On Jason Aldean’s Controversial “Try That In A Small Town”

For going on six years now, I have been warning all the elitist think piece writers, academics, Twitter intellectuals, and even some artist who’ve been imploring country music artists to speak out politically—and even implying or outright saying that their silence was complicit to violence and was placing blood on their hands—to be careful what they wish for or they just might get it.

Now they have, and it’s not just in the form of some posts on someone’s wife’s Instagram account, or a washed-up artist’s album cut. It’s in the form of a country song that is headed straight to #1. And as these same supposed opinion makers now hubristically attempt to stifle the trajectory of this song with their hand-wringing and hyperbole in a manner that will only fuel its ascent since they learned absolutely nothing from the Morgan Wallen ‘N’-word situation, their vehemence will assure this song’s unequivocal success as opposed to impinge upon it, as their protests become even more unhinged and detached from reality while they descend into narcissistic rage.

Anyone who wrote a think piece about how country music is fertile ground for gaining leverage against the political right in the United States, you should get a co-write for Jason Aldean’s “Try That In A Small Town” because you’re complicit in it. Jason Aldean famously said to Rolling Stone in 2016 that he didn’t want to get political with his music or message. It was too polarizing, and it wasn’t his place. He called it a “no win.”

But after the incessant attacks on his wife for asserting her 1st Amendment rights on social media, and the demand that all musicians bend a knee to an organization that has now been verified to have bilked the American public, Jason Aldean is fed up, and finally speaking out politically. Or actually, Kelley Lovelace, Kurt Allison, Neil Thrasher, and Tully Kennedy are speaking out since they wrote the song. Jason Aldean rarely writes anything. He’s just the messenger.

But don’t take the conveying to these empirical truths as a ringing endorsement of Jason Aldean, this song, or the messages it conveys. On the contrary. Just as misguided as the naysayers of this song are, some otherwise rational traditional country music fans who would otherwise shun Jason Aldean and have been doing so for years are now rushing to support him and this song simply because of its message and the fact that some are trying to cancel it, similar to what they did for Morgan Wallen and his derivative Southern pop.

“Try That In A Small Town” isn’t even a country song to begin with, similar to how Jason Aldean is barely a country artist. He’s an arena rocker, and “Try That In A Small Town” is an arena rock song sent further into conflict with the tenets of country music by an electronic clap track intro and outtro. Any self-respecting actual country music fan caught dead enjoying or defending this song is just as misguided as the journalists who thought getting country artists to speak out politically would be helpful in furthering their ideology.

Granted, “Try That In A Small Town” gets the blood pumping and comes across powerfully to those it appeals to, and that’s why it showed immediate resonance when released two months ago. That’s right, this song isn’t anything new, though the controversy is, undercutting the arguments of some that are trying to mischaracterize the song’s lyrics when they were mum for the 60 days previous. The renewed scrutiny is in part because of the video that was just released for the song, which replays footage from Black Lives Matter riots, and was shot at the Maury County Courthouse in Columbia, Tennessee.

The Maury County Courthouse is where a lynch mob strung up and murdered an 18-year-old Black man named Henry Choate on November 13, 1927 after he allegedly attacked a White girl. This has caused some to call “Try That In A Small Town” a “pro-lynching” song. Though the shooting of the video in a place where a lynching once occurred is unfortunate—and the video producers should have vetted the site more cautiously—the idea that Aldean or the video team purposely chose that site because of the Henry Choate lynching is completely and utterly ludicrous.

This is a common occurrence in the emotional and irrational domain of politics. People give their adversaries credit for being manically calculating and brilliantly conspiratorial, while at the same time criticizing them for being so stupid, it’s astounding they can even perform involuntarily bodily functions. It has to be one or the other, and in this case, it’s because Jason Aldean and his minions are morons who didn’t do their homework on the location for the video shoot as opposed to maniacal full-blooded racists who were looking to send a deeper message beyond the ones already in the song and video.

