Does the music video "Try That In A Small Town" by country music singer Jason Aldean only contain "real news footage," as he asserted in a public response to criticism that his song and video promote violence and allude to timeworn lynching threats? No, that's not true: Not every clip in the video is news footage. There are several stock footage and made-up clips with riot-themed imagery interspersed with authentic news video. Additionally, much of the authentic footage shows protests that took place in other countries -- some dating back more than 10 years.
The official music video for the song "Try That In A Small Town" was published on Jason Aldean's YouTube channel on July 14, 2023. Controversy about the song and the video began to heat up; on July 18, 2023, Aldean published a statement addressing the criticism in a post on Facebook. The post opened:
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. 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.
(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Fri Jul 21 20:10:17 2023 UTC)
His statement continues:
As so many pointed out, I was present at Route 91-where so many lost their lives- and our community recently suffered another heartbreaking tragedy. NO ONE, including me, wants to continue to see senseless headlines or families ripped apart.Try That In A Small Town, for me, refers to the feeling of a community that I had growing up, where we took care of our neighbors, regardless of differences of background or belief. Because they were our neighbors, and that was above any differences. My political views have never been something I've hidden from, and I know that a lot of us in this Country don't agree on how we get back to a sense of normalcy where we go at least a day without a headline that keeps us up at night. But the desire for it to- that's what this song is about.
Stock footage from Pond5
Twelve clips from Aldean's video were found on the stock footage website pond5.com. This count may not include additional clips from that website that were identified elsewhere. Just because a video clip is available for purchase on a stock footage website does not mean the video does not show a real event. But some stock footage is fabricated to look like a real event: One pond5.com example -- which is not in the Aldean video -- shows a group of three actors depicting Black BLM protestors with riot props and an American flag. It was filmed in Russia.
But, two clips, which appear at 13 seconds and 49 seconds into the Aldean video, are artistic riot-themed stock footage. The clip of the Molotov cocktail (at left in composite image below) is titled with keywords, "Molotov Cocktail Flame Danger Man Shadow Rebel Terrorist Hd" and was produced by @cleverarts a video service from Bulgaria. The clip of a group of young men in balaclavas (right half of composite) was filmed by Ukrainian videographer @redbred, who has 17,256 videos featured on the Pond5 site.
(Source: Lead Stories composite image with YouTube screenshots taken on Fri Jul 21 22:04:17 2023 UTC)
The Aldean video uses three clips showing protest scenes from Canada (here, here and here), one each from Germany and England (from the Tottenham Riots against police shootings in 2011 in North London) and three clips from 2014 anti-corruption protests in Kiev, Ukraine (here, here and here). These were all identified on Pond5.com.
Pond5.com clips from the United States show a green-hued night vision-style clip (59 seconds into the video) of riot police in Pittsburgh at the Group of 20 conference, and a riot police formation (at the 1:48 mark in the video) in Washington, D.C., on January 20, 2017, advancing during protests of Donald Trump's inauguration.
Clips taken out of context
At 1:35 in the Aldean video is a clip showing a protester with a stick running across a street where debris is burning. When Lead Stories used Google Lens to do a reverse image search of this image, an August 25, 2020, article in the Catalan language website ccma.cat came up with a match. That article documented how footage from the riot in Barcelona in 2019 was used to disparage Joe Biden in an American political ad published on YouTube on August 24, 2020. When this clip from the Barcelona riots shows, the featured speaker, Catalina Lauf is saying:
This is a taste of Biden's America. I mean this, the rioting, the crime. Freedom is at stake now, and this is going to be the most important election of our lifetime. We want to preserve the America that our mother came here for.
Coincidentally, at the 4:09 mark in that political video, we found another protest video clip that was used in Aldean's video (at 39 seconds in). That clip, which is on Shutterstock.com, is captioned, "NEW YORK - MAY 30, 2020: protestors riot burning small isolated fire in intersection on street at night to protest police killing of George Floyd."
(Source: YouTube screenshot taken on Fri Jul 21 22:04:17 2023 UTC)
There were four clips in Aldean's video showing protests that happened in Ukraine during protests against a corrupt government in 2013 and 2014 (here, here, here and here). Lead Stories was not able to find an exact match for each photo, but matched identifying details in the surroundings. The clips pictured below appear at the 0:28, 1:38, 1:49 and 2:07 marks in Aldean's video.
(Image source: Lead Stories composite image with YouTube screenshots taken on Fri Jul 21 22:10:17 2023 UTC)
Not every clip in Aldean's video shows protests. Some clips show break-ins, robberies and a carjacking that we could not identify a source for.
Three clips were of authentic American crimes. At the 1:16 mark, a truck pulls a security gate off a building. This was a March 2, 2016, robbery of a gun store in Houston. Another clip shows a 2018 robbery at a Fresno, California, liquor store, and another shows a Marine stopping an armed robbery in Yuma, Arizona, in 2021.
At 2:06 minutes into Aldean's video a protester is shown carrying a cardboard sign that reads, "When Will This End?" Lead Stories identified this man, John Ball of Minneapolis, because he was featured in a July 14, 2016, article by Minnesota Public Radio titled, "Allies on the front lines: Black Lives Matter's non-black activists." The article was published a week after Philando Castile was shot by police during a traffic stop. Castile's girlfriend Diamond Reynolds live streamed what would be Castille's last moments on a Facebook Live video. The MPR article begins:
John Ball hoisted his 6-foot-wide cardboard sign with the words 'When will this end?' and stared down St. Paul police officers on Interstate 94 as he and other protesters closed the highway for hours Saturday night.