Jason Aldean’s latest track, “Try That in a Small Town,” has made a powerful impact on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, debuting at an impressive No. 2 position.
The country song’s surge in popularity has sparked both praise and controversy, with critics arguing that it contains veiled threats against Black individuals. Despite the backlash, Aldean has fervently defended the song, emphasizing that it celebrates the virtues of small-town life and has no racial connotations whatsoever.
Originally released in May with minimal attention, the song’s lyrics serve as a warning to potential carjackers and criminals, cautioning them not to attempt their deeds in a small town inhabited by “good ol’ boys” and armed residents. Aldean’s chorus echoes the sentiment, urging them to ponder how far they would get down the road if they tried. However, it was the music video, released on July 14, that caused a stir. Filmed in front of the Maury County Courthouse in Columbia, Tennessee, where a Black teenager named Henry Choate was lynched in the 1920s, and the site of an infamous race riot in 1946, the video featured clips of crime, protests, and riots from various cities, including Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Atlanta.
The video faced swift condemnation, leading Country Music Television to remove it from the air after just three days. The NAACP, country singer Sheryl Crow, and social media critics accused the song of evoking the dark history of “sundown towns,” all-White communities from the early 20th century known for attacking Black people who stayed after dark.
However, the controversy did not hinder the song’s commercial success. In fact, it became the best-selling country song to debut on Billboard’s charts in over a decade. In the week following the video’s release, the three-minute tune reached a staggering 7.3 million radio airplay audience, sold 228,000 digital copies, and amassed an impressive 11.6 million streams – marking a remarkable 1,000 percent increase from the previous week.
Billboard compiles its Hot 100 list based on a combination of sales, radio airplay, and streaming data. The last time a country music debut made such an impact was Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise,” featuring Nelly, on July 6, 2013, selling 244,000 copies in its debut week.
Despite the controversy, conservative politicians, influencers, and fellow country stars rallied behind Aldean, vehemently defending the song. The singer himself took to social media to address the accusations, asserting that not a single lyric in the song references race, and all video clips used in the video are authentic news footage.
During a concert in Cincinnati, Aldean addressed the topic directly, telling the audience, “Everybody’s entitled to their opinion. You can think something all you want to, but it doesn’t mean it’s true, right?” He acknowledged the song’s popularity, emphasizing that the public’s resounding support spoke volumes.
As the debate continues, “Try That in a Small Town” stands as a testament to the complex relationship between music, social issues, and artistic expression. Its commercial success and the ongoing conversation surrounding it serve as a reminder that music has the power to provoke thought, evoke emotions, and ignite meaningful discussions about the society we live in.