The Maury County Courthouse is in Columbia, Tennessee, which is a short drive from Nashville. It simply made for a convenient location, and any rational person will conclude this. Asserting otherwise only exacerbates some of the motivations behind a song and video like this that the American public is being railroaded and lied to by the intellectual/media class. Because often, they are.

It’s similar to the time Margo Price called out Luke Combs from making a white power symbol on SNL, as if Combs was stupid enough to think he could get away with such a move on national television. There are many fair criticisms to give to Jason Aldean, “Try That In A Small Town,” and the video. Resorting to maximilized shock value hyperbole undercuts those opinions instead of strengthening them.

But again, don’t allow me to come across as a defender of this song. Beyond the sonic concerns, the premise of this song is off as well. Jason Aldean’s career has been marked by songs about small towns, often portraying them as idyllic. This is Aldean’s bread and butter, and “Try That In A Small Town” very much fits into that Jason Aldean song universe.

But the idea that there is no crime in small town America, that there isn’t random violence, or even anti-American sentiment is just pure fantasy. Many of America’s small towns are in crisis, similar to the intercity, not to mention sometimes being scary or outright dangerous for certain people to be in or travel through. Jason Aldean succumbs to the “othering” of America in “Try That In a Small Town” by acting as if everything just operated like it does in rural locales, the world would immediately be better.

In actual small town America, the opioid/fentanyl epidemic is rampant. It’s epicentered in rural Appalachia. Unemployment is higher than it is in many urban areas, exacerbating issues like drug use and property crime. Food deserts persist and are growing. The politics of small town America are often corrupt and underserve the public. That was the whole premise of The Dukes of Hazzard.

Are there Black Lives Matter protests in small towns? No, there are not. But at this point, there aren’t Black Lives Matter protests anywhere. This song and video feel dated and untimely, trite, unnecessarily strident in a way that impinges upon the message trying to be conveyed, and it is a strain on the truth.

Nothing is solved, or even addressed through a song and video like this. It just stirs the culture war pot, which distracts us all from the underlying issues that affect all of us outside of elitist circles. Whether you’re a White guy living in a small town dying from the abandonment of industry and the prevalence of pills, or a Black woman fighting for survival in the intercity where crime is everywhere, your problems are often more similar than different.

Country music is more conservative now than it was when academia and the media decided to target the genre after the election of Trump, believing the way to enact a blue wave among the electorate was to seed politically-motivated “journalists” into the industry to larp as country fans. Meanwhile, real country fans goes about their business, not reading any media, since it has become so untrusted and politically motivated.

Activists would have been much better served leaving mainstream country music alone to continue to release pallid, soft, unimaginative, inoffensive, and apolitical songs to a passive listening audience, which was the modus operendi ever since Toby Keith lost his relevance over a decade ago for his politically polarizing songs.

Instead, the media and academia disrespected country artists and their fans with their down-looking, arrogant ideas that they could mold their minds through the country art form. Now it’s officially backfired. But they will continue to mislead themselves into believing that their think pieces behind paywalls will eventually lead to Jason Aldean fans immediately vacating their political ideas. There was just another one of these articles published in The New Yorker earlier this week. “Try That In a Small Town” has and will spurn many more of these articles.

And when these activists finally conclude they will be unable to use country music to do their political bidding, they will actively work to destroy it. Meanwhile, what is injured is country music’s ability to be a space where people can come together and commiserate over a broken heart, or a broken home, and heal. It’s unfortunate, and both sides of the political divide/culture war are to blame.

It’s not that political subjects should be entirely extricated from the musical realm, or even from country music specifically. But as “Try That In a Small Town” proves, overt political songs that forgo allegorical messaging or nuanced storytelling for terse grandstanding often do more to divide and breed hatred as opposed to pragmatically addressing societal ills suffered universally by underserved people of all stripes.

It’s bluster.

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