I like to rock out in the shower. I dance. I sing. And occasionally there might be some air guitar. My favorite method for shower music is Pandora. And lately it has been all about the Top 40 station.
A series of events have happened over the past few days and I’m just now figuring out how to articulate my thoughts on the matter. What I’m about to say may at the surface level seem random or unimportant, but the more I think about things the more relevant these small events seem to our society at large. I write this from an American perspective but maybe those of you from other countries can chime in about your experience with pop music and censorship.
On the radio, I expect a certain amount of censorship, but I never really noticed it on Pandora until yesterday (not that it didn’t exist, just that I never paid attention to it). I was jamming to Iggy Azalea’s mega-hit Fancy when my ear caught something unusual and I paused. When you think of censorship in that song, Charli XCX’s hook comes to mind since she drops the f-bomb, and that was definitely censored during the song. Instead the part that I noticed being skipped over was the word “gun” in the third verse of Iggy’s rap. The line normally reads “Slaying these hoes, gold trigger on the gun like.” If something were to be bleeped, you would think it would be “hoes”. But instead it played, “Slaying these hoes, gold trigger on that like.”
I didn’t think much of it–censorship is fairly standard on the radio after all–until the next song came on, Macklemore’s Thrift Shop. And the song played through every f*ck, damn, shit, and motherf*cker with nary a hesitation. Now maybe it’s nothing, but the discrepancy seemed strange since it was the same station. But if they played the clean version of one, why not the other?
My first two thoughts were is Iggy Azalea being censored because she’s a woman? And next, has our society gotten so strict that we can’t even say the word gun in a song anymore?
Neither question is more or less important than the other since both are at the heart of some of our nation’s biggest controversies right now. Issues in women’s equality and women’s rights are right now before the Supreme Court and Congress. Whether you agree with Planned Parenthood and birth control or not, you can agree that the issue at hand is about women. And by posing the latter question about guns, I am in no way making light of the endemic shootings America has been experiencing of late. In the same vein, whether you believe in firmer gun control laws or advocate concealed carrying, guns are being talked about at high volume. Both issues need to addressed, but I don’t think music censorship is the answer.
I was in a Wet Seal store earlier this week when Katy Perry’s E.T. came on and I noticed the word “sex” was skipped over with a stylized scratch. In comparison to my initial fear about gender discrimination, it was Kanye’s rap portion of the song that got bleeped, but is sex such a terrible word that it has no room in our music? This is why Americans are often depicted as Puritanical. You could make the case that Wet Seal is a store for teens and that’s not appropriate for their age range. But then I say unto you that store is hawking crop tops for tweens and if you are under the impression that teens and pre-teens don’t know and think about the implications of the word sex, then you have forgotten what it felt like to be a teen.
So why is one song censored over another? All three instances were in rap music. One a white woman. One a white man. One a black man. Why was only one left uncensored on the radio? The issue of race is and always will be valid as long as there is a scrap of inequality left because of someone’s skin color. That in and of itself could be addressed in a whole other post.
And I enjoy the music of all three of these artists. I’m certainly not blaming Macklemore because his song went unbleeped on Pandora, but I do have to wonder why Pandora chose to play one song censored and the other uncensored?
I don’t have an easy answer for the censorship question or the reasons behind it. I’m wiling to concede that for public radio words like f*ck should be bleeped out because children have easy access to public radio. I can even extend the same logic to stores. That’s why you have explicit records and clean records. Fine. Check.
But words like sex and gun are regularly used in metaphors, in textbooks, in doctors offices. They are words that pepper our daily conversations. We cannot begin to censor these words in music when we place value on them in our daily lives. These are not the words that should be censored on the radio.
We cannot be afraid of using words. Words are powerful and profound. Some are offensive to others, true, but they are ours to use with discretion. The first item of business for America’s founding fathers was freedom of speech in the Bill of Rights. While they may not have anticipated swearing to this extent, I think censorship in the modern era would make them uncomfortable. Freedom with words does not inhibit the concept of freedom: words challenge, expand, and strengthen the notion of freedom.
Maybe there is a simple answer for these two examples of censorship I experienced, but I truly believe if we don’t talk about these issues that bother us then they become the norm.
Phew! Ok I’m going to step off my soapbox for the day. Thanks for listening, and I’d be happy to hear your thoughts as well.