I’d like you to follow me into the weeds of a deeply bizarre controversy—bizarre, mostly, because of the unlikely cast of characters it involves. On one side of this dispute, we have Big Machine label boss Scott Borchetta; the guy from Staind; Candace Owens; the hosts of Fox & Friends; and various Breitbart-adjacent right-wing agitators. On the other, we have a 68-year-old music blogger and his devoted readers, which include some of the most powerful people in the entertainment business. The girls, as they say, are fighting, and the fight is very strange.
The saga begins with the aforementioned guy from Staind, Aaron Lewis, who largely abandoned his nu-metal roots about ten years ago and pivoted to a solo career as a country artist. (He was inspired to do so by Kid Rock, a close friend of his.) On July 2, Lewis—a self-described “deplorable” who has “DON’T TREAD ON ME” tattooed on his neck—released a song whose official title is “Am I The Only One,” but might as well be called “Fuck The Libs.” You’ll learn pretty much everything you need to know about it from this one lyric:
“Are you tellin' me / That I'm the only one willin' to fight / For my love of the red and white / And the blue, burnin' on the ground / Another statue comin' down / In a town near you”
By July 4, “Am I The Only One” had hit No. 1 on iTunes, ostensibly propelled to the top of the chart by patriotic Americans who, like Lewis, love Confederate statues and hate Democrats. Later that week, Lewis went on Fox & Friends to discuss his song; the week following, he performed it live on Candace Owens’ Dailywire show. It earned glowing coverage from a bunch of right-wing media outlets, including Breitbart, Newsmax, Fox News, and SiriusXM’s conservative station, Patriot. All that press apparently had a big impact: “Am I The Only One” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart last week, becoming just the ninth song in history to accomplish that feat.
At some point, the song came across the desk of Bob Lefsetz, a veteran music blogger whose long-running newsletter, “The Lefsetz Letter,” is seen by many in the music business as required reading. (“Just about everyone who’s anyone in the music industry” subscribes to it, as the Los Angeles Times wrote in 2017.) Lefsetz gave “Am I The Only One” a listen and, on July 15, published a post about how much it sucks.
“It’s HEINOUS!” Lefsetz wrote. “This middle class, right wing wanker has recorded a song that should have been played at CPAC, in between speeches by nitwits like Lauren Boebert saying to refuse the ‘Fauci ouchie.’”
From there, Lefsetz trained his sights on the man responsible for putting this song into the world: Scott Borchetta, the CEO of Big Machine Label Group, which has Lewis on its roster. Lefsetz tore into Borchetta for releasing “Am I The Only One”—telling him, notably, to “get your head out of your rear end”—and implored him to drop Lewis from his label.
Then Borchetta himself got in the mix, writing a page-long email responding to Lefsetz’s takedown. Lefsetz published it the next day.
In it, Borchetta notes that while he and Lewis have “political differences,” Borchetta “believe[s] in the First Amendment,” whatever that’s supposed to mean. He also lauded Lewis for his “unique point of view”—though loving the flag, hating liberals, and defending Confederate monuments isn’t all that unique—and for “inspiring conversation.”
“You don’t have to agree or acknowledge, but Aaron’s message is speaking to millions of people,” Borchetta writes. "Let it be a wake up call to reps and dems alike—be loud and be heard!”
Borchetta’s letter garnered a lot of reader responses, and Lefsetz went ahead and published those, too. Musicians, producers, and industry executives slammed Borchetta for “amplifying ignorance” for a quick buck, “perpetuating the spread of racism under the guise of free speech,” and otherwise making a “disingenuous” argument to defend a “disgusting” decision. Other, less eloquent readers simply called Borchetta an asshole. And a select few came to Borchetta’s defense—including Dawn Soler, the Senior Vice President of Music at ABC Television and a self-described “very blue girl.”
“When an artist can inspire patriotism and thought from both sides, that’s beauty and should always have a voice,” Soler wrote. “I applaud and more than appreciate executives that make those calls, even when it goes against their own personal beliefs.”
Lefsetz published those reader responses on July 17; unfortunately for drama-hungry onlookers like this reporter, he hasn’t posted about the controversy since. Meanwhile, Big Machine is gearing up to push “Am I The Only One” to radio starting July 26, according to a company press release. When that day comes, maybe Lefsetz will reignite his beef with Lewis and Borchetta, giving us another opportunity to see a bunch of music industry powerhouses talk shit about each other through unedited, profanity-laden emails. Here’s hoping.
Follow Drew Schwartz on Twitter.