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Censorship of music is the practice of restricting free access to musical works. This censorship may stem from a wide variety of motivations, including moral, political, military or religious reasons. Censorship can range from the complete government-enforced legal prohibition of a musical work, to private, voluntary removal of content when a musical work appears in a certain context. An example of this latter form of censorship is the radio edit.
In order to allow songs to be played wherever possible, it is common to censor particular words, particularly profanities. Some music labels or artists produce censored versions themselves, sometimes with alternative lyrics, to comply with the rules set by various radio and television programs. Some stations decide to censor them themselves using one of several methods:
An early example of censorship of music on the radio is from the 1940s. George Formby's "When I'm Cleaning Windows" was banned from BBC radio due to the "smutty lyrics", though Formby's wife Beryl managed to change BBC's opinion. The ostensibly offending lyrics were:
Another example of censorship is when, in 1956, ABC radio refused to play Billie Holiday's "Love for Sale" because the lyrics are about prostitution, but "Love For Sale" would be on the radio again. ABC also made Cole Porter change the lyric of "I Get A Kick Out Of You", which was a hit for Frank Sinatra. Porter's original stated "I get no kick from cocaine". The cleaned-up version was "I get perfume from Spain".
Another example is when the Rolling Stones appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. Sullivan asked them to sing their hit song "Let's Spend the Night Together", but he asked them to change the lyrics to "Let's Spend Some Time Together" so it would be considered more appropriate.
Due to its position as a public broadcaster, BBC Radio has a policy of not playing songs that contain product placement; Ray Davies of the British rock band The Kinks was forced to travel back to the United Kingdom during an American tour in order to change references to Coca-Cola to "cherry cola" from their hit song "Lola" in order to allow it to be given airplay in the country.
BBC Radio was also involved in a controversy surrounding their play of the Sex Pistols single "God Save the Queen" released by Virgin Records on 27 May 1977 to coincide with the Queen's silver jubilee celebrations. Sales of the single were not prohibited, but BBC's Radio 1 banned it from airplay. It had reached number two in the BBC's own charts, but the public service broadcaster — at that time the BBCs most popular radio channel — pulled it because of its lyrics. In fact, the single reached number one on the chart. The band was harassed by police when it (loudly) performed the song from a boat on the Thames. (See the entry for Sid Vicious and God Save the Queen on the Sex Pistols page.)
When the song "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" was released to radio stations, the line "I told you once you son of a bitch, I'm the best there's ever been" was sometimes replaced by "I told you once you son of a gun, I'm the best there's ever been".
In 1981, the International Year of Disabled People, saw the BBC pull airplay of Ian Dury's "Spasticus Autisticus" until after dark. Dury, who had suffered from polio, intended the song to be a positive message for people with disabilities. The chorus' refrain "I'm spasticus, autisticus" was inspired by the response of the rebelling gladiators of Rome, who — at least in the version of the story portrayed in the Stanley Kubrick film Spartacus — answered to the name of their leader, "I am Spartacus", to protect him.
Radio 1 in 1984 pulled the "Relax" single by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Radio 1 had concluded that the lyric, "when you're gonna come" referred to sexual climax. However, FGTH has refuted that their song's lyrics were sexual. In a famous incident, Radio 1 disc jockey Mike Read took the record off the turntable and broke it in two. After this, but without consulting Read, Radio 1 decided to pull the record — which sent the record straight to number one for a five-week stay.
The Beastie Boys received substantial publicity when they arrived in the UK in 1987. Headline stories of their activities in bars and hotel rooms, along with a tour featuring dancers in cages and a large inflatable penis, led to massive sales of "Fight for your Right to Party". A video showing the three band members invade and trash a party was subsequently not shown by Top of the Pops due to its portrayal of "loutish behaviour".
Canadian songwriter Sarah McLachlan saw two of her songs butchered for airplay suitability's sake. A line in Good Enough (1993), which originally ran as "after all the bullshit I've heard", becomes, after blanking, "after all the bulls I've heard". The blanking of the f-word in "Building a Mystery"'s music video (1997) might have been the cause for director Matt Mahurin to withhold his name from the video credits, a rare instance of such unbilling in this director's career.
