By Kurt Wolff
Brad Paisley’s new album Wheelhouse isn’t even in stores yet (it’s set for release tomorrow), but already one of the songs is causing controversy for its lyrics that attempt to address racial tensions in the South.
Called “Accidental Racist,” the song appears aimed at helping to bridge misunderstandings. The song starts out with a guy apologizing for the Confederate flag on his T-shirt to a a worker he encountered at the local Starbucks. As his protagonist sings, “when I put on that T-shirt, the only thing I meant to say, is I’m a Skynyrd fan.”
“I’m proud of where I’m from,” the chorus goes, “but not everything we’ve done.” And his protagonist does admit that he’s “got a lot to learn,” and ultimately, “I just want to make things right.”
In the back half of the song, guest artist LL Cool J steps in with a counterpoint to Brad’s “white cowboy hat” POV. LL’s lines include lyrics like, “Just because my pants are saggin’ doesn’t mean I’m up to no good/You should try to get to know me, I really wish you would.”
And the point they seem to be trying to make is that judgement is a two-way street. As LL continues, “When I see that white cowboy hat, I’m thinking it’s not all good/I guess we’re both guilty of judging the cover and not the book.”
LL eventually concludes, “If you don’t judge my do-rag, I won’t judge your red flag.” So, all good, right?
Not so fast. While some might see the song as a sincere attempt at mending centuries of racial tension, others who’ve heard it find that the lines about “Southern pride” and “red flags” only fuel the flames of a still-hot issue.
As The Hairpin writes, “the song is a lyrical disgrace filled with awkward non-apologies and faux-pensiveness over the history of racism in the south.” Jezebel calls it “a mournful ballad about how hard it is to be a white man.” And Salon simply slams it as “a strong contender for the worst song of all time,” citing that whatever apologies Brad’s protagonist is making are “deeply conditional.”
“Accidental Racist”: Strong contender for the worst song of all time slnm.us/fbBNwP8
— Salon.com (@Salon) April 8, 2013
Brad himself appears ready for all this–and ready to continue the conversation. As he told Entertainement Weekly, “This isn’t a stunt. I’m [releasing the song] because it just feels more relevant than it even did a few years ago. I think that we’re going through an adolescence in America when it comes to race.”
Brad wrote the song with Lee Miller. “We were talking about Southern pride,” he says in the promotional video about the song that was provided to Radio.com, “and how far we’ve come, and racism… and things also feel like maybe they aren’t better yet.”
Halfway through writing, Brad got the idea to include LL Cool J. “I wanted [his] perspective. LL being such a tremendously respectable, wonderful guy. To hear what he thinks and his point of view in this song. Being from the north, being black, and how he feels about the subject. It really meant the world to me that he was willing to do this.”
“He’s very creative and courageous to do this, in the sense that this isn’t a typical thing to sing about.”
Brad says that they both realized that they weren’t “answering questions” with the song. “But we are maybe asking some questions. And that’s the first step to finding answers.”
Ultimately, Brad calls the song “one of my proudest moments as a songwriter.”
In a recent Radio.com interview, LL echoed the love for Brad and “Accidental Racist.” “You know, working with Brad was amazing,” he said, going on to explain that he thinks the song is “very thought provoking and very interesting. It’s going to get a lot of attention. But we did something that was really cool.”
LL goes on to say that Brad returned the favor and played on his record as well. But he was clear, he wasn’t looking for just “a gimmicky thing.” Instead, he simply finds Brad to be a great musician.
Brad Paisley’s Wheelhouse hits stores and digital outlets on April 9.