Jason Aldean’s ‘Try That in a Small Town’ debuts at No. 2 on Billboard

Jason Aldean’s “Try That in a Small Town” broke into the Billboard Hot 100 chart at No. 2 on Tuesday. The country song is surging in popularity despite — or perhaps because of — critics who contend it is full of coded threats against Black people.

Meanwhile, Aldean has been highlighting the song in his performances, defending it as a celebration of small-town virtues that has nothing to do with race.

Originally released to little fanfare in May, the song’s lyrics warn would-be carjackers and other criminals not to “try that in a small town,” full of “good ol’ boys” and armed residents. “See how far ya make it down the road,” Aldean sings in the chorus.

The July 14 release of the song’s music video proved explosive. Aldean and his band performed “Try That in a Small Town” in front of the Maury County Courthouse, where a Black teenager named Henry Choate was lynched in the 1920s. The courthouse is in Columbia, Tenn., where an infamous race riot took place in 1946. The video was filled with clips of crime, protests and riots in various cities, including Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Atlanta.

Country Music Television removed the video from the air after three days, amid condemnation from NAACP officials, country singer Sheryl Crow and social media critics who contend the lyrics evoke “sundown towns”: all-White communities from the early-20th century that attacked Black people who stayed in town after dark.

Yet it was the best-selling country song to debut on Billboard’s charts in more than a decade, the company reported. In the week after the video’s release, the three-minute tune was played to a radio airplay audience of 7.3 million, sold 228,000 digital copies and amassed 11.6 million streams — a 1,000 percent increase from the week before.

Billboard compiles its weekly Hot 100 list of popular songs using data from the songs’ sales, radio airplay and streaming. The last time a country music debut similarly soared in sales to “Try That in a Small Town” was Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise,” featuring Nelly, on July 6, 2013. It sold 244,000 copies that week.

The song’s popularity has grown with its backlash after conservative politicians, influencers and other country stars defended Aldean. “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,” the singer wrote on social media last week.

“I feel like everybody’s entitled to their opinion. You can think, you can think something all you want to, it doesn’t mean it’s true, right?,” he told fans during a Friday concert in Cincinnati.

“Somebody asked me, ‘Hey man, do you think you’re going to play this song tonight?’” he said to the crowd later. “The answer was simple. The people have spoken and you guys spoke very, very loudly this week.”

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