Scott Borchetta, Big Machine Label Group’s founder and president-CEO, has spoken up in defense of the company’s promotion of a liberal-bashing song by Aaron Lewis, “Am I the Only One,” that trashes Bruce Springsteen and advocates keeping Confederate statues.
Borchetta’s words praising the song came in a letter to industry blogger Bob Lefsetz, who had written a take-down of Lewis’ divisive song, currently a conservative cause celebre. The singer for the hard-rock band Staind has in recent years devoted more and more of his career to being a solo country artist, openly espouses polarizing political views in his songs in the process.
“It’s HEINOUS!” Lefsetz wrote of “Am I the Only One” in his blog, which is well read by many of the movers and shakers in the music industry. “This middle-class, right-wing wanker has recorded a song that should have been played at CPAC, in between speeches by nitwits like saying to refuse the ‘Fauci ouchie.'”
Responded Borchetta in a letter Lefsetz reprinted, “Firstly, I believe in the First Amendment. My job has never been to tell my artists what to sing and write about.”
Wrote Borchetta, “Aaron Lewis and I have political disagreements. But there are also things we agree on. I think that’s the foundation for the idea of our country. It doesn’t work if we’re so divided that we can’t reach across the aisle, have a conversation or an argument, and ultimately, shake hands. If we can’t do that, and this moment is so divisive, we may never get our country back.”
“Am I the Only One” became the No. 1 country song on Billboard’s chart after being released just prior to the 4th of July and heavily promoted on Fox News, Breitbart and other conservative outlets. It reached that No. 1 status mostly on the basis of paid downloads in the wake of all that TV exposure. Big Machine hasn’t promoted the song at country radio yet, but starting on July 26 its subsidiary label Valory will start going for adds at the format — where it faces an uncertain future, given politically aggro lyrics that will antagonize at least a segment of the audience.
Despite the generally belligerent tone of the song, the lyrics of “Am I the Only One” are often vague about what it is that aggrieves Lewis about progressives, although he gets specific on a few occasions. Lewis sings about “the red and white / And the blue, burnin’ on the ground / Another statue comin’ down in a town near you,” suggesting that his major concerns are incidents of flag-burning — which have not been in the news recently — and something that has, the removal of Confederate statues commemorating leaders in the slavery-driven war for secession from the U.S. “Am I the only one who can’t take no more / Screamin’ ‘If you don’t like it, there’s the fuckin’ door,'” Lewis sings in the non-radio edit. He also expresses his willingness to “take a bullet for being free,” and takes on the Boss with this bridge: “Am I the only one who quits singin’ along / Every time they play a Springsteen song?” (Lewis does not elaborate on what his problem with Springsteen is.)
Referring to the subsidiary label of BMLG that is releasing and promoting the single, Lefsetz continued, “Why does Valory release such crap. Come on Scott Borchetta, David Geffen dropped the Geto Boys over their odious lyrics and now you’re marketing this junk?” The blogger then spoke about how Geffen is looked to as a role model by peers and successors, suggesting the Big Machine topper is making a wrong move if he wants the same respect. “Come on Scott, get your head out of your rear end. How much money are you gonna make here anyway, and it is all about the money at this point, right? … Lewis is appealing to (Trump voters), with Borchetta’s help. Without it, Lewis’s track is dead in the water.”
Borchetta’s response: “To just ‘cancel’ (drop) Aaron is ridiculous and I’m disappointed that you would even suggest such a thing. Comparing Aaron Lewis to the Ghetto Boys? That’s a reach and a half. You don’t have to agree or acknowledge, but Aaron’s message is speaking to millions of people. Let it be a wake up call to Reps and Dems alike – be loud and be heard! It woke you up. It inspired you to make a statement. It worked. And it’s working. It’s inspiring conversation.”
Some observers have wondered if Valory really wants to promote the song at radio, given the format’s proven disinterest in playing divisive songs, even among station groups with conservative owners. The label’s hand may have been forced after the song went No. 1 at Billboard without any radio play. Yet Borchetta’s defense of the single was a surprisingly vigorous one.
In a follow-up email to his subscribers, Lefsetz reprinted a flood of letters that came in from music industry readers, most — though not all — of which dismissed Borchetta’s response and supported Lefsetz’s original slam. Several took issue with Borchetta implying that the First Amendment is tied to his actions as a business leader.
Borchetta pointed out in his letter to Lefsetz that Big Machine is also the home of the progressively minded artist Sheryl Crow and had released her pro-Kamala Harris song “Woman in the White House.”
In response to that, Rick Sorkin, the co-founder and partner of Remarkable Digital Group in L.A., wrote, “He should keep Sheryl Crow’s name out of his mouth.” Sorkin also wrote, “What an asshole… Let’s ask him how he feels about the ‘everyone should have a loud voice’ tact after the next homegrown Republican terrorist attack (or the one after that) based on mis- and disinformation, and see if he changes his tune. Spoiler alert: he won’t, because he doesn’t actually stand for anything other than making money.”
But Dawn Soler, SVP of music at ABC Television, wrote in support of Big Machine being able to provide a platform for Lewis’ views. “From a very blue girl,” she wrote, “except for the statue line and knowing Aaron’s political beliefs, the song could be sung by any American. Across the country, red and blue, we have all felt most of his lyrics these past years. When an artist can inspire patriotism and thought from both sides, that’s beauty and should always have a voice. I applaud and more than appreciate executives that make those calls, even when it goes against their own personal beliefs… We can find common ground, work together with an intention to create a multi-cultural society that embraces, teaches and rewards all beliefs without judgments or cancelling anyone.”
Not in agreement with that was Jarred Arfa, COO of Artist Group International. “What a laugher (Borchetta’s response) was,” wrote Arfa. “Aaron’s message is speaking to millions — lol. Most, as you rightfully point (out), don’t know who the fuck Aaron Lewis is or care. And the spin that he’s inspiring conversation? You could say the same thing about Tucker Carlson. Doesn’t make it a good thing Thank God for someone like Olivia Rodrigo with way more influence helping advocate for the vaccine. Maybe Aaron can go on the deplorable tour and play to all the hospitals of unvaccinated people on ventilators.”
Borchetta and Lefsetz have had a publicly up-and-down, frenemy relationship over the years, which would explain the music mogul’s opening remark, “You and I haven’t had a good go in awhile… so, let’s go.”
Borchetta was responsible for bringing the blogger on as an influential Swift booster early in her career. Then Lefsetz turned on her after her performance on the 2010 Grammys, writing, “Did Taylor Swift kill her career overnight? I’ll argue she did… In one fell swoop, Taylor Swift consigned herself to the dustbin of teen phenoms. … It’s hard to be a singer if you can’t sing.”
This, of course, famously inspired a hit on Swift’s next album, “Mean.” So one thing Lefsetz and Borchetta have in common: Swift has written thinly veiled diss tracks about both of them. But before the singer and her label topper became estranged, he would occasionally write to Lefsetz in defense of her as the blogger has continued to slam virtually her every move in the intervening 11 years.
Borchetta uses other parts of his latest missive to take issue with Lefsetz on the latter’s contention that streaming is the only real measure of contemporary success — and his dismissal of Lewis’ strong download sales and suddenly higher profile as irrelevant. Responding to Lefsetz’s enthusiastic praise of Morgan Wallen as a much greater and more relevant artist than Lewis, Borchetta writes, “You’re only setting yourself up for failure and you’re not representing the full story or picture. Ironically and culturally, Aaron Lewis and Morgan Wallen have a helluva lot more in common with each other than either of them have with you. You’re talking out both sides. But that’s why we read you. You inspire conversation. For that, I thank you.”