Republican presidential candidates are rallying behind country music singer Jason Aldean and his song “Try That in a Small Town,” issuing statements of support in what has become a political controversy and playing the tune at their campaign rallies.

Since its release in mid-May, the now divisive song has skyrocketed in popularity among GOP and conservative listeners while being roundly denounced by the left, which accuse it of promoting gun violence and racism.

Adding to the controversy was the official music video for the song, which premiered July 14 on YouTube.

The music video features as a backdrop to Mr. Aldean singing at the Maury County Courthouse in Columbia, Tenn., a balcony from which a mob hanged black 18-year 0ld Henry Choate in 1927. Columbia is also the site of a 1946 major race riot.

The producers of the video said that Mr. Aldean did not choose the location.

On July 20, “Try That in a Small Town” hit No. 1 on the U.S. iTunes chart.

Music Television (MTV) and Country Music Television (CMT), however, have banned the video from playing on their networks.

Among the 2024 hopefuls touting the song are Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former UN Ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence, and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.

Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Pence made public comments backing the song, and Ms. Haley and Mr. Ramaswamy played the music at their rallies and have committed to keep doing so.

At a New Hampshire town hall on July 20, Mr. Ramaswamy explained why he chose to play the song at the event.

“You want to understand the best measure of America’s health? Here’s what it is: it is the percentage of people who feel free to say what they actually think in public,” the biotech entrepreneur told the crowd.

“I respect—whether it’s a musical artist, whether it’s a parent, whether it’s a corporate executive who will say in public the things that you are otherwise supposed to keep to yourself.”

On July 21 in South Carolina, Ms. Haley posted on Twitter: “You all know I love music. Tonight in Greenville, we added a new song to the playlist: Jason Aldean’s ‘Try That in a Small Town.’“

Mr. Pence commented on the song when speaking with reporters at a campaign stop in New Hampshire:

“I think the attacks on Jason Aldean for penning a song that just really celebrates the strength of small towns like the one I grew up in is really despicable,” he said.

“It’s just an example of the kind of conflict within the popular culture that we’ve grown accustomed to.”

Appearing on Fox News, Ron DeSantis spoke to the controversy over the song, saying, “We need to restore sanity to this country. I mean, what is going on that that would be something that would be censured. I mean, give me a break. We’re off the rocker here.”

Aldean addressed the controversy in a tweet he posted on July 18.

“In the past 24 hours, I have been accused of releasing a pro-lynching song (a song that has been out since May) and was subject to the comparison that I (direct quote) was not too pleased with the nationwide BLM protests,” he wrote.

“These references are not only meritless, but dangerous. 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 -and while I can try and respect others to have their own interpretation of a song with music- this one goes too far.”

Lyrics, Messages, and Images

With inner-city crime a flashpoint issue in politics and the culture wars, the song and video make comparisons between how lawless behavior is handled in urban environments in America and how it is dealt with in the nation’s small towns.

The song implies that illegal and violent conduct that flourishes and is not prosecuted in urban places is promptly handled in smaller communities, with that discipline being administered, in part, by private citizens.

The song starts with the lines: “Sucker punch somebody on a sidewalk/ Carjack an old lady at a red light …/ Ya think it’s cool…. ”

And it continues: “Well, try that in a small town/ … Around here, we take care of our own.”

Beyond the Maury Courthouse images, the official music video contains, among other action footage, the American flag being set on fire, a person brandishing a gun jumping over a liquor store counter, and rioters throwing objects at police.

Near the end of the video, there is a segment in which the American flag is being raised and also action of kids playing in a yard, hunters with guns, and a tractor rolling across a field.

As of July 22, on the official YouTube page of Jason Aldean, the music video had 10 million views.

Nathan Worcester contributed to the report.

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