On July 13, 2023, a country western artist little known outside his genre stepped into the national spotlight when he released a video of a song that channeled the feelings of at least 100 million Americans. In less than a week it was ranked #1 on iTunes and as of July 25 it is the #1 trending music video on YouTube. But you won’t see it on Country Music Television, because it’s been banned.
By now the story line is well established. Jason Aldean, 46 years old, who already had 24 number 1 hits on the US country charts, has released a music video where against a backdrop of protests and rioting, he sings “don’t try that in a small town, see how far you make it down the road…” Reaction to Aldean’s alleged endorsement of vigilantism and allegedly coded racist undertones has been swift and unrelenting.
According to Variety, Aldean has released “the most contemptible country song of the decade.” From NPR, the song “contained lyrics that glorified gun violence and conveyed traditionally racist ideas.” From The Guardian, “lyrics threatening violence against protesters.” From the New Yorker, “the repellent ‘Try That in a Small Town,’ an ode to vigilantism.”
Mentioning Aldean in the New Yorker was just an aside in that magazine’s recent feature article entitled “Country Music’s Culture Wars and the Remaking of Nashville.” The article was a lengthy diatribe against “bro country” taking over the industry, dominated by “slick, hollow songs about trucks and beer, sung by interchangeable white hunks.” The article goes on to lionize an emerging counterculture, “made up of female songwriters, Black musicians, and queer artists.”