Music Lyric Censorship

My mother, someone who has called America her home for 22 years, yet still holds her Egyptian customs and values, is displeased by the radio in America. Whenever it plays around her, I hear, “What are you listening to? It’s trash.” As music is such a big part of my life, and just about every other adolescent’s in America, I am accustomed to hearing the popular themes and bleeps on the radio my mother dislikes so much. I did not understand her perspective until she recently informed me of the differences of Egypt and the United States when it comes to this issue. The fact of the matter is, Egypt is a much more conservative country, and the majority of artists would not even think to write or sing about the themes we hear on a daily basis.

The FCC censors obscene, profane, and indecent content on the television, internet, and radio.

The FCC censors obscene, profane, and indecent content on the television, internet, and radio.

Today, the majority of songs played in America prominently depict the themes of violence, sex, and drugs, and profanity is certainly prevalent. The depiction of these themes and profanity cause the Federal Communications Commissions (FCC) to be quite busy with censoring songs before the public is able to hear them on the radio.

Some well known songs this year, include Rihanna’s “S&M,” and Robin Thicke’s, “Blurred Lines,” featuring Pharell, and “23,” with Wiz Khalifa, Juicy Jay and Miley Cyrus. These songs are similar with their scandalous themes of sex and drugs, and music videos. The artists that sing these similar songs are also very well known and successful artists, as conveyed by Rihanna’s recent award for “Icon of the Year,” at the American Music Awards. The FCC censored the words, “sex,” “chains,” and, “whips,” from the “S&M” chorus, which strongly outraged Rihanna, as she tweeted, “Are you fucking kidding me???” in regard to the changing of the radio version. However, with this song, and others similar to it, being on the radio, the enablement of young children being introduced to such topics has undoubtedly increased. These popular singers are considered role models to those that are still struggling with discovering themselves, and look to the admired and successful icons as guides.

Why are these themes the most prominent today?

The fact is that the morality in America is declining. This nation has transitioned from traditional values of the past to more secular ones, as we are moving further and further away from Christian values and beliefs, as noted in the conservative radio talk show host, and author Laura Ingraham’s book, Of Thee I Zing: America’s Cultural Decline From Muffin Tops to Body Shots. In the past the legalization of drugs, gay marriage, and revealing clothing would be deemed immoral or shocking to the majority of Americans; however, the tables of turned, as Americans are most accepting towards these issues. According to a CNN article by Elizabeth Landau, “What’s Behind Precipitous Decline in American’s Morality, a survey was done conveying 45% of the population surveyed considered American Morality to be poor and only 15% considered it excellent. This poll also showed 76% of Americans considered our morality becoming progressively worse. These rankings were noted as the lowest of the decade, and that was three years ago! It is unimaginable to think of what Americans perceive our morality to be like today, as it certainly has not improved.

How does this impact the listeners’ of today’s music?

The Journal of Genetic Psychology published a study in December of 1999 that tested the behavioral effects of the lyrical messages of music. 83% of the adolescent population studied conveyed that messages contained in lyrics affect behavior. Therefore, lyrics that promote drug and alcohol abuse, as well as sexual acts, antisocial behavior, etc, are believed have an influence on listeners’ acts and thoughts. The study concluded that although lyrics do not have a direct scientific affect on behavior or mood, the adolescents that were studied have a rather strong opinion that the lyrics of today’s well-known songs certainly affect or alter behavior.

In a book titled, “Media Violence and Children,” Donald Roberts and Peter Christenson addressed the emotional impact violent lyrics play on its listeners. They noted it is common to match music to one’s negative moods, which enhances one’s anger if violent lyrics are involved. The authors of this book have also conveyed that adolescents follow the more controversial lyrics the most that are described as, “defiant, alienating, and threatening, (159)” negatively influencing them. This conveys the direction in which teens are moving towards, which would make the role of censoring such controversial lyrics more significant. This psychology book also stated that there have been suicidal cases where heavy metal and other songs with violent lyrics were listened to during the last hours before suicides, possibly reinforcing their perilous moods. Although these lyrics are certainly not the main factor in causing detrimental acts, they do have an impact on listeners’ behaviors and thoughts, especially those already disturbed.

