Morgan Wallen appeared on Good Morning America on Friday (July 23), marking his first interview since a controversial video surfaced via TMZ earlier this year, which showed Wallen using a racial slur outside of his Nashville home.
After the video’s surfacing, Wallen was suspended from his music label, dropped from his booking agency, and his music was banned from the airwaves for four months, though some country radio stations have since begun to add Wallen’s music back into rotation. However, several music awards shows have excluded Morgan from their programs, including this year’s Academy of Country Music Awards, the iHeartRadio Music Awards and the CMT Music Awards. Meanwhile, The Country Music Association announced earlier this year that Wallen will be ineligible for solo categories (such as Male Vocalist of the Year) at this year’s awards, although he will be eligible to compete in collaborative categories, such as Album of the Year and Song of the Year.
Wallen told GMA’s Michael Strahan, “My manager called me maybe two hours before the video came out, and he was like, ‘Are you sitting down?’ and no one’s ever called me and said that before. One of my friends has a house out in the middle of nowhere. Just sitting in that house trying to figure out what it is I’m supposed to do.”
Wallen recalled the night the video was captured, telling Strahan, “I had some of my longtime friends in town. We had kind of just been partying all weekend and we figured we would just go hard for the two or three days that they were there.”
“How did this happen, out of nowhere? You just refer to someone with a racial slur?” Strahan asked.
“No, I don’t think that it just happened. I was around some of my friends and you know, we say dumb stuff together. In our minds, it’s playful. That sounds ignorant, but that’s really where it came from, and it’s wrong.”
“And had there been no video of the incident, we obviously wouldn’t be sitting here right now,” Strahan said. “And this is not the first time you’ve said the word. This is a word you use frequently amongst your friends.”
“Not frequently, no,” Wallen replied. “I wouldn’t say frequently. It was just around this certain group of friends...it was one of my best friends...we were all clearly drunk, and I was asking his girlfriend to take care of him because he was drunk and he was leaving. I didn’t mean it in any derogatory manner at all.”
“What made you think that the word was ever appropriate to use?
“I’m not sure. I think I was just ignorant about it. I don’t think I sat down and was like, ‘Hey is this right and is it wrong?’”
Wallen noted to Strahan that he spoke with the Black Music Action Coalition (BMAC), an advocacy organization aimed at fighting for fair treatment of Black artists and to address racism in the music industry. An accompanying article from Good Morning America notes that ABC reached out to BMAC had not received a response.
"I've heard some stories in the initial conversations that I had after that -- just how some people are, you know, 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," Wallen said told Strahan.
Strahan also asked Wallen if he understood why the racial slur is upsetting for Black people to hear.
"I don't know how to put myself in their shoes because I'm not" he began, "But I do understand, especially when I say I'm using it playfully or whatever, ignorantly, I understand that that must sound, you know, like, 'He doesn't -- he doesn't understand.'"
Wallen also revealed he checked himself into a rehab facility, saying, "For 30 days, I spent some time out in San Diego, California -- you know, just tryin' to figure it out ... why am I acting this way? Do I have an alcohol problem? Do I have a deeper issue?" he shared.
Just prior to the incident, Wallen’s Dangerous: The Double Album released on Jan. 8, 2021. The album would go on to top the all-genre Billboard 200 for 10 weeks. With no radio and/or awards show support over the past few months, the album has still been consumed enough for it to lead MRC Data’s Mid-Year Report as the most popular album in the United States. According to the report, the album has earned 2.108 million equivalent album units in the first half of 2021.
"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," adding, "We got to a number somewhere around $500,000, and we decided to donate that money to some organizations -- BMAC being the first one," he continued.
Wallen said he also understands that many will be skeptical following his interview.
"I'm not ever gonna make, you know, everyone happy," he said. "I can only come tell my truth, and -- and that's all I know to do."
Strahan also asked Wallen if he feels the country music industry has issues surrounding race. Wallen said, "it would seem that way, yeah," before adding, "I haven't really sat and thought about that."