The controversy surrounding Jason Aldean’s hit song “Try That In A Small Town” is primarily the result of “Big Victimhood” profiteers and hyper-aware social media users, but celebrities engaging in political statements is a “slippery slope,” experts say.
The five-time Grammy nominee’s critics have slammed the song’s lyrics, which some perceived as having racial undertones and promoting a “pro-lynching” message.
The Hollywood Reporter recently published a piece, “How Jason Aldean Cynically Built ‘Small Town’ to Appeal to Trump Country.”
THR quoted several academics, including Hunter College music theory professor Philip Ewell who argued the song is part of a subtle yet unmistakable “anti-Blackness” trend in America.
Speaking with Fox News Digital, business expert Josh Cadillac said it was interesting that a song singing the praises of small-town life has generated so much controversy considering the music industry has promoted countless songs with potentially offensive content.
“There are songs that are top of the charts, songs and names I can’t even mention here because they’re so, they’re just so off color,” he said.
Liberal media outlets have also blasted Aldean over the “Small Town” music video, the majority of which was filmed at a Tennessee courthouse that was the site of the 1927 lynching of an 18-year-old Black man named Henry Choate and a pivotal site during the Columbia race riot in 1946.
TackleBox, the company that produced the music video, told Fox News Digital the courthouse is a “popular filming location outside of Nashville” that has been featured in a number of music videos and movies. They also noted Aldean did not pick the location.
Cadillac theorized that the controversy partly stems from celebrities, media outlets and social media influencers finding monetary benefit in creating content meant to pit people against one another and garner outrage.
“There’s a new player in town called Big Victimhood. You know, there’s Big Agro and Big Pharma and all those folks we’re supposed to worry about. But there’s victimhood, creating people, turning them into victims and making them hyper-aware of being a victim has become big business,” he said. “It’s just it’s been a huge money stream and a huge, huge method achieve power for people.”
Strategist and author Rob Swymer agreed that “hyper-aware” social media users have played a significant role in the constant outrage against celebrities and businesses willing to engage with cultural issues. Still, he said the root of the problem goes beyond that.
“I think that people are just so sensitive now, and they are looking for anything and everything. And, you know, I mean, I’m going to say the big elephant in the room here is in the social media,” Swymer said. “With social media now, everything is exasperated, and people have opinions about everything. And this goes back and, you know, I’m a mental health disruptor, right? So, I deal with it every day. And I do believe that this also can represent a mental health issue.”
Aldean has also faced backlash from liberal activists who claim the song promotes gun violence. Swymer said he did not believe this was the case and that Aldean was trying to spread a message that brings people back together.
“Let’s not forget that Jason Aldean himself was a victim of a mass shooting during a concert. So why would he advocate that?” he said, referencing the 2017 Las Vegas shooting that killed 58 people.
“You know, people don’t have to look and peel back the other layer of who he is and who what he stands for. And there’s nothing wrong, in my opinion, to stand up for a community standing up for what’s right in that community. We need to get back to small town,” Swymer added.
Mumford and Sons co-founder Winston Marshall discussed the “so-called controversy” around Aldean’s music video in late July.
“I think this speaks actually to something a bit more profound. I think this speaks to two versions of America,” he told Fox News Digital.
One side of America “sees race, slavery, [as] the original sin [and] systemic racism in everything.” The other side believes that it’s “possible to reconcile the dark history of America with the honorable, remarkable, brilliant history of America,” he argued.
Cadillac similarly observed that the controversy broadly represents the sharp divide in American discourse.
“You have perpetrated into the general education space that they separate basically people into two groups, the oppressed and the oppressors,” Cadillac said. “And so, if you’re not in the oppressed group, it automatically puts you in the group that’s doing something bad to someone else. And it’s really the breakdown of the conversation that we used to comfortably have with each other about these things.”
According to Cadillac, in the past, corporations understood that they should not bring politics or religion into business if they could help it. Later, it became safe to bring up those conversations so long as they espoused views that aligned with progressive ideology.
Today, things have again shifted to wear both the left and right are mobilizing and boycotting to push back against public figures and companies that wade too far into the culture wars.
“Now, as a business owner or as an artist or anything else, you have to do this calculation of am I going to bring in more people than I basically piss off with this choice that I am making? Am I going to alienate more people or bring in more people? Bud Light has figured that out. They didn’t understand who their people were,” he said. “Jason Aldean maybe has a better feel or maybe better finger on the pulse of who his customers are. I think the market will decide.”
Swymer, who spent 42 years as a salesman and sales leader in the high-tech industry, said his primary goal throughout his career was to serve his customers, not offer opinions about world events.
“I think that it’s a real dangerous thing to get involved in when celebrities or people that are high profile or companies take a political stand on anything,” Swymer said, noting that while artists have the right to express themselves, it constitutes a “slippery slope” in the business world.
“I mean, we have to be able to stand up to that as well. So if we don’t agree with it, you know, we live in America. You have the right not to shop at Target or not to buy that beer. But it’s okay. Just move on,” he added.
When asked whether he believed the song was racist, Cadillac said he could not assume Aldean’s motivations for writing the song. Still, he noted society has abandoned the idea that one should be “charitable” in their interpretations of other people’s actions or words.
“It has become this lazy, lazy approach that we have to rhetoric to just simply assume the worst possible motives of the people that we’re talking about,” he said. “It’s a shame and its broken down so much of what made this country great. We used to fight, we used to have our own opinions, but we would take it, and we would listen, and we wouldn’t assume the worst of the other side.”
Swymer said that despite the song’s success, he did not believe Aldean set out to gin up controversy when he wrote “Small Town.” He also said the artist had been a well-respected, positive influence in the music industry up until this point.
“There’s’ people aren’t having dinners together anymore, you know? You know, families are divided and there’s a lot going on here. And I think that Jason was just trying to bring us together,” he said. “Now, was it the right way to do it? Hey, look, I don’t know. I’m not an expert on that. But I’ll tell you what, I don’t think that he had a bad bone in his body to do this. He wanted to do something good and make a message that was positive.”
Aldean has personally addressed the response to “Try That In A Small Town” shortly after the music video was released.
“In the past 24 hours, I have been accused of releasing a pro-lynching song (a song that has been out since May) and was subject to the comparison that I (direct quote) was not too pleased with the nationwide BLM protests. These references are not only meritless, but dangerous,” he wrote on social media.
“There is not a single lyric in the song that references race or points to it — and there isn’t a single video clip that isn’t real news footage — and while I can try and respect others to have their own interpretation of a song with music — this one goes too far.”
Aldean has continued defying critics and performing the song while on his 31-date Desperado Highway Tour, often speaking out against the controversy on stage.
Fox News’ Ashley Hume and Alexander Hall contributed to this report.