In Tom Petty's "You Don't Know How It Feels", the line usually censored from airplay is "Let's roll another joint". In MTV's airings and on many radio stations, the word "joint" was reversed, obscuring it.
In 2009, Britney Spears' single "If U Seek Amy" sparked controversy in the United States due to the implications of the title. When sung fast, as Spears does in the song, the words "if you seek Amy" appear to spell out F-U-C-K me. The song was censored in the United States and retitled as "If U See Amy", removing the "k" from "Seek". However, the song went uncensored in most other nations. In the United Kingdom, the song was retitled "Amy" in which the chorus and bridge lyrics are mostly removed or replaced. This is the version that has been played on BBC Radio 1 and most other radio stations in England.
In many songs, the word "ass" is usually censored when it is used as an insult or sexually, usually by distorting the word, or silencing part or the whole word. The word "asshole" is usually completely censored, but sometimes, only "ass" is censored, while "hole" is not.
The word "crap" is usually censored in songs, like in the clean version of "Hip Hop is Dead" by Nas featuring will.i.am. When the word "sex" is used in a sexual way, it might be censored; exceptions include rapper 50 Cent's "In da Club" and Ed Sheeran's Don't (in which the entire first line of the chorus is removed). The word "pissed" would not be censored if used in a way meaning "angry", like in Papa Roach's "Scars", Lloyd Banks' "Hands Up" and Lil' Kim's "Lighters Up", but censored if used in a way meaning "urinating", which is also on "Lighters Up".
The censorship of some of the less common swear words or obvious innuendos may differ between stations. The word ho in Gwen Stefani's "What You Waiting For?" was censored by some stations (for example MTV) while not by others (such as BBC Radio 1). Likewise, in Rihanna's "Unfaithful", some stations censor the word "gun", but not others. Stefani's song "Hollaback Girl", where the word shit is repeated a total of 38 times, was heavily censored on English-speaking countries, and surprisingly, also on Brazilian radios. Most radio stations removed the "it" and allowed the "sh" sound. This is similar in Rihanna's song "Disturbia" where she uses the words "Or figure this shit out!". Some radio and TV stations censored the line "keep her coming every night" in Maroon 5's "This Love" because of the insinuation of the word. Another edit has the first half of the second verse removed. Maroon 5's song "Makes Me Wonder" contains the line 'If I ever give a fuck about you.' The word "fuck" is dropped every time it is used in the song. Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend" has the line, 'I'm the motherfucking princess.' In the edited version of that song the word "fucking" is removed and the word "mother" is kept; alternatively, another edit replaces "motherfucking" with "one and only". The word "suck" was blanked on Pink's "U + Ur Hand" on some radio stations and on Now! 25 because of its sexual connotations.
Nine Inch Nails had an edited version of the music video for "Closer" made for television, due to MTV's concern that it would be controversial for the network. The song itself was also edited for airplay, by blanking the whole vocal track. This version is also an instrumental version of the song posted by Trent Reznor at remix.nin.com.
Red Hot Chili Peppers's song "Tell Me Baby" contains the line "Life can be a little shitty", but radio stations replace it to "Life can be a little kitty". In the Rock Band version replaces "Life can be a little..." Another example is the Grease song "Greased Lightning", where the line "It ain't no shit" is often never cut in daytime radio airplay.
In the song "I Hate Everything About You" by Three Days Grace, on television (for instance, MTV) or some radio stations, the word "hit" is cut off the song.
The Anarcho-punk band, Crass, hit controversy when a record pressing plant refused to press the song, "Reality Asylum", accusing them of blasphemy. Instead, they had a blank space with silence, which the band humorously dubbed "The sound of Free Speech" in protest. According to their drummer Penny Rimbaud, they were influenced by John Cage's 4:33. Their protest song against the Falklands war, Sheep Farming in The Falkland Islands, faced calls from a Conservative MP to be prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act 1959, but this was not successful.
Some words are censored not through their sexual or offensive nature but for other reasons. The 2001 release "Teenage Dirtbag" by Wheatus had the word gun censored by some stations – it was felt that the line "Her boyfriend's a dick/he brings a gun to school" was inappropriate. Some stations also censored 2003's "Gay Bar" by Electric Six, removing the word war from the sentence "Let's start a war; start a nuclear war".
