Saturday, March 6, 2010

Music Censorship, Part II

After those in power stopped caring about messages of cultural or governmental change in music, only the listening audience remained as censors of music. Immoral lyrics pushed radio stations to remove songs from the airwaves to avoid offending the sensibilities of the general public. Apparently incapable of writing about non-reproductive subjects, this potential ban led artists to create cryptic verses that only hint at the true meaning. The Beach Boys "Wouldn't It Be Nice" appears to be an innocent love song from a star-struck youngster. Take a closer look at a sample of the lyrics:

Wouldn't it be nice if we were older
Then we wouldn't have to wait so long

You know it's gonna make it that much better
When we can say goodnight and stay together

Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray it might come true
Baby then there wouldn't be a single thing we couldn't do

You know it seems the more we talk about it
It only makes it worse to live without it

The actions in other portions only go as far as holding and kissing, but it appears to me as if these lyrics are entirely about a man wanting to copulate with an underage girl. An outright statement of this intention would upset parents everywhere. This artist chose to censor his adult and possibly criminal desire into a message acceptable to everyone, avoiding a negative public reaction. Concealing the song's deeper meaning welcomed kids, along with their innocence protectors, into the listening audience. A decade later, Foreigner's lyrics were so uniform in their content, the band may as well have changed their name to Fornicator. However, their less disguised allusions were still ambiguous enough to avoid public relations problems. This allowed adults old enough to say things like, "Young people these days..." to not object, and possibly even enjoy what they're barely hearing.

As society got used to increasing vulgarity, topics of this nature started to be discussed openly in song. "What's Your Fantasy" by Ludacris basically lists dozens of ways in which he plans to give his lady friend the time. Lil' Wayne's "Lollipop" consists solely of the aforementioned rapper striving to get a Bill Janklow* from a female bar patron. Even if you ignore the parts where he says outright what he wants her to do, no one above the age of 12 thinks Lil' Wayne is going out of his way to encourage a woman to enjoy candy. Only specific vulgar words are censored, but no disguises are created for moral messages.

I suspect that artists who take advantage of this continuing loosening of censorship will lose a large portion of their potential fan base, and will become creatively lazy. Why bother coming up with a clever and sneaky euphemism like "Baby, you can drive my car" if you can get away with a shocking and overt one like "I want to friend* you like an animal?" Why not skip euphemisms altogether and describe outrageous behavior in the clearest way possible? Many people formed assumptions about that aforementioned clever lyric of The Beatles' "Drive My Car," but listeners could understandably have interpreted the words literally. Many years later, the song's creator stated what he truly meant, but the phrase fit into the song's vehicular context so well that some people still didn't believe him. To those who can't relate in your intended message, this ambiguity enables them to give the song a meaning they can identify with or enjoy your tune as simple fun. Only people who don't understand English will get anything other than the intended meaning of "When Ludacris get to the bed then start baking*," and those innocent kids and grumpy old people I mentioned earlier won't ever even hear about it.

In an ideal world, music would have a positive, clean message, and would need no euphemisms or censors. Artists who must communicate this kind of message have a choice. Say exactly what you mean and catch the brief ear of the the youth, or censor yourselves and grip the attention of the nation.

*This word has been censored by The Man

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