It was just a few weeks ago that Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts was crowing about getting Jason Aldean’s “Try That in a Small Town” removed from the rotation at CMT, but it looks like Aldean will have the last laugh. Months after Aldean’s single first debuted to little attention, “Try That in a Small Town” is now the number one song in the country; not just on country radio but on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart covering all genres.
“Try That In A Small Town” debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 last week and rose to the top spot this week for the chart dated August 5, rounding out a top-three chart of country hits with “Last Night” by Morgan Wallen at No. 2 and Luke Combs’ “Fast Car”—a cover of the 1988 Tracy Chapman hit by the same name—at No. 3.
Songs from the country genre have never held the top three spots at the same time, Billboard said, and Wallen and Combs made history of their own in June when their songs held the top two positions, the first time both spots were taken up by country songs since 1981.
“Try That In A Small Town” was first released in May but didn’t make headlines—or the Billboard chart—until July when its music video, which includes footage of people protesting police alongside lyrics about gun ownership, was pulled from CMT.
The song explores the patriotic sentiments of rural areas and implies gun owners in small towns will take it upon themselves to retaliate against people who “cuss out a cop, spit in his face” or “stomp on the flag.”
The song has been criticized by reviewers, fellow musicians and a few politicians—Tennessee state Rep. Justin Jones, a Democrat, called it “a shameful vision of gun extremism and vigilantism” that calls “for racist violence.”
The sentiments in “Try That In A Small Town” have drawn criticism from gun control advocates—including Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense In America—who are quick to point out that it was Aldean who was playing a concert in Las Vegas when one of the country’s deadliest mass shootings killed 60 people and wounded at least 400 more. Aldean that year told the Associated Press “it’s too easy to get guns” but has otherwise largely kept his political opinions out of public view for years, telling Rolling Stone in 2016 that talking politics is “a no-win.” He’s seemed to have loosed on his stance in the time since—Aldean praised the lack of mask wearers in the crowd at a pandemic-era concert and his wife made headlines when she posted photos of their toddlers wearing anti-Joe Biden shirts in 2021 before launching her own brand of shirts with statements like “Unapologetically Conservative,” which have been modeled by her husband.
It’s the Streisand Effect in action. I doubt that “Try That in a Small Town” would have been nearly the hit that it’s become if Watts hadn’t made cancelling it her cause du jour a couple of weeks ago. Again, the song was released back in May and was hardly one of Aldean’s biggest singles, but after Watts and other gun control activists began piling on, downloading the song and watching the video became an act of political and cultural defiance embraced by millions of Americans.
What was likely going to be a so-so single for Aldean has now become the biggest hit of his career, thanks in large part to the manufactured controversy concocted by Watts and other anti-gunners who professed to be oh-so-offended by the song’s lyrics about keeping ahold of guns even though “they” want to round them up. Her ginned-up controversy ended up generating a huge amount of sales and streams for “Don’t Try That in a Small Town; arguably her biggest “success” in more than a decade of anti-gun activism. In fact, I’d say that Shannon Watts is now officially more successful at record promotion than she is at promoting gun control, given her inability to move the needle on Capitol Hill when it comes to new infringements on our right to keep and bear arms.
Congratulations to Jason Aldean for his chart-topping success, and a tip of the hat to Shannon Watts as well. I don’t think he could have done it without her, at least for this particular single, but thanks in large part to her opposition the country star is on top of the charts and flying high.