Jason Aldean Slams ‘Cancel Culture’ at Concert, Defends Vigilante Song

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Jason Aldean played his first concert Friday since his vigilante anthem “Try That in a Small Town” stirred up a national firestorm, soaking up a Cincinnati crowd’s adoration Friday night as he railed against “cancel culture” being responsible for the opposition to his divisive, violence-threatening song and video.

“It’s been a long week. I’ve seen a lot of stuff suggesting I’m this, suggesting I’m that,” Aldean said, as the audience at the Riverbend Music Center booed the opposition he’s faced. “I feel everybody’s entitled to their opinion. You can think something all you want to, it doesn’t mean it’s true. What I am is a proud American… I love our country. I want to see it restored to what it once was before all this bullshit started happening to us. I love my country. I love my family. And I will do anything to protect that,” he declared, as the crowd began chanting “USA! USA!”

He continued, “You guys know how it is this day and age, cancel culture… This day and age, if people don’t like what you say, they try to make sure they can cancel you, which means try to ruin your life. Ruin everything. One thing I saw this week was a bunch of country music fans that can see through a lot of the bullshit. I saw country music fans rally like I’ve never seen before and it was pretty badass, I gotta say. Thank you guys so much.”

Some of the criticism over the song and video have had to do with the long list of things that the lyrics maintains will be subject to swift retributive action, should big city types bring them to a small town — some involving violent crime (carjackings, liquor store holdups), some having to do with hooliganism that would be common even in small towns (“cussing” at cops), some involving exercising legal, First Amendment-protected rights (flag burning, the only reference to protests in the song itself), some bogeymen (would-be government gun confiscators). The music video goes further, though, mostly showing footage of demonstrators — some of it stock footage of Canadian protests — along with brief shots of violent crime. The targets of the song’s vigilante threats seem to be scattershot, so to speak.

But the only example that Aldean offered in his defense of the song at the Cincinnati concert was something that doesn’t come up in either the lyrics or the music video: mass shootings.

“I know a lot of you guys grew up like I did,” Aldean said. “You kind of have the same values, the same principles that I have, which is we want to take our kids to a movie and not worry about some asshole coming in there shooting up the theater. So somebody asked me, ‘Hey man, you think you’re going to play this song tonight?’ The answer was simple. The people have spoken and you guys spoke very, very loudly this week.”

Some critics have said that, by projecting footage of demonstrators onto a courthouse where a Black man was famously hung from a second-story window in the 1920s, the music video means to impart that modern-day protesters are deserving of the same. Although Aldean has defended the song on social media, he has not addressed the filming site issue directly, except to strongly maintain that the tune is not “pro-lynching.”

Few major country artists have spoken up about Aldean’s song one way or another so far, even as politicians and commentators on the right have rushed to align themselves with the MAGA-supporting singer.

Contrary to a false meme that was widely distributed among conservative country fans on social media Friday, Luke Bryan did not move to have his videos pulled from CMT as a response to the network removing Aldean’s video from its playlist this week. However, Bryan made a show of support for Aldean at his own concert, introducing “Huntin’, Fishin’, and Lovin’ Everyday” by telling the crowd, “Wanna send this one out to my buddy Jason Aldean, all right,” and then adding, “If you like to love one another, where you at?“

Artists based in Tennessee who lean toward the Americana side have not been shy about taking on Aldean’s proudly xenophobic track, or what some see as an either inherently or blatantly racist video.

Adeem the Artist took to his social media to post “Sundown Town,” a parody track making clear what Adeem sees as historic racial undertones between the lines in the song. Margo Price re-posted a story about Aldean wearing blackface eight years ago and wrote: ““Just popping on here to say Jason Aldean is a clown. What else do y’all expect from a man who wore black face in 2015?” Sheryl Crow wrote, “I’m from a small town. Even people in small towns are sick of violence. There’s nothing small-town or American about promoting violence. You should know that better than anyone having survived a mass shooting. This is not American or small town-like. It’s just lame.”

Americana artist Jason Isbell and mainstream country singer Jake Owen got into a brief back-and-forth on Twitter, with Owen telling Isbell that he should challenge Aldean to a fight in person if he has an issue, not deride him publicly.

Owen admonished Isbell after the latter artist mocked the fact that throughout his two-decade recording career, Aldean has almost never participated in the writing of the songs he’s recorded (including “Try That in a Small Town”). Jibed Isbell: “Dare Aldean to write his next single himself. That’s what we try in my small town… I’m challenging you to write a song yourself. All alone. If you’re a recording artist, make some art. I want to hear it… Seriously, how do you defend the content of a song you weren’t even in the room for? You just got it from your producer.”

Owen clapped back: “Jason, you’re always the first to get behind your keyboard and spout off with this stupid shit. In ‘my small town’ you just walk up to the guy and be a man to his face if you want the smoke… not tweet it at him…. Tough guy.” Responded Isbell to Owen: “What really gets me about this is that it’s saying ‘if you don’t believe you can physically overpower me, you aren’t allowed to publicly disagree with me.’ What does that say to the people in your life who aren’t big strong boys? They just have to shut up?”

Not surprisingly, Aldean found a fervent defender in John Rich, who tweeted, “Why did CMT originally add Aldean’s song? If it’s so terrible in July, why wasn’t it terrible last May? Is anyone going to interview CMT? Or nah?” (Although the single came out in May, and had climbed as high as No. 25 on the most recent weekly radio airplay chart, the video did not come out till July 14.) Other artists known for their conservative viewpoints, such as Travis Tritt and Lee Greenwood, have also offered Aldean their support. But with most performers most interested in growing country’s audience rather than shrinking it, the majority may just be hoping the controversy goes away, whatever their political stripes.

The controversy over the video has given a substantial boost to a song that previously had been only a modest success in its two months out so far. As of Thursday, “Small Town” did not appear on the daily Spotify USA Top 50 chart, but Friday it entered in the top 20, and as of Saturday moved up to the No. 7 spot (though still trailing Morgan Wallen’s No. 3 “Last Night,” as country songs go).

(Read Variety‘s earlier commentary about the Aldean song and video here.)

“Try That in a Small Town” does not make any references to trans or LGBTQ+ issues, or to vaccines or masking, to name some of the topics the singer and his wife have controversially addressed in the last couple of years. However, the singer’s wife, Brittany Aldean, who became well known last year for antagonizing the trans community, took to her Instagram Story feed amid the firestorm to share a message that was taken by some to be tinged with homophobia: “A tip for our young boys: In a world full of Sam Smiths, be a Jason Aldean.”



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