Country music superstar Jason Aldean found himself facing an unexpected wave of controversy when his song, “Try That in a Small Town,” gained widespread attention in July following the release of its music video, which depicts protesters confronting police officers.
Supporters believe the song champions the values of small towns during uncertain times, while critics argue it contains racist undertones and calls for violence.
In Aldean’s first network news interview about the controversy, he defended the song and the music video’s content.
“There was people of all color doing stuff in the video. That’s what I don’t understand,” he told CBS News. “There was White people in there. There was Black people. I mean, this video did not shine light on one specific group and say, ‘That’s the problem.’ And anybody that saw that in the video, then you weren’t looking hard enough in the video, is all I can tell you.”
Adding to the controversy was the location of the video shoot: in front of the Maury County Courthouse in Columbia, Tennessee, the site of a 1927 lynching of a Black teenager. Aldean, who is a resident of the county, said he didn’t know a lynching had taken place there.
“But I also don’t go back a hundred years and check on the history of a place before we go shoot it either,” he said. “It’s also the place that I go get my car tags every year. It’s my county that I live in.”
His team pointed out that other productions have filmed outside the courthouse without issue. Aldean also said that in the South, it would probably be hard to find a small-town courthouse “that hasn’t had some sort of racial issue over the years at some point.”
“I don’t feel bad about that because I know my intentions behind, you know, shooting the video there and recording the song and everything,” he said.
But Aldean said that knowing what he knows now, he probably wouldn’t shoot the video at the courthouse if he were to do it over.
“I would do it over again, every time … minus the setting, knowing what I know now, obviously, you know, knowing that that was gonna be a thing, you know, maybe you look at doing it somewhere else,” he said.
Still, he said, “I know what the intentions were behind the location, the video, the song, all of it. And, you know, and I stand by all that.”
The “Try That in a Small Town” video, according to Aldean, aimed to highlight the “lawlessness” and “disrespect for cops” seen in some places, inspired by Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” He added that his personal experiences, like the 2017 Route 91 festival shooting in Las Vegas while he was performing, impact his perspectives.
“My pregnant wife was there. Our fans were there watching the show,” he said. “All hell breaks loose and you’re not prepared, you know, it’s like, ‘I got a guitar, what am I gonna do?’”
“I do think it makes you look at things a little different when you go through something like that,” he added.
Prior to the song’s release in May, Aldean thought a different aspect of it would generate the most discussion.
“I thought was gonna be the biggest issue with the song was that it said gun,” Aldean said, referring to the lyrics, “Got a gun that my grandad gave me. They say one day they’re gonna round up.”
“So, I didn’t expect it to get the kind of heat that it got,” he said. “And I think that was more probably because of the video, more so than the actual song.”
Amid the backlash, a Black Lives Matter protest was removed from the music video, drawing even more criticism. His team said the clips were used without permission and therefore had to be taken out.
Aldean’s new album, “Highway Desperado,” is set to be released on Nov. 3, and it includes “Try That in a Small Town.”