On September 10, 2001, coinciding with the September 11, 2001 attacks, the video and single for the Rammstein song "Ich will" was released, portraying the band as terrorists who want to get a message across and receiving a kind of terrorist award for their "actions". After the attacks, the video clip was broadcast only late at night in the United States, although many media officials and politicians requested the video to be removed from television completely.
Rapper Kanye West's song "Gold Digger" repeatedly says nigga in the line "But she ain't messin' with no broke nigga" and has been censored to say "But she ain't messin' wit no broke broke". The Jaywalks song "I Like Fat Chicks" was banned from radio for politically incorrect lyrics, despite the fact the message of the song is essentially positive about overweight women.
As the word "goddamn" is often considered inappropriate while the term "damn" on its own is not, many censored versions of music that contains the term "goddamn" are edited to remove "god", but leave "damn", while others censor the "damn" portion instead (leaving in "god" - an example is "No Better Love" by Young Gunz), and yet others remove "goddamn" entirely. An example is the Eagles' "Life In The Fast Lane", which contains the line "We've been up and down this highway/Haven't seen a goddamn thing".
The song "Purple Pills" by D-12, which is about drugs, has a radio-edit version of the song, changing the title to "Purple Hills". The song title "I Wanna Fuck You" originally by rapper Plies, but by Akon featuring Snoop Dogg, has a censored version called "I Wanna Love You". Nas' song "Got Ur Self a Gun" has a clean version called "Got Ur Self A...", which lead it to echo before the word "gun" was used.
MTV censors the words "shoot" and "drug" by replacing them with "put" and "clothes" in "The City Is At War" by Cobra Starship.
In the song "You're Gonna Go Far, Kid" by The Offspring, the word "fucker" is used 4 times, in the censored version, this word was replaced either by a bleep or a short silence. On some stations, the applicable line is instead changed to "now dance, now dance".
In Rage Against the Machine's 1992 song "Killing in the Name," towards the end of the song, frontman, Zack De La Rocha, repeats the words "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me!" sixteen times, murmuring the line the first four times, building into a crescendo the next four times and then screaming the line the final eight times before the screaming of "Motherfucker!". Some radio stations block out the whole part, some just censor the word "fuck", and others play a shortened version (clocking at 4:06) which removes this section (going straight from the end of the guitar solo to the outro) along with the intro. However, BBC Radio 1 was flooded by 138 phone call complaints by offended listeners after DJ Bruno Brookes accidentally played the uncensored version of "Killing in the Name" on BBC Radio 1's Top Forty Countdown show at 5:00 PM on February 21, 1993. It should also be noted that he was busy recording a promo for the next week's countdown while the song played. In the popular game Guitar Hero II, however, the cover version used by the creators replaces "fuck you" with "now you're under control", and the screaming of "Motherfucker!" with "Under Control!"
Jadakiss' song "Why" was edited on some radio stations when he said "Why did Bush knock down the towers?". The word "Bush" was censored in the lyrics because it was implying the Bush Administration had a hand in the September 11 attacks.
Notorious B.I.G.'s song "Juicy" was re-edited after the September 11 attacks, removing the line "Time to get paid/Blow up like the World Trade." What was at the time Biggie's clever use of metaphor comparing the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing and the slang term "to blow up" (that is, to become popular rapidly) sounded less playful and more grimly prophetic in light of the events that took place on 9/11.
Bowling for Soup's "1985" had three radio edits. One with the lyric 'One Prozac a day' changed to 'One workout a day' and 'She's gonna shake her ass' is sometimes replaced with 'She's gonna shake it right'. Another edit has 'One Prozac a day' being skipped to 'Husband's a CPA'. And the line 'She's gonna shake her ass. On the hood of Whitesnake's car' being replaced by 'Not a big Limp Bizkit fan. Thought she'd get a hand.' the latter line is heard in the second verse.
"Dead and Gone" by T.I and Justin Timberlake had two radio edits. One with T.I's opening line cut off, and the explicit words being censorsed. Another edit has the opening removed, and the explicit words being replaced with cleaned up words. (i.e. "Niggas die everyday" being replaced with "People die everyday")
Lady Gaga's song "LoveGame", was one of most controversial songs, having the line "I wanna take a ride on your disco stick" meaning "I wanna take a ride on your penis". And having other lines "Got my ass squeezed by sexy Cupid" or "Educated in sex yes, and now I want it bad".
