Recently, while on holiday in Spain, I was taking a taxi home and quietly listening to the radio, which the driver had kindly switched to an English station. As I was enjoying the luxury of English music I was suddenly roused in surprise as I heard Rihanna’s S & M in its full, unedited glory. Though I was finding it hard to come to terms with such free expression coming out of the radio, the taxi driver didn’t even flinch. Hardly an hour goes by on UK radio that you don’t hear a song with a less-than-subtle swear word replacement in it, and more often than not, with Itunes I find my options doubled to the song I want and its ‘radio edit’. Is a song as in your face and tongue-in-cheek as S & M really as effective and expressive after editing, or are edits and censors just making boundary pushing art pointless?
Music has never had a wider audience, and though radio stations do their best to try and shield the ears of younger listeners, sometimes it seems as if they are fighting a losing battle with the internet, and in many ways, the battle doesn’t seem worth fighting anyway. Rihanna’s infamous track undoubtedly contains some references that parents wouldn’t want their children to become aware of, and with this in mind, last year BBC Radio 1 edited these out, and even changed the name of the song from S & M to Come On, much to the annoyance of the woman herself. But it seems to me that by replacing the offending words with white noise and then blaring it out to as many young Rihanna fans as possible, it is not only counter-productive because the context remains unchanged, but it is bound to incite enough curiosity for them to seek out the original song themselves.
That said if you’re enough of a fan to listen intently to the radio for these artists, then you’re more than likely going to buy the album and hear the song anyway. So rather than advertise potentially offensive or controversial songs to a young audience, with an edit that draws attention to the offensive part, just don’t play the song on daytime radio. If people who want to listen to these kinds of things want to hear them, the realistic, more mature target market, then I’m sure they wouldn’t mind tuning in once the kids are in bed.
…I do think there are definite benefits to ‘no holds barred’ song writing…
Music seems to be the only creative form that undergoes this kind of censorship. There are no blankets draped over pieces of nude art in galleries before nine o’clock, or people employed to hold black strips over naked actors in the theatre. Though I know that these things have age restrictions, there still seems to be a more liberal censorship with these forms, and that is choice: if you don’t like it, don’t go and see it. And the same should be applied to the radio, if you don’t like what you hear, then turn it off rather than force everyone to undergo the same public restriction.
While there are songs that could be damaging to children, I do think there are definite benefits to no holds barred song writing. Leonard Cohen’s song Chelsea Hotel Number 2, for example, is known for its rather risqué, sexual subject matter, yet it has such an unashamed sincerity and a beautifully frank portrayal of realistic love. It not only makes Cohen himself more three-dimensional as an artist, but it is also a wonderfully sweet way of learning about love, and surely this kind of freedom of expression is a good lesson for the younger generation.
…music should undergo more scrutiny than other art forms…
Though Cohen was admittedly less forward with his sexual messages and a bit less in your face with the promotion of it, what he and Rihanna create ultimately has the same artistic value, and the same need to keep its original message, without being censored. Whether it’s played on the radio or not, shouldn’t mean music should undergo more scrutiny than other art forms, because there is a need for frank, immodest music so that, whatever your taste, you have music that speaks to you. If artists start writing songs that are entirely radio-friendly, just to guarantee airplay and sales, then it ruins the artistic integrity and the beauty that comes with real, unadulterated song writing.