NPR Music: Jason Aldean Song and Video Attacks Cities 'Using Racist Dog Whistle'

July 27th, 2023 11:04 AM

Amanda Marie Martinez, a country-music focused contributor to National Public Radio issued a print piece in response to a media-manufactured controversy Saturday, “Jason Aldean's 'Small Town' is part of a long legacy with a very dark side.”

Martinez’s ideological alarmism about Aldean’s song, which survived industry cancellation and debuted at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, an amazing accomplishment for a country artist, was couched behind a façade of scholarly research.

Jason Aldean's "Try That in a Small Town," which ignited controversy this week over claims that the song and its new video promote white supremacy and violence, is far from the first country song to attack cities using racist dog whistles….But Aldean's latest release invokes and builds on a lineage of anti-city songs in country music that place the rural and urban along not only a moral versus immoral binary, but an implicitly racialized one as well. Cities are painted as spaces where crime, sexual promiscuity and personal and financial ruin occur, while the "country" is meanwhile framed as a peaceful space where happiness reigns.

“Implicit” apparently means that race isn’t part of the song, but the easily-offended will imagine it anyway.

After dragging Ku Klux Klan rallies from the 1920s into the mix, Martinez strung together several decades worth of country songs that she perceived as anti-city, then casually flipped over the race card.

The rise of anti-city songs during the affluent, post-World War II era coincided with a moment when the formerly rural and heavily white country music audience was rapidly suburbanizing and achieving social mobility through home ownership….

….The song addresses those who might "carjack an old lady at a red light" or "pull a gun on the owner of the liquor store," and footage in the video makes clear references to Black Lives Matter demonstrations. As Andrea Williams, a Nashville-based author, journalist and cultural critic, told me, "The video reflects a desire to control the actions of people in and outside of these towns, people who have grown tired of the exclusionary, oppressive antics of Aldean and his ilk -- people who are, most often, Black."

BLM and Antifa demonstrations were hardly all-black gatherings.

Stalwart liberal media favorite Kevin Kruse got his two cents in.

"Try That"'s invocation of "law and order" politics also distinguishes it from "Okie From Muskogee." Kevin Kruse, a professor of history at Princeton University who specializes in 20th-century America with a particular interest in the making of modern conservatism, says that "Try That in a Small Town" builds on and evolves from common conservative rhetoric, but where the song departs is in its demands. "He's calling for people who aren't law enforcement to mete out violence against people who haven't broken any laws," Kruse explains. "This sounds like a 'law and order' appeal, but it's actually a call to lawlessness." Such calls vividly echo events such as the January 2021 insurrection that have come to define modern, far-right extremism.

She concluded by lamenting “how neatly [the song] and Aldean actually fit within deeper country music traditions, and why country music continues to be a frightening space for marginalized communities."

A couple of National Review writers have found fault with Aldean’s blunt lyrics and video. But NPR's accusations look biased, given that NPR and its supporters have been fine with the decades-strong genre of “gangsta rap,” which unlike Aldean's blunt paean to protecting one’s neighborhood against anarchic violence, truly does celebrate killing those who cross into your 'hood.