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Morgan Wallen says that his use of a racial slur in the video footage released by TMZ in February was fueled by drinking and that he meant to be “playful” with one of his friends, but admits he’s “not sure” why he thought he could use the word and “was just ignorant about it.”
Wallen appeared on Good Morning America on Friday and gave his first TV interview about the footage that ultimately got the chart-topping country star suspended from his record label Big Loud Records, dropped from his talent agency, disqualified from eligibility for multiple country music awards shows and his music removed from major radio networks like iHeartRadio.
During the interview, Wallen also revealed that, after the incident, he checked himself into a rehab facility. According to the singer, the footage, which was captured in January, was taken while he was on “hour 72 of a 72-hour bender.”
“For 30 days, I spent some time out in San Diego, California — you know, just trying to figure it out … why am I acting this way? Do I have an alcohol problem? Do I have a deeper issue?” he shared.
The artist, who was also scheduled as a musical guest for Saturday Night Live in October 2020 but was replaced after another video surfaced showing him failing to adhere to NBC’s COVID-19 protocols, shared details around the night he used the slur and claimed that he was just talking to a friend at the time.
“It’s one of my best friends — he was, we were all clearly drunk — I was asking his girlfriend to take care of him because he was drunk and he was leaving,” Wallen told GMA‘s Michael Strahan about the night the footage was captured.
Wallen told the GMA host that he didn’t frequently use the slur — just around a “certain group of friends” who “say dumb stuff together.” According to the singer, he was with that group the night the footage was filmed.
“It was — in our minds, it’s playful,” Wallen said, before quickly following up, “That sounds ignorant, but it — that’s really where it came from.”
Wallen couldn’t explain why he felt so comfortable using the derogatory language but at various points of the interview called his behavior and language “wrong” and “ignorant,” repeating past statements that he didn’t previously fully understand its significance for Black people.
“I don’t know how to put myself in their shoes because I’m not, 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.'”
The singer said he had several conversations after the fallout from the video, including with record executive Kevin Liles; Eric Hutcherson, the executive vp and chief people and inclusion officer at Universal Music Group; gospel singer BeBe Winans; and the Black Music Action Coalition. BMAC is an advocacy organization that works to address systemic racism within the music business.
“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,” Wallen said on GMA.
The 28-year-old music artist also spoke about his record sales for his second studio album Dangerous: The Double Album, dramatically increasing and his music charting — including a 24-consecutive-week run in the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s top country albums chart.
While he had previously asked his fan base, which rallied around him after the video’s release, to stop defending him in his five-minute February apology video, the singer said he and his team also attempted to calculate how much his sales had spiked and donated that figure to “some organizations.”
“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. We got to a number somewhere around $500,000, and we decided to donate that money to some organizations, BMAC being the first one.”
In addition to the personal consequences Wallen faced, his actions also spurred several major country artists to condemn his comments and call the country music industry out for its history of racism. When asked by Strahan whether he thought there was an industrywide issue, Wallen said, “It would seem that way” but added, “I haven’t really sat and thought about that.”
Beyond the apology video, Wallen issued an apology statement shortly after TMZ published the video on Feb. 2. saying that he wished he could take back his use of the “inappropriate racial slur” and that “there are no excuses to use this type of language, ever” before promising to “do better.”
But the singer acknowledged during his GMA appearance that he understands people may be skeptical of any apology he offers.
“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.”
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