Country singer Brad Paisley says he had no idea that his new single would ignite a media firestorm. The song, “Accidental Racist,” has Paisley and rapper LL Cool J arguing some hot-button topics from the point of view of a stereotypical southern white man and a northern black man.
Instead of creating a “country meets hip hip” dialogue as Paisley had intended, many critics said the singer/songwriter might as well have dropped the “accidental” part of the title. Salon called it “jarring” and “awful” and asked “How is accidental racism different from non-accidental racism (it isn’t)?”
USA Today asked if it’s an “epic fail,” while Jezebel agreed it’s a candidate for “The Worst Song Ever (TM)” and compares Paisley’s lyrics about a Southerner calling himself a “proud rebel son” is no different from someone saying they’re a “proud Third Reich daughter.”
“I thought maybe it would be an interesting conversation between country music and rap music to deal with this subject between two individuals in a loving and understanding way,” Paisley told Jay Leno of the controversial song. The country star argued that movies like Lincoln and Django Unchained dealt with the same issues, and that “in the context of [his new] record, it makes a little more sense.” He admitted, “It feels like, when you take the song out of this record, it’s sort of like ‘What in the world? What got him on that?'”
Paisley explained to Leno, “The entire album ‘Wheelhouse’ is meant to touch on some themes that I think aren’t normally touched on in music.” He said, that the controversy “really makes me sad… I don’t feel like a racist in the least.” His favorite reaction was from a little girl who told him she thought the song meant, “People can be friends, no matter what they wear,” whether it’s an Alabama T-shirt or sagging pants.
One unlikely supporter is Michael Reagan, son of President Ronald Reagan, who tweeted “the world would not have heard The Evil Empire Speech or Tear Down This Wall Speech if my father would have listened to the naysayers. He understood as you do, your audience is larger than those who point fingers. Your song speaks the truth.”
Paisley hopes that, despite all the controversy, something good comes out of the heated debate about whether the song is racist. “We don’t expect to get the answer in this song,” he says. “It’s not perfect, but it’s honest, and it comes from a good place. My prayer is that it’ll make something good happen.”
In his 2012 memoir, Diary of a Player, Paisley reveals that he’s always felt like an “underdog” when it comes to songwriting. “I’m this weird combination of funny guy/sensitive balladeer who no one knew quite what to make of for a while there…. Whether by making some fancy video to get folks’ attention or performing a song that’s shocking, impactful or unique, I feel I have reached superstar status the hard way. It has definitely not been easy.”