Saturday, November 26, 2011

Pseudo-Profanity in Pop Songs

So I have a piece in the Hartford Courant today, about profanity heard in current pop songs. Or, more accurately, about the profanity not heard in current pop songs, but definitely implied. Only instead of hearing the swear, you'll hear the first letter of the expletive, or you'll hear weird sound in its place. It's the "everything but" manner of swearing.

I called this phenomenon "pseudo-swearing," or just "pswearing." And, as I state in the article, what I resent the most about pswearing is the double-dipping: singers get their songs on mainstream radio, but the hard-core fans who don't mind a little cussing still think they're cool.

As with all of the pieces I've written for the Courant, there was a fence around this one. 700-word-long fence. To abide by the word count, some things had to get cut-- by me or by the editor. Usually, some details end up getting pitched, to preserve the central message.

But I like details. So I decided to go back to my original document and resurrect those details here, on this space, as a sort of "supplemental" to the article published in the Courant. That way, I get two articles for one-- a newspaper piece and a blog entry. (Now look who's double-dipping! Ah, delicious irony!)

* In my original draft, I listed a bunch of songs from the past year that contain "pswearing"--offensive language that was edited out. For space reasons, the paragraph containing that list was cut. But because I think that list shows the pervasiveness of the "pswearing" phenomenon-- and because compiling that list took some time and effort-- I wanted to restore it here. So here are some singers who pswore in their hit songs in 2011:

  • Usher (“DJs Got Us Fallin’ in Love”)

  • Maroon 5 (“Moves Like Jagger”)

  • Mumford and Sons (“Little Lion Man”)

  • Ke$ha (“We R Who We R”)

  • OneRepublic (“Good Life”)

  • Taio Cruz (“Dynamite”)

The last one is probably the most disturbing, only because kids seem to enjoy that song so much. My son Charlie has learned it on piano. There's even a version of the song on Kidz-Bop, for crying out loud. Meanwhile, in the second verse, Taio Cruz says "What the @&#!." Why you gotta go there, Taio?

* In the original piece, I acknolwedged that rock-and-roll artists have always used profanity in their lyrics-- and some didn't try to hide it. For example, while I can't say for sure that ZZ Top said "S-word, I got to have her" in "Legs," I absolutely know that Roger Daltrey drops the F-Bomb in "Who Are You."

The difference in the current drop of artists is that they're actually swearing in the titles of the songs. In my original draft, I listed three such offenders from 2011. Their names were cut from the Courant article due to space restraints, but I wanted to restore them here:

  • Cee Lo Green, “Forget You” (actually “F-Bomb You”)

  • P!nk, “Perfect” (actually “F-Bombin’ Perfect”)

  • Enriques Iglesias, “Tonight I’m Lovin’ You” (actually… well, you can figure it out)
* Of those three, I consider Cee Lo the most egregious pswearing culprit, if only because of the degree of mainstream fame he's achieved over the past eighteen months. Gwenyth Paltrow has covered his signature song on Glee. He sung at the Macy's Thanksgiving parade and is slated to sing for the Obamas as part of TNT's "Christmas in Washington" special. Heck, "Forget You" even showed up in the new Muppet movie, courtesy of Gonzo's chickens. How much of that, exactly, would have happened if he went with his original lyrics?

* The last point I wanted to restore had to do with the purposefulness of profanity in pop music. I'm not necessarily against swearing in a work of art, but I just don't see how many songs are improved, artistically, with the inclusion of profanity. To illustrate this, I said the following: "How about Gwen Stefani’s 'Hollaback Girl,' during which she drops the S-Bomb a whopping 38 times? What effect was she going for there? And could it not be achieved with a mere 37 curses?"

* Finally, I used several sources to while writing this article, and I wanted to note two of them here:

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