Country singer Jason Aldean barely concealed his bigotry with the “Try That In A Small Town” single. He then just wore his racism with pride in the accompanying video. So it would have been tempting for many to think, “Well, he is a country musician—what do you expect?” When you think about it, though, that’s a little inaccurate.
The biggest and best names in country, in fact, all have a history of championing social justice causes. Whether they would classify themselves as liberals or progressives is a little less clear, but everyone from Johnny Cash to Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson to Waylon Jennings, Steve Earle to Kris Kristofferson have espoused views that would be considered far more to the left than to the right on today’s American spectrum.
In a piece titled “Is Country-Western Music Conservative or Liberal,” writer Nolan Dolla says, “Fact is, and history shows—over the past 50 years or so, most country music icons have been surprisingly progressive on the issues that ultimately came to define them. They defied social norms and blazed new trails, both musically and lyrically. Successful artists tend to be liberal as a natural progression of creativity. The reason is simple. Trendsetters forgo expectation. They challenge audiences, including their fans, to go beyond where they might be comfortable. Repeating the same musical formulas over and over again doesn’t create legends. Sinatra, Elvis, Dylan—all were radically different departures from what came before them. The same holds true for country music.”
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Dalla goes on to mention some of the names we covered above, as well as more contemporary names such as the Dixie Chicks (now simply the Chicks), LeAnn Rimes, Brandy Clark, and Tim McGraw. You could add Taylor Swift to that list, even if she is way more pop than country nowadays.
“The talent of these country icons isn’t just abundantly obvious in the music,” Dalla writes. “Each one has managed successfully to speak and act and even perform openly onstage as outspoken liberals, yet still somehow to appeal to a much wider traditional conservative base. Performing for masses of people who not only do not share their views but may be offended by them makes for a paradox. They’re the counterweight to Wall Street bankers pumping their Rolex-encrusted fists to the Rolling Stones’ ‘Street Fighting Man.’ Oh, the irony.”
“We don’t want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas,” said Chicks singer Natalie Maines, on stage at London’s Shepherds Bush Empire two decades ago.
People shouldn’t have been surprised. The band had built their career and their reputation on being strong, outspoken women with a powerful, important message. Their song “Goodbye Earl” quickly became a rallying cry against domestic abuse.
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So yeah. The idea that country is primarily the stomping ground of conservative musicians is false, and maybe has more to do with the audience than the artists. That said, there are some real fuckwit country musicians. I mean, real dumbass, vile assholes. Aldean is certainly on that list.
His song (which, it’s worth pointing out, is also shitty), is inarguably a dog whistle to the dregs of society. It’s the opposite of Rage Against The Machine’s “Killing In The Name”, the yang to Rage’s yin. The song is a fascist call to arms. Whereas Rage wanted to make people aware of America’s evils and injustices, Aldean wants his audience to embrace those same evils. No matter how he tries to justify it.
“Threats to outsiders (and the implication those outsiders are from cities) are present throughout the song’s lyrics, which begin with a list of crimes that might happen in urban settings,” wrote NPR. “’Sucker punch somebody on a sidewalk/Carjack an old lady at a red light,’ then crescendo into the titular chorus: ‘Well, try that in a small town/See how far you make it down the road/Around here we take care of our own/You cross that line, it won’t take long/For you to find out, I recommend you don’t’.”
As shitty and gross as the song is, the video is worse. Clips of news footage, much of it related to the Black Lives Matter protests, flash by as Aldean sings his not-at-all veiled threats. “Try seeking racial justice in a small town, try fighting for equality, see where that gets ya” appears to be his message.
But worse still is the fact that he set the video at the Maury County Courthouse building in Columbia, Tennessee. That venue has a dark history of lynching and violence against people of color. No way could anyone convince me that was an accident. He could have shot his video literally anywhere.
No, the man is scum. Pure and simple.
Country rocker Sheryl Crow knows, posting to social media, “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.”
Margo Price, one of country’s blossoming stars, nailed it when she posted, “Just popping on here to say Jason Aldean is a clown.”
Fellow douche Travis Tritt came to Aldean’s defense because, of course, he did.
And Aldean’s monstrosity isn’t the only bullshit anthem that has been making waves this week. Oliver Anthony’s “Rich Men North of Richmond” seems to take great pleasure in poking fun at people on welfare in the name of patriotism. Eternal hero Billy Bragg fired back with his pro-union response – “Rich Men Earning North Of A Million”. Because he’s a legend.
It’s reassuring to know that the violently evil views of Aldean and Anthony are not the norm.
Not in music, not in country music, not anywhere.