The short answer is “Yes,” but not for the reason you might think.
Three months ago, I wondered if it was time for Jason Aldean to “have his legacy reexamined.” For the most part, I’ve found his single releases to be at least halfway decent over the course of the blog’s existence, and I wondered if he was finally becoming more of a boon to the country music community than a bane. In the last week, however, recent events have pushed folks to perform that reevaluation, and for my money, the results haven’t been pretty.
The recent uproar over Aldean stems from pictures that his wife Brittany posted on social media of herself and the couple’s children wearing anti-Biden shirts, as well as Aldean’s recent rant against California’s institution of a vaccine mandate for schoolchildren. While these events may have gotten a bit more media coverage this time around, Aldean has been getting more outspoken about his politics recently: The Post mentions a social media post questioning the 2020 election results and an anti-mask declaration he made in the middle of the surge of the Delta variant of the coronavirus.
Wading into hot-button political issues like this is a surefire way to provoke a shouting match, and represents a stark departure from Aldean’s 2016 position that politics is “one subject I do stay away from. Politics is a no-win.” It seems that Aldean and his team have come to the same conclusion that Blake Shelton did: Play to your base, get in peoples’ faces, draw a hard line between “us” and “them,” and then sit back and profit. At this point, the strategy seems to be paying dividends for him (witness his latest single “If I Didn’t Love You” rocketing up the charts), but it’s also become the latest flashpoint that’s got some folks reconsidering their country fandom altogether.
Personally, I consider Aldean’s stance and statements regarding masks and vaccines to be disappointing and dangerous, as they encourage people that follow him to flout the very public health measures that I’ve been asking people to follow in my Pulse posts for over a year now. The question posed by the post’s title, however, is very different: Does Jason Aldean deserve to get the Morgan Wallen treatment for his behavior?
Based solely on his recent statements, this is a tricky question. Aldean has certainly let people know how he feels about masks and mandates, but from what I can find he hasn’t crossed into outright misinformation yet, although the election meme he posted has some questionable implications and was beyond bizarre. (Brittany Aldean is a different story, and she’s already drawn the attention of Instagram moderators, but we’re only considering her husband here.) Based only on these incidents, I’m not quite ready to show Mr. Aldean the door for speaking his mind, despite how repulsed I am at what’s inside his mind.
Another recent event, however, provides much more clarity on what to do with Jason Aldean. If there’s any treatment he deserves, it’s the Jon Gruden treatment.
During its investigation into the Washington Football Team, the NFL uncovered a trove of emails from Gruden (who was an ESPN commentator at the time, and was later hired as head coach of the Los Vegas Raiders) that “contained racist, homophobic and misogynistic comments.” The specific comments that have come to light are absolutely disgusting, and while Gruden resigned from the Raiders before he could be fired, it’s safe to say that he won’t find another job in the NFL anytime soon. (Unfortunately, it’s also a safe bet that Gruden will likely be back in football at some point; the game is well-known for giving offenders second and third chances no matte how vile their transgressions were, especially is someone is considered a “winner.”)
So how does this relate to Jason Aldean? Well, he’s got his own bigoted skeleton in his closet, specifically his use of blackface as part of a Lil Wayne Halloween costume in 2015. Given the racist history of the practice, I would put the incident on par with Wallen’s casual use of the n-word in terms of its insensitivity, and would have thought that Aldean would have thought twice about doing something this prejudiced and stupid. The incident, however, barely made much of a ripple in the media at the time (I myself had basically forgotten about the incident until recently), and Aldean himself only half-apologized for his actions a year later (while also whining about how he thought people were overly sensitive about such behavior). In the end, Aldean paid absolutely zero price for his behavior, and his career just kept right on rolling.
I think it’s time that Aldean finally faced some consequences for his ignorant actions. Sure, it’s been nearly six years since the incident, but the Gruden emails were several years and one job ago too, and neither he nor Aldean should get a pass for their recent past. While I think Wallen got off a little too easily for his outburst earlier this year, I’d say that’s at least a starting point for what should happen to Aldean: Kick him off the radio, suspend his recording contract (honestly, I’d support terminating it outright), and force him to a) think about the implications of his behavior, and b) demonstrate that he has moved beyond it.
While I still like a lot of Jason Aldean’s recent single releases, I believe that there are some things that you just don’t do, and if you carelessly and thoughtlessly emulate and propagate racist behaviors, there have to be consequences. It’s not too late to take a stand and hold Aldean accountable for his actions, and that’s exactly what I think country radio and BBR Music Group need to do. If we’re ever going to change country music’s stereotypical image as a backwards, closed-minded community, we need to demonstrate that we’re more than just an insensitive old boys’ club, and that anyone can find a home within the genre. As I stated with Wallen, there’s a place for Aldean in this expanded genre tent too, but not without him serving penance for his sins and resolving to be a better person going forward.