Brad Paisley has read most of the "serious criticism" of "Accidental Racist," his ill-fated song with LL Cool J. On the track, LL and Paisley trade off reconciliations in a dubiously reductive manner (LL: "If you don't judge my gold chains... I'll forget the iron chains"). Critics everywhere noticed and came out in full force, calling the song racist and, essentially, stupid.
In a new interview with New York Magazine, Paisley says he never thought the song would make headlines, because it was a "deep cut" on a country album. He also recounts a pretty funny story about how NPR allegedly rejected an interview with him and then went on to discuss the song at length upon its release. But all in all, the country singer known primarily as a career progressive says he thought of the track's impact on his own fans:
The truth is, I mostly thought about “Accidental Racist” in terms of my fans. This song was meant to generate discussion among the people who listen to my albums. What I was most worried about is that my fan base would think that I was preaching to them. The last thing I ever want to do is be preachy. But I thought that my fans would get something out of hearing a point of view that they don’t hear very often — a perspective you really don’t hear in country music. Some Southerners got very mad it me: “I’m done with you. How dare you apologize for the Confederate flag.” But the majority of my fans said, “We know you, we love you — and we don’t understand the controversy, we don’t get why everyone is so mad.” Which tells you all you need to know, right there. There is a gulf of understanding that I was trying to address.
The entire interview is worth your eyeballs, in particular because of pop critic Jody Rosen's candid style of questioning. At one point, he begins to quote Ta-Nehisi Coates' article "Why 'Accidental Racist' Is Actually Just Racist," in which Coates argues that Paisley should celebrate the achievements of southerners like Martin Luther King, Jr. Paisley notches a win here:
Sorry, I have to interrupt you. I like what [Coates] says, it’s smart. I’d love to talk to him someday. But I have to say this: Do you know what I did last year on Martin Luther King's birthday? I played a show for the inauguration of our president. It was a really big party. I was a featured guest at a huge party on Dr. King’s birthday.
When the song was first released, the backlash came swiftly and from nearly all corners. A critic went so far as to call the song "horrible" and not give "any good grades for effort."
Cool J took a different line, arguing the song was simply meant to start a fire. "The song isn’t perfect," he said in an appearance on "The Tonight Show." "You can’t defend a song, because art is subjective. And people choose to see and hear what they want to see based on what they’re looking at, and I’ll never be able to change that. But as long as people are having a conversation, then the art has done it’s job."
The most candid and intelligent conversation to date is definitely the New York piece. Head over and read it now.