Some words have also been mistaken for inappropriate ones. In The Black Eyed Peas's song, "My Humps", the word "brothers" is mistaken for "fuckers". Also in their song "Don't Phunk With My Heart", "phunk" has been mistaken as "fuck" and changed to "Don't Mess With My Heart" for some radio stations. Also the song "Fergalicious" by Fergie of Black Eyed Peas was censored because the "cious" part of the word "delicious" in the intro was thought to be "shit". In the Jurassic 5 song "A Day At The Races", the phrase "lick of" is mistaken for "niggas" and was censored in the clean version of the album. In some radio edited versions of the song "Knock You Down" by Keri Hilson featuring Kanye West & Ne-Yo, the word "ship" was mistaken for "shit" and was censored from the line, "I used to be commander in chief on my pimp ship flying high" and the word "ask" was censored from the line, "How can a goddess ask someone that's only average for advice", as it was mistaken for "ass". In Jay-Z and Alicia Keys' song "Empire State of Mind", in the line "Lights is blinding, girls need blinders so they can step out of bounds quick", the words "they can" have been mistaken for the word "nigga". In the 50 Cent song "Window Shopper", "ship" from the word "dealership" is mistaken for "shit", and therefore censored in edited versions. Some radio stations censored the word "deck" in the refrain of T.I.'s "Whatever You Like" because the way it was pronounced sounded too much like "dick" (a vulgar term for a penis). In the Eminem song "Hailie's Song", the line "I'm so glad her mom didn't want her" was misheard as "I'm so glad her mom didn't abort her". The word 'want' was censored on all copies of The Eminem Show, including the explicit versions. In the Heaven & Hell song "Bible Black" the line "I've seen the vision but the light has left me blind" sounds very close to "I've seen religion but the light has left me blind". The song subsequently received little radio airplay. In Nicki Minaj's song "Starships" the line "my name is Onika you can call me Nicki" sounded very close to "my name is a nigga you can call me Nicki" and was censored on some radio stations while others played the standard clean version from iTunes. In Jay Sean's song "Hit The Lights" the line in the chorus: "It's hot in the club now" has been sometimes been mistaken for "It's hotter than fuck now". In Bruno Mars's song "Grenade", "I would catch a grenade for ya" has been mistaken for "I would catch a grenade fuck ya!" In Adele's song "Rolling in the Deep" some lines like "I'll lay your ship bare" or "reaching the fever pitch" have been mistaken as "I'll lay your shit bare" "reaching the fever bitch", and were censored in some radio stations. In the song "Sure Shot" by The Beastie Boys the word "Shifting" from when one raps "So listen everybody because I'm shifting gears" is mistaken for "shit" and is reversed in the clean version of their album "Ill Communication". On some radio stations, Lady Gaga's song "Applause" the word "Koons" was censored as it was mistaken for the word "Cunts".
In 1991, Grand Upright v. Warner clarified that sampling without permission from the original material's copyright holders is prohibited in the United States as copyright infringement. As a result, there are a few cases, particularly in hip hop music, where record labels are forced to reissue material with anything ruled to infringe on existing copyrights removed. An early example, before the 1991 US court case, is the recall of the European release 1987 (What the Fuck Is Going On?) by The Justified Ancients of Mu-Mu. The album, full of unauthorized sampling, was recalled under the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society by a complaint from the band ABBA. An edited version, with long breaks of silence, was released afterward. Megadeth's 1985 album Killing Is My Business... and Business Is Good! originally contained a cover of "These Boots" with some lyrics changed; however, in the 2002 re-release and remaster, due to a lawsuit concerning the changed lyrics, the changed lines were replaced with censor bleeps. The 1988 album Who Killed The JAMs contained photographs of the previous aforementioned album being destroyed. A recent example of an album being altered due to copyright infringement is the recall and rerelease of The Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready to Die, in which samples of The Ohio Players music were omitted due to a 2006 American court case.
Although not common in most democratic societies, more authoritarian governments censor music deemed critical of the government, the military, stores, TV stations, or other authorities. In many societies without a well established free press, popular music is one of the few avenues to express and share ideas, even when those ideas are encoded in otherwise innocuous song lyrics.
