Well, well, well, well, well, well.
Looky here: Country superstar Brad Paisley is getting everyone's boots in a bind with a new single called "Accidental Racist." The track also features rapper LL Cool J, and the duo riff for nearly 6 minutes on race relations, symbolism, southern pride and slavery. It's quite an earful, content-wise, but here are some of the more interesting bits:
Paisley: "The red flag on my chest somehow is like the elephant in the corner of the South...Just a proud rebel son with an ol' can of worms, looks like I've got a lot to learn."
LL: "I'd love to buy you a beer, conversate and clear the air, but I see that red flag and I think you wish I wasn't here."
Alright, so Paisley has some mixed feelings about the Confederate flag. This topic gives way to even more touchier subjects:
Paisley: "They called in Reconstruction, fixed the buildings, dried some tears. We're still sifting through the rubble after a hundred-fifty years."
LL: "If you don't judge my gold chains, I'll forget the iron chains."
Reconstruction? Slavery? Cross-generational guilt and blame? Clearly there is a lot to unpack here. You can read the full lyrics here (or just listen below), but it seems a lot of folks are not in the same pew as Brad and LL when it comes to the message of the song. They're not even in the same church. Heck, or the same diocese.
The song has been called "a real, horrible song," "awkwardness," "bizarre," the "strangest music collaboration ever," and is posited to "probably make you cringe." Most commonly, Paisley has been accused of making excuses for heated symbols like the Confederate flag, and trying to equate the pain of Reconstruction and being a misunderstood "white man living in the southland" with the pain of slavery. Despite the backlash, both artists have stood by the song and say it's a difficult interpretation of a difficult subject.
"I just think art has a responsibility to lead the way, and I don’t know the answers, but I feel like asking the question is the first step," Paisley told Entertainment Weekly. "And we’re asking the question in a big way. How do I show my Southern pride? What is offensive to you?"
"It just doesn’t do any good to blatantly do things and be like, ‘Just get over it,'" he continued. "That’s not what we’re saying. This is a very sensitive subject, and we’re trying to have the discussion in a way that it can help.”
HLN caught up with LL Cool J recently and asked him about the song: "It's a bold statement in general, about that's what art is about," LL said. "Music is about, and art is about, connecting different people, and building bridges and breaking the rules. You know, because if it's not compelling, and it's not complex and it's not interesting, then what are we doing it for?"
This isn't the first time the seemingly benign country crooner has tackled subjects of Southern identity and racism. Past hits like "Welcome to the Future," and current hit "Southern Comfort Zone" touch on the friction often felt between "Southern pride" and perceived regional ignorance and racial discrimination.
Despite the artists' best intentions, the common sentiments seem to be, in descending order: "What the heck?" "What were they thinking?" and perhaps most importantly and least viscerally, "What does this solve?" That last point is still up for discussion, but maybe that is where Brad and LL have found an early victory amongst the criticism. We are discussing it, after all.
Listen to the whole thing below, and tell us what you think. We're dying to know.