In a Good Morning America interview on Friday (July 23), Morgan Wallen said he was “not sure” why he used a racial slur in a video that leaked in early February, explaining that he and his friends “say dumb stuff together.”
In his first major interview since the clip of him saying the N-word repeatedly sent the country singer’s career into a tailspin, Wallen, 28, spoke to GMA co-host Michael Strahan, offering up an explanation for the incident that got his music pulled from radio and streaming, as well as earning him a suspension by his label and declared ineligible for this year’s ACM Awards.
“I was around some of my friends, and we we say dumb stuff together,” Wallen told GMA. “And it was — in our minds, it’s playful … that sounds ignorant, but it — that’s really where it came from … and it’s wrong.”
Asked about his use of the racial slur, Wallen, who is white, claimed that he didn’t use it “frequently” in the past, but that when he did, it was only around a “certain” group of his friends. He did not elaborate.
As for the leaked clip with the slur and other offensive language, Wallen said he didn’t “mean it in any derogatory manner at all … It’s one of my best friends — he was, we were all clearly drunk,” as Strahan pressed him to talk about whether he understood the history and painful impact of the word. The singer apologized at the time for the content of the video and said he planned to spend the rest of the year out of the spotlight to work on himself, but has since made a handful of appearances.
Saying he was “not sure” why he felt comfortable using the N-word, Wallen suggested that it could be a function of his blindness to the hurtful nature of its history. “I think I was just ignorant about it,” the Sneedville, Tenn., native said. “I don’t think I sat down and was, like, ‘Hey, is this right or is this wrong?'”
Asked by Strahan, who is Black, what he had to say to those who saw the GMA appearance as an attempt to rehabilitate his image, Wallen answered, “I understand that. I understand that I’m not ever gonna make everyone happy. I can only come to tell my truth and that’s all I know to do.”
Shortly after the offending clip’s release earlier this year, Wallen posted a five-minute apology video in which he said he’d “let so many people down.” He vowed to take some time to work on himself after hearing some firsthand “personal stories from Black people that honestly shook me.”
The singer told Strahan that one of the first organizations he spoke to was the Black Music Action Coalition (BMAC), which works to address racism in the music industry. He also had chats with Black record exec Kevin Liles, gospel singer BeBe Winans and Universal Music Group chief people and inclusion officer Eric Hutcherson.
In the aftermath of the video leak, Wallen said it depicted him in “hour 72” of a three-day bender, and that he promised to work on his sobriety going forward. He told Strahan that he later checked into a rehab facility in San Diego and spent 30 days to figure out if he had an alcohol issue or — as he phrased it — “a deeper issue.”
“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. Strahan elaborated that the word dates back to slavery and was used by white people to dehumanize Black slaves, and was often employed before Black people were terrorized, beaten or killed. When the GMA co-host — who noted that he’s been called the N-word himself — asked if Wallen now understood why the slur “makes Black people so upset,” Wallen, whose hometown is 95% white, admitted his ignorance about its impact.
“I don’t know how to put myself in their shoes because I’m not,” he said. “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 understand.'”
Despite the fallout, Wallen’s second studio album, Dangerous: The Double Album, spent 10 consecutive weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and has so far spent 24 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard‘s Top Country Albums chart, and is the best-selling album of the year so far.
As Wallen and his team watched the spike in sales that followed the controversy, the singer said they calculated that the increase in sales amounted to around $500,000. He and his team then decided to donate the amount to “some organizations,” only one of which he named, BMAC. GMA noted that at press time, the organization had not responded to its request for comment on the purported donation.
After rolling tape of Black country singer Mickey Guyton’s tweet from the period after Wallen’s N-word incident — in which she wrote, “When I read comments saying ‘this is not who we are,’ I laugh because this is exactly who country music is” — Strahan asked Wallen if he thinks there might be a broader race problem in country music.
“I mean … it would seem that way. Yeah,” responded Wallen. “You know, I haven’t really sat and thought about that.”
Watch Wallen’s GMA interview below.