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Morgan Wallen has addressed the moment he was caught on camera using a racist slur — and the aftermath of the incident, which included a significant uptick in his album sales and highlighted the ongoing issue of racial inequity in country music.
The singer revealed that the video — which showed him using the N-word outside his Nashville home in January — captured what he thought at the time was a "playful" exchange between drunken pals, but he has since realized how ignorance clouded his "wrong" judgment, he said in a Friday interview with Good Morning America's Michael Strahan.
"[I] didn't mean it in any derogatory manner at all," Wallen told Strahan, adding that he only used the word around a certain group of friends and didn't realize the implications it could have.
Strahan went on to explain the history of the word and its ties to slavery-era America, and stressed that many Black people often hear the word before they're assaulted or even killed.
"I don't know how to put myself in their shoes because I'm not, but I do understand, especially when I say I'm using it playfully or ignorantly, it must sound like [I don't] understand," Wallen said.
.@michaelstrahan: “I’ve been called it...do you understand why it makes Black people so upset?”
Country Music star @MorganWallen sits down for his first interview since he was caught on tape using a racial slur. https://t.co/92TtmATFC6 pic.twitter.com/x1oHq9JNYf
— Good Morning America (@GMA) July 23, 2021
Strahan also probed the star on the issue of racial division and inequality in country music, which Wallen admitted he didn't know much about. Indicative of the rift, Strahan later pointed out, was the fact that Wallen's 2021 album Dangerous went on to become the most popular album of the year — with 2.108 units moved between January and July according to Billboard — despite the fact that the 28-year-old was suspended from his label before his songs were pulled from the radio, he was barred from the 2021 Billboard Music Awards, and he was deemed ineligible for consideration at the 2021 ACM Awards.
To atone for the behavior and get to the root of a "deeper issue," Wallen explained that he went to a rehabilitation center for 30 days in San Diego, and reached out to several Black-led organizations and individuals, including the Black Music Action Coalition advocacy group and singer BeBe Winans.
"We tried to calculate what the number of how much [my sales] actually spiked from this incident," he continued. "We got to a number somewhere around $500,000, and we decided to donate that money to some organizations. BMAC was the first one."
When I read comments saying “this is not who we are” I laugh because this is exactly who country music is. I’ve witnessed it for 10 gd years. You guys should just read some of the vile comments hurled at me on a daily basis. It’s a cold hard truth to face but it is the truth. pic.twitter.com/l3h18Z1ARU
— Mickey Guyton (@MickeyGuyton) February 3, 2021
While Wallen's sales skyrocketed after the controversy, it ignited intense conversations among others in the industry. "Black Like Me" singer Mickey Guyton — the first Black woman to receive a Grammy nod in the Best Country Solo Performance category — spoke out against racism in country music in a February tweet thread.
"When I read comments saying 'this is not who we are' I laugh because this is exactly who country music is. I've witnessed it for 10 gd years," she wrote. "You guys should just read some of the vile comments hurled at me on a daily basis. It's a cold hard truth to face but it is the truth."
She continued, "I question on a daily basis as to why I continue to fight to be in an industry that seems to hate me so much. But then I realize there is a new artist of color, all bright eyed and excited to be in this industry. This artist might not have the strength to fight for themselves. But I do. And I will be that artist's warrior as they pursue their dream of singing country music because their dreams are valid too."
Watch Wallen's interview on Good Morning America above.
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