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Walking the line: How two new country music videos are polarizing fans

Two popular country music videos are polarizing fans of the genre. Here's why.
Two popular country music videos are polarizing fans of the genre. Here's why. Copyright YouTube - Broken Bow Records
Copyright YouTube - Broken Bow Records
By Savin Mattozzi
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Two weeks after Jason Aldean released the music video for his now controversial hit 'Try That in a Small Town', Tyler Childers delivered what some are calling a restoration of true country music.

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Country music fans are picking sides as two of the genre’s biggest singers have released music videos that have radically different views on how the country music scene should be depicted.

The controversy surrounding Jason Aldean’s song 'Try That in a Small Town' didn’t make headlines until the release of the accompanying music video this past month.

The video shows Aldean and his band in front of a brightly lit white courthouse in Columbia, Tennessee. The square where the video was filmed was later revealed to be the site of race riots back in 1946 and a 1927 lynching.

While Aldean sings warnings to those who he portrays as bringing unwarranted violence to a small town, the music video flashes between clips of civil rights protesters clashing with police and CCTV footage of armed robberies. He even takes numerous clips from protests and riots in several European countries passing them off as having occurred in the US.

Quickly after the music video was uploaded, critics blasted the singer for instigating violence and encouraging racist vigilantism.

Despite the criticism, the song has landed pretty solidly with country music fans. 'Try That in a Small Town' has now garnished 25 million views on YouTube in just a couple of weeks and has reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.

Tyler Childer’s counter-narrative

In stark contrast to Aldean’s cautionary tale, the music video to Tyler Childers' 'In Your Love' shows a tender, softer side to country music while still addressing social issues.

Although the lyrics telling the story of what it takes to love somebody could be applied to any context, the music video makes it clear the love Childers is singing about.

Set in a fictional 1950s coal mining town, the video follows the lives of two gay miners who fall in love and face discrimination from co-workers, while also showing a supporting network of friends. The story takes a turn when one of the men falls ill from the infamous black lung, a respiratory sickness that commonly effects coal miners.

In an interview with NPR, Childers’ explained that one of the motivating factors for portraying a gay love story was the he wanted his family members to feel represented in country music, an industry not known for its tolerance of the LGBTQ+ community.

“One reason that I wanted to do this music video was my cousin growing up, who's like my big brother, is gay” Childers said. “He taught me so much about singing; he was my first tough critic. And just thinking about him not having a music video on CMT that spoke to him.”

Silas House, the writer for the music video explains that Childers wanted to humanize the experience of a community that is often left out of their music.

“He wants to tell a story like this because he has friends and family who are members of the LGBT community, and are part of the story of Appalachia, too” Silas says. “These are human stories, not political stories.

While the decision to include a community that is often shunned in country music led to some fans to claim that they lost respect for Childers, many others have praised the music video and song for telling true stories of the lives of people in Appalachia, while staying true to the traditional sounds of country music.

Historical rifts in country music

Country music fans are no strangers to controversy and political disagreements. Perhaps one of the most well known incidents was in 2003 when Natalie Maines of the Chicks - formally the Dixie Chicks - commented in front of a crowd in London that she was “ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas” referring to then-president George W. Bush in the run up to the invasion of Iraq.

The group’s music was subsequently taken off of numerous country radio stations across the US in protest to what many called “anti-American comments.”

Although country music is now closely affiliated with the right-wing in the US, some of the genre’s most famous singers hail from leftist backgrounds.

Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, among many others, have all famously spoken out in favour for workers rights, as well as against war and racism, both in their songs and in public life.

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