UPDATE, with video Country singer Morgan Wallen, who saw his album sales skyrocket after he was caught on video using a racial epithet in a loud conversation with friends, says he donated $500,000 of that sales spike money to the Black Music Action Coalition and other advocacy organizations.
In an exclusive interview with Good Morning America‘s Michael Strahan today, a somber Wallen, in his first major interview since the February incident, expressed remorse and contrition over his use of the N-word, and said his actions that night followed several days of heavy drinking.
“I had some of my longtime friends in town and we had been partying that weekend and we figured we’d just go hard for the two or three days that they were there,” Wallen told ABC’s Strahan.
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Watch the full interview above.
“We say dumb stuff together,” the singer added. “In our minds it was just playful. That sounds ignorant but that’s really where it came from. It was wrong.” Wallen used the word in reference to a drunk friend (who is white). “We were all clearly drunk. I was asking his girlfriend to take care of him.”
Repeatedly pressed by Strahan over whether he understands the full impact of the slur, Wallen at one point said, “When I say I used it playfully I understand that that makes it sound like I don’t understand.”
“I think I was just ignorant about it,” the singer said. “I don’t think I ever sat down and said this is right or this is wrong.”
Wallen said he first got word of the video’s existence (a neighbor apparently recorded the incident) when his manager phoned to alert him about an upcoming TMZ segment. “My manager called me two hours before the video came out and was like, ‘Are you sitting down?’ No one has ever called me and said that to me before.”
Although the TMZ segment led to some quick backlash – Wallen was dropped by WME, his records were banned by radio stations and streaming services and awards shows left him off their nominee rosters – sales of his Dangerous: The Double Album soared, spending 24 weeks at #1.
Wallen told Strahan that, although the album was selling well prior to the scandal, “me and my team noticed that when the incident happened there was a spike in my sales. We tried to calculate how much it actually spiked from this incident and we got to a number around $500,000 and we decided to donate that money to some organizations, BMAC being one.” (GMA noted that the Black Music Action Coalition did not respond to a request for comment.)
Wallen also noted that he “checked into rehab in San Diego for 30 days, just to try and figure out why I’m acting this way, do I have an alcohol problem, do I have a bigger issue.”
Asked by Strahan whether the increased album sales indicate that country music has a race problem, Wallen responded, “It would seem that way. I haven’t really sat and thought about that.”
The interview today by Strahan was reminiscent of a similar confessional segment from March of this year, when, as Deadline pointed out yesterday, former The Bachelor host Chris Harrison attempted to explain his initial reaction to Bachelor contestant Rachel Kirkconnell’s involvement in a 2018 antebellum plantation-themed fraternity formal. Harrison and the franchise eventually parted ways.
Whether today’s interview gets Wallen back on country radio playlists or award show nomination rosters remains to be seen, even if his record-buying fans don’t seem particularly concerned one way or another.
Said Strahan, “There’s going to be a lot of people who are going to watch this and say, ‘he’s only sitting down because he wants to clean up his image. It’s all a performance.’ So what do you say to that?”
Wallen responded, “I understand that. I’m not ever going to make everyone happy. I can only come tell my truth and that’s all I know to do.”
After the taped interview aired, Strahan said that Wallen’s big record sales “tells a lot about country music and the race situation in country music,” and that the response of the Black organizations who reached out to Wallen “showed grace.”
Responded GMA co-anchor George Stephanopoulos, “Let’s hope he learned a lesson from it.”
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