A Year After ‘Small Town’ Ban, Jason Aldean Performs at 2024 CMT Music Awards – Billboard

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While Jason Aldean’s performance at the 2024 CMT Music Awards was fairly straightforward for the country hitmaker, his appearance on the network’s signature awards show had some people raising their eyebrows.

Singing “Let Your Boys Be Country,” a twangy rocker from his 2023 album Highway Desperado and top 20 hit on Billboard‘s Country Airplay chart, Aldean demonstrated why he’s one of the more reliable live performers in the genre. Though the show was broadcast from the Moody Center in Austin, Texas, Aldean’s performance was filmed outdoors at the University of Texas at Austin.  

More than a few people – both critics and fans of Aldean – wondered why he was included as part of the show. Not quite a year ago, CMT pulled Aldean’s “Try That In a Small Town” music video from its airwaves, prompted by criticism from people who said the video demonized Black Lives Matter, if not Black people in general, with some going as far as to call it a “modern day lynching song.” Certainly a pro-gun, anti-protest song that places small-town America as a morally superior place to big cities, “Small Town” wasn’t a runaway hit for Aldean until the controversy turned it into a political lightning rod. “There is not a single lyric in the song that references race or points to it,” Aldean wrote on social media in response to the backlash, “And there isn’t a single video clip that isn’t real news footage.” The ensuing debate ended up propelling the song to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, with Aldean’s defenders supporting it in defiance of critics.

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When Aldean tweeted about his CMT performance on April 3, comments on X demonstrated that the polarizing song continues to define public perception of Aldean. Some fans questioned why Aldean would bother with the CMTs after they pulled his video; some said they were no longer fans after “Small Town”; and some subtweeted the CMT Awards for platforming him at all. Plenty of X users, however, simply expressed excitement.

Aldean’s CMT performance, incidentally, took place under the UT Austin’s main building, also known as The Tower. In 1966, The Tower was the site of a massacre when a student took a rifle and fatally shot 14 people from the observation deck. Aldean’s own history, sadly, touches on another gun massacre in American history. During the 2017 Route 91 music festival in Las Vegas, a gunman opened fire on the crowd during Aldean’s closing set, killing 60 people.

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