicks who suffered an early 2000s version of being canceled via removal from country radio when their league singer criticized then-President Bush's policies.
Or how about Lil Nas X? A gay black man who produced the best country song in 2019 in "Old Town Road" and dominated the charts, to be blackballed from the Country Charts by an anonymous person for an undisclosed reason.
There is the recent story of Morgan Wallen who enjoys using the word, "nigga". And yes, has returned to a successful tour with a bigger fan base because of the controversy.
There is the surging diversity now entering the country scene that still battles within the space because of a country music culture that has not evolved or has outwardly addressed it.
And for some, country music has become "Too Woke".
This is without discussing the genre astray bleeding into other areas of rock, pop, reggae, and hip-hop for current sounds and influence. So many "Country" stars are putting out music that has a marginal connection to the sounds and roots of country music.
Aldean is diving right back to the core of it all. Pushing the tropes, stoking that run-back-the-clock narrative (ahh yes, copy and paste that MAGA movement handbook), and leaning into elements of the past that resonates with hardcore country fans.
"Try That in a Small Town" celebrates vigilantism, the kind that is privileged by a "gun that my granddad gave me". It also evokes the same rhetoric we see in political narratives such as violent cities as Aldean roars in his country tough-man voice, "They say one day they're gonna round up/Well, that shit might fly in the city, good luck".
Ah yes, the arch-rivals to anyone from a small town - city folk!
Writers of the song, Kelley Lovelace, Neil Thrasher, Tully Kennedy, and Kurt Michael Allison, made sure to position urban life as the enemy throughout the song.
Even more cliche, here is the classic dog whistle nomenclature for country music - as cliche as it gets, "Full of good ol' boys, raised upright". I would love to hear his explanation of who a "good ol' boy" is. But I digress...
Aldean wraps his hook with the connecting line, "Around here, we take care of our own".
Okay, so who ARE the good ol' boys, and exactly who are 'our own'?
If you're wavering on the lyrics with doubt, Aldean and his team made sure he lets you know what this is all about - you know, without saying directly what it's all about. The imagery in his music video speaks the loudest, more so than the lyrics belted over some guitar riffs. The video sees a backdrop of the Tennessee Courthouse, draped in a flag similar to that day in 1927 when Henry Choate was hanged by a white mob, with Aldean and his boys talking tough about "protecting their own".
Or, merely coincidence, I suppose.
Aldean and crew know EXACTLY what this song was and is for. It's for every Republican candidate to walk out to in middle America as they rally and campaign for the swing vote. You can see it now! Jason Aldean blaring right before the fear-mongering begins which includes their slice of America turning into those raging blue liberal cities on the coasts if they don't vote for [enter Republican candidate]. Ahhhh yeahhhh, 'Mericuhhh!!!
It's for everyone in a small town who has vilified cities as the reason for a changing country and the need to protect said, small town.
But really, it's for the obvious - a song for a specific audience, for specific publicity, and of course, for cash.
And as CMT prepares to take a Bud Light-style public-relations hit for pulling his video, and left-wingers go crazy in selective outrage and overreaction with reaching race-baiting and call for cancellation efforts, Aldean's status grows in martyrdom with his fans, and his intended audience.
As someone born and raised in one of those cesspools where "that shit might fly" (shout out to Brooklyn), I appreciate country music and embrace its peak into small-town America without the dog whistling and racism running through the fabric of its threads. At its height, country music is beautiful art. And in many ways, it's education for perspective. To bridge those different Americas in a more harmonized way.
The way Charlie Pride's "Roll on Mississippi" does. The way Kenny Chesney's "There Goes My Life" does. The way Darius Rucker's "Southern State of Mind" does. The way Dolly Parton's "Coat of Many Colors" does. And so many others.
Aldean has placed country music and its culture at its inevitable crossroads.
Questioning its genre. Examining its culture. And placing it right in the middle of the political arena.
Aldean is at the center of it all. Just as he knew the song would make him.
Don't be fooled. All of it is intentional.