In his first interview in six months, disgraced country star Morgan Wallen said it was ignorant of him to use a racial slur.
During an interview with Michael Strahan on ABC's “Good Morning America" on Friday, Wallen said he didn't use it in a derogatory manner, but it was still wrong.
Wallen was already one of the genre’s biggest stars, with crossover hits like “Whiskey Glasses,” when the video was posted on TMZ in February. The video appeared to show Wallen arriving back at his home in the early hours of Sunday, Jan. 31. The outlet alleged neighbors captured the video of Wallen — in which the singer could be heard using the derogatory term — after he began creating a verbal nuisance outside the home.
He was disqualified from the Academy of Country Music Awards, but remains eligible for several awards at the upcoming Country Music Association Awards. He has since returned to Billboard's country airplay chart with his first single since the incident and his album, “Dangerous: The Double Album," remains the most popular album released this year across all genres.
On Friday, Wallen told Strahan that he had been drinking all weekend leading up to the night in February.
“I was around some of my friends, and we say dumb stuff together,” said Wallen. “In our minds, it’s playful. That sounds ignorant but that’s really where it came from. And it’s wrong.”
He denied using the term frequently and said he only used it around a certain group of friends. When asked by Strahan what made him think the word was ever appropriate to say, Wallen responded: “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 or is this wrong?’”
After Strahan explained some of the historical context behind the term, Strahan asked Wallen directly whether he understood why it makes Black people so upset.
“I don’t know how to put myself in their shoes because I’m not, you know, but I do understand," Wallen said. “Especially when I say that I’m using it playfully, or whatever, ignorantly, I understand that must sound like ‘He doesn’t understand.’"
Soon after TMZ released the video, Wallen issued a statement to the outlet saying he was “embarrassed and sorry” for his actions. He also apologized for using the slur in a video message posted to social media several days later as radio stations and streaming services temporarily dropped him from playlists, but his album sales surged.
Wallen on Friday also said he took time off and went to rehab following the incident, saying he spent a month trying to figure out if he had a “deeper issue” than alcoholism to address. When album sales spiked following the industry’s condemnation of him, he decided to donate around $500,000 to organizations including Black Music Action Coalition.
Country music has been grappling with addressing diversity in a genre that has long been dominated by white male artists, but Wallen's actions have brought the issue to the forefront. This year, another top country star Luke Combs apologized for his past use of the Confederate flag.
When asked if country music overall had a problem with race, Wallen responded, “It would seem that way, yeah. I haven’t really sat and thought about that.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.