5 Country Songs Banned in the 2000s-2020s That Were Still Hits

In 1952, Kitty Wells experienced one of the first bans in country music when her song “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” was banned by the Grand Ole Opry and NBC for addressing the double standard between men and women and how female country artists were often ignored by the male-dominated country radio.

Whether it was Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man,” deemed degrading to women by the women’s liberation movement in the ’60s, Loretta Lynn‘s 1970s anthem of female reproductive rights, “The Pill,” the next decade over, or Garth Brooks’ video for “The Thunder Rolls” in 1990, which depicted an abusive husband murdered by his wife, country music has never been a stranger to controversy—and bans.

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[RELATED: 5 Artists Banned by the Grand Ole Opry]

From controversial lyrics to questionable imagery in music videos, bans within country music continued for decades and well into the 21st century. Here’s a look at five songs banned in country music from the 2000s through the 2020s.

1. “Red Rag Top,” Tom McGraw (2002)

Back in 1994, Tim McGraw faced some criticism for his hit “Indian Outlaw” and its Native American clichés. Nearly a decade later when Tim McGraw covered “Red Rag Top,” originally written and recorded by Jason White, for his seventh album Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors, some stations refused to play it since the song centers around a couple’s decision to have an abortion: We decided not to have a child / So we did what we did and we tried to forget / And we swore up and down there would be no regrets in the morning light.

Regardless of some initial bans, McGraw’s “Red Rag Top” peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and even broke onto the Hot 100 at No. 40.

2. “Smoke a Little Smoke,” Eric Church (2009)

Even though Eric Church‘s 2009 single “Smoke a Little Smoke” wouldn’t get played by some stations, the song still hit the Top 20 on the Country chart at No. 16. Co-written by Church, Jeff Hyde, and Driver Williams, “Smoke a Little Smoke” faced some controversy since it referenced drug use—specifically marijuana: Wanna little more right and a little less left / Little more right now, a little less what’s next / Act like tomorrow’s ten years away / And just kick back and let the feelin’ flow / Drink a little drink, smoke a little smoke.

3. “Follow Your Arrow,” Kacey Musgraves (2013)

Kiss lots of boys or kiss lots of girls / If that’s something you’re into Kacey Musgraves sings in “Follow Your Arrow.” Co-written with openly gay songwriters Shane McAnally and Brandy Clark, “Follow Your Arrow” was criticized for its support of the LGBTQ+ community when the lyrics call out more that’s judged within society—and beyond same-sex relationships—from rolling a joint to losing too much weight, and more.

The song peaked at No. 10 on the Country chart and picked up a CMA Award for Song of the Year in 2014.

4. “Girl Crush,” Little Big Town (2014)

By 2015, Little Big Town‘s hit “Girl Crush” was getting pulled from country radio for its “gay agenda” by some same-sex sensitive stations. The lyrics I’ve got a girl crush / Hate to admit it but / I got a hard rush / It’s slowin’ down may have alluded to a jealous lesbian affair, the song was centered around a heterosexual relationship.

Written by the Love Junkies’ Lori McKenna, Hillary Lindsey, and Liz Rose, “Girl Crush” was still a success despite any radio play cuts and went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart.

Watch Lori McKenna discuss writing “Girl Crush” HERE.

5. “Try That in a Small Town,” Jason Aldean (2023)

When released in May 2023, Jason Aldean’s single “Try That in a Small Town” didn’t spark many reactions. The song, written by Kelley Lovelace, Neil Thrasher, Tully Kennedy, and Kurt Allison addressed crime, the deterioration within smaller towns, and how people can do something about it.

[RELATED: Exclusive: Jason Aldean and the Songwriters of “Try That in a Small Town” Share the True Story Behind the Song

Shortly after its release, the music video for “Try That in a Small Town” was pulled from rotation by CMT with some suggesting it depicts anti-protest imagery and lyrics alluding to violence. Directed by Shaun Silva, the video was filmed at the Maury County Courthouse in Columbia, Tennessee, the site where 18-year-old Henry Choate was lynched in 1927. The video features Aldean playing with his band in front of the courthouse and is interspersed with imagery of anti-police brutality protests.

“When you grow up in a small town, it’s that unspoken rule of ‘We all have each other’s backs and we look out for each other,’” said Aldean. “It feels like somewhere along the way, that sense of community and respect has gotten lost. Deep down we are all ready to get back to that.”

Despite the video ban on some networks, the song still topped the Billboard Hot 100 and Country charts.

Read the meaning behind Aldean’s “Try That in a Small Town” HERE.

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for iHeartMedia

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