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Violence OK in Music, If it’s Not Rap

September 17, 2011

I was in my car listening to the radio (you know that thing with knobs that gets music via radio waves – not internet?) and a song I like called “Bottoms Up” came on. It’s by Trey Songz with Nicki Minaj. You may know it, it goes like this:

Bottoms up, bottoms up, every single cup/

Got a couple bottles, but a couple ain’t enough

At some point though Trey says “We drunk so let me be yo alcohol hero.” To my surprise the word “alcohol” was censored out. What? I don’t even know what “alcohol hero” MEANS. If I had to, I would guess Trey is trying to be my bartender because he’s intoxicated and thinks he can mix drinks. Or he’s trying to sleep with me. Whatever, my point here is it is definitely not clear what he’s talking about.

Which brings me to my larger point: censorship is stupid.

And I don’t mean the philosophy of censorship, I mean the act of censorship in which someone has to decide what should and should not be allowed on the air. Every city has its own version of censorship (as I learned driving up and down California) and even within a city different radio stations censor different things. It’s ridiculous and completely nonsensical. But if you’re not a rap, hip-hop, or R&B artist you should be pretty safe from any censorship at all.

One of the big summer hits this year is a song called “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster The People. I hadn’t heard the song but a friend of mine (thanks S!) informed on a roadtrip to Vegas that it was from the point of view of a school shooter:

All the other kids with the pumped up kicks you’d better run, better run, outrun my gun.
All the other kids with the pumped up kicks you’d better run, better run, faster than my bullet.

Now, I have heard this song MANY times on the same radio station that sensors “alcohol” from Songz’ lyrics but lets this song play AS IS with the phrases “outrun my gun” and “outrun my bullet” easily discernible. Instead of serving as a catalyst for White mothers to enforce a sticker be placed on their music for potentially offensive lyrics (see here) it has become a favorite because of it’s upbeat well…beats and simple melody (you can even whistle along if you’d like, as if you were strolling say through a high school campus). But because this song is not about sex and it’s not about violence in rap form (in other words. the singers are not deviant/Black) it is not scrutinized and demonized; instead it is analyzed:

“This radically unstable perspective is what makes ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ the ideal summer song for a crash-and-bounce year.” (Ann Powers of NPR)

See? The song isn’t about gun violence at all! It is about the violence that is happening to the White kids of America with this volatile economy and stress of wars halfway around the world they are not fighting.

Spare me.

If you’re going to censor music, censor it across the board.  Or don’t at all.  Just have it make sense.

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