Morgan Wallen is speaking out about his uttering of a racial slur, more than five months after he was caught on video spewing a hateful term, among other profanities, following several days of partying. It was a word, Wallen later admitted, he had spoken before, but after the video surfaced, and both his career and personal life came under attack, he knew he had to change.
“My manager called me probably two hours before the video came out,” Wallen recalled to Good Morning America. “He was, like, ‘Are you sitting down?’ And no one’s ever called me and said that before. I think I realized quickly how much my words matter, and the weight and influence I have.”
Wallen claims that, while it wasn’t a word he used on a regular basis, he has said in the past, with the group of friends he was with, especially after a lot of excess drinking.
“I was around some of my friends, and we just, we say dumb stuff together,” Wallen conceded. “In our minds, it’s playful. That sounds ignorant, but that’s really where it came from, and it’s wrong, and I quickly understood that.”
As the backlash was immediate and harsh, the Tennessee native, who had just dropped his ambitious, 30-track Dangerous: The Double Album, thought his days of being a country music singer might have come to an end.
“I thought there was a possibility it was over,” Wallen admitted. “I had to get out of my house really fast because my house was in the video. I went to, one of my friends has a house out in the middle of nowhere. I got a lot of threats. My family got a lot of threats, I was just sitting in that house, trying to figure out what it is I’m supposed to do.”
Wallen issued an immediate apology, followed by another one two months later, where he said he had worked on himself. In that time away, Wallen went to San Diego for 30 days, trying to figure out what it was in him that needed to change. He also met with several Black people and Black organizations, trying to gain a deeper understanding of why the word is so offensive.
“I think I was just ignorant about it,” Wallen said. “I don’t think I sat down and was, like, ‘Hey, is this right or is this wrong?’ … I’ve heard some stories in the initial conversations that I had after that — just how some people are treated even still today, and I’m just, like, I haven’t seen that with my eyes — that pain or that insignificant feeling or whatever it is that it makes you feel.”
“I don’t know how to put myself in their shoes because I’m not,” he added. “But I do understand, especially when I say that I’m using it playfully or whatever, ignorantly, I understand that that must sound like, ‘He doesn’t — he doesn’t understand.'”
In spite of being suspended by his record label, Dangerous stayed at the top of the charts for a surprising 10 weeks, after his name became splashed all over the news. Because of the album’s success, Wallen donated approximately $500,000 to Black organizations, including the Black Music Action Coalition (BMAC).
“Before this incident my album was already doing well,” Wallen said. “It was already being well-received by critics and by fans. Me and my team noticed that whenever this whole incident happened that there was a spike in my sales. So we tried to calculate what the number of — how much it actually spiked from this incident.”
Wallen knows he may never fully understand the damage he caused to the Black community, as well as the impact the incident had on his career, but he does at least offer that the experience can be a tool for others to learn from.
“I said this word out of ignorance. Just because I said it doesn’t mean I think you should follow my lead, by any means,” Wallen urged. “I hope that all my fans know that’s not in my heart, and that’s not something that I condone or think that they should be doing either.”
“I’m not ever gonna make everyone happy,” he continued. “I can only come tell my truth, and — and that’s all I know to do.”
While Wallen is remorseful for his actions, he may not yet fully understand his privilege as a White male country artist. When GMA‘s Michael Strahan asked Wallen if the country music industry had a race problem, the 28-year-old was not very forceful in his response.
“it would seem that way, yeah,” Wallen said. “I haven’t really sat and thought about that. But I think that if you’re talented, and you have good music, and you perform well and you have a product, then it shouldn’t matter what color you are.”
Whether or not Wallen will ever fully understand the repercussions of his words, he is at least moving forward a, at least hopefully, changed man.
“I’ve told a lot of people sorry to their face, but I kind of just wanted to come tell my story, and let people know who I am, and how much I regret the mistake I made,” Wallen said.