Bill O’Reilly’s Interview with Marilyn Manson

On the FOX News show, The O’Reilly Factor, Bill O’Reilly completed a segment on the “corrosive effects of the popular music world on some American children.” In an interview with Marilyn Manson, O’Reilly sought the thoughts of the controversial singer regarding the level of influence his music has on adolescents. Manson even acknowledged that O’Reilly made a valid point, as O’Reilly noted that disturbed children might take Manson’s lyrics, “You’ll understand when I’m dead,” as, “If I die, people may know me [or my purpose],” and commit suicide or other harmful acts to themselves or others; however, this is not what he is trying to get across to his listeners. O’Reilly mentions that Manson and other singers’ lyrics can be perceived in harmful ways or may provoke certain behaviors, as he says they “can be very troubling to children, who don’t have direction, who don’t have responsible parents.”

On April 20, 1999, two students at Columbine High School went on a killing spree, shooting 12 students and a teacher, and injuring 21 others, then preceded to commit suicide. Marilyn Manson and another dark and controversial music group, Rammstein, were blamed for the Columbine shooting, ranked the fourth- deadliest massacre in United States history. He conveys that he is not at fault for the way his listeners perceive his messages, arguing, people fail to perceive the difference between art and real life; however, copious amounts of people thought otherwise, especially towards this tragedy. Although his intentions were probably not detrimental, the effect his lyrics have on some of his listeners is quite harmful.

Despite the conservative talk show host’s belief that Manson and other dark musicians have a negative impact on children and adolescents, Michael Moore, a liberal commentator, filmmaker, and author had a contrary view. He also interviewed Manson in a segment called “Bowling for Columbine,” and agreed with the singer that mentioned the government should also be considered a negative influence on children, as they were bombing other areas of the world at the time, during a war. Moore also mentioned other factors should have been considered, instead of violent lyrics, such as the prescription drugs the two shooters were on.

The apparent increase in these troubling themes of contemporary music conveys the decline of morality and conservatism in the American society, which shows the detachment from past traditional values.

Clearly, lyrics with violence, sex, profanity, and references to drugs are becoming more prominent in today’s society; however, the detrimental effects on the listeners are also present. Although the intentions of singers are not to negatively harm their fans, in certain circumstances, they do by: enabling a misinterpretation of their lyrics, gearing them in the wrong direction, as teens look to some of them as role models, and enforcing their negative moods with violent lyrics. The apparent increase in these troubling themes of contemporary music conveys the decline of morality and conservatism in the American society, which shows the detachment from past traditional values, as well as provides reasoning for the U.S. government’s censorship.

I have also attached my podcast that addressed this issue as well, with an interview and song clips. Check it out.

  • Bowling for Columbine (

  • Work Cited

     America. Federal Communications Commission. Obscene, Indecent and Profane Broadcasts. Federal Communications Commission, n.d. Web.

    Bastawrous, Megan. Personal Interview. 3 December 2013.

    Bastawrous, Megan M. Audio blog post. N.p., 3 Dec. 2013. Web.

    Bowling for Columbine (Fear and Consumption). Dir. Michael Moore. Perf. Michael Moore and Marilyn Manson. 2002. YouTube Clip.

    Cafferty, Jack. “What’s Behind Precipitous Decline in America’s Morality?” Online Posting. CNN. N.p., 17 May 2010. Web.

    Ingraham, Laura, and Raymond Arroyo. Of Thee I Zing: America’s Cultural Decline from Muffin Tops to Body Shots. New York: Threshold Editions, 2011. Print.

    Landau, Elizabeth. “Music: Its in Your Head, Changing Your Brain.” (n.d.): n. pag. CNN Health. 28 May 2013. Web.

    Logo of FCC. Digital image. Google. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Dec. 2013.

    Marilyn Manson on The O’Reilly Factor. Adapt. Razzia. Perf. Bill O’Reilly and Marilyn Manson. 2006. YouTube.

    Rihanna. “Are you fucking kidding me??? I’m on it!” 6 February 2011, 10:02 a.m. Tweet.

    Rihanna. “S&M.” Rec. 21 Jan. 2011. Rihanna. Bardadian Recording, 2011. CD.

    Roberts, Donald F. “The Effects of Violent Music on Children and Adolescents.” Ed. Donald A. Gentile. Media Violence and Children. By Peter G. Christenson. Ed. Irving E. Sigel. N.p.: Praeger, n.d. 153-71. Print.


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