The mizik rasin band in Haiti, RAM, first played a song called "Fèy" in 1992. The song lyrics, from a traditional vodou song, describe a leaf falling to the ground, but were widely understood as a song of support for the exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The song was banned throughout the country by the military regime of Raoul Cédras until he fled the country in September 1994 and Aristide was restored to the presidency. Censorship of music was also common in Communist countries such as the USSR.
The line in Eminem's song "Mosh" off of Encore "Strap Bush with an AK-47, let him go fight his own war, let him impress daddy that way" the words "Bush" and "AK-47" were censored in the television broadcast version of the music video as well as the censored version sold in such stores as Walmart by blanking out the words still playing the background music, but was not edited on the uncensored version of the album or the internet broadcast version.
In D12's song Rap Game, Eminem's verse starts out with "I'ma get snuffed, 'cause I ain't said enough to pipe down, I'll pipe down when the White House is wiped out, when I see that little Cheney dyke get sniped out". The words "White House" and "Cheney" are blanked out, even in the explicit version of the song, because Eminem is threatening to destroy the White House, and is threatening to kill a member of the United States Congress, both of which are illegal.
A recent example is Lady Gaga's song "Judas" (from her album Born This Way) which was banned in Lebanon in April 2011 for being "offensive to Christianity", according to the Daily Star, a Lebanese newspaper. Moreover, VH1 India censored the word 'Jesus' itself from the track.
A substantial amount of information about censorship of music on religious grounds all over the world can be found on a list online.
The original cover of nude Yoko Ono and John Lennon's Unfinished Music No.1: Two Virgins provoked an outrage, prompting distributors to sell the album in a plain brown wrapper. Almost all of the artwork of death-metal band Cannibal Corpse has, at one time or another, been censored, due to their excessive use of graphic imagery and occasional nudity. Many albums had to be released with less graphic artwork. For example, the album "Gallery of Suicide", which originally featured artwork depicting a hall with hanged people dangling from the rafters, people propped up against the walls with slit wrists and gunshots to the head, and a scarred woman wearing only panties disemboweling herself. In the less graphic artwork, it simply depicts an ominous structure with a thin causeway to land, apparently the outside of the gallery depicted in the more graphic artwork. German heavy metal band Scorpions' 1970s album Virgin Killer 's artwork had to be changed because the original cover art showed a nude prepubescent girl, with a glass crack obscuring her genitalia. Simply, the alternative cover art depicts the members of the band in various poses. Kanye West's album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy's album cover's original artwork depicted of a man that looked like Kanye having sex with a phoenix (both nude). This album's artwork has two alternative versions. The first showed a ballerina holding a glass of wine, this is the cover art used in most retail stores. And the second edit, shows the original artwork only the picture is pixelated, this is the cover that appears on iTunes.
Some artists or record labels choose to censor themselves in order to avoid negative publicity or a Parental Advisory label. This is sometimes due to the timing of events outside of their control, such as how the September 11, 2001 attacks affected audiovisual entertainment. The release and subsequent advertising of Michael Jackson's greatest hits album was delayed until after his 2005 trial; it is not known if a guilty verdict would have further changed the timing of the release.
Canadian songwriter Sarah McLachlan self-censored her song "Building a Mystery" in various public appearances since 1997, replacing the line "You're a beautiful fucked-up man" by "You're a beautiful messed-up man". Even on her own official YouTube page, the music video is still displayed in censored version.
Another example of this is the song "Disturbia" by Rihanna; when Rihanna sings "I gotta get out or, figure this shit out", the word "shit" is replaced by the instrumental. In some radio versions of the song, the part "figure this shit out" is replace by the intro of the song.
The song "All the Things She Said" by t.A.T.u. has the line, "I'm in serious shit, I feel totally lost" in the first verse, which would be sung normally in live performance; on the album, however, the word is replaced with a "Shh!" sound, and completely removed in the music video.
Many of the songs by The Black Eyed Peas censor the word "fuck", but not other profanities, such as "shit" or "nigga", such as in the song "Imma Be"; "motherfucking crew" has been censored as "mothermother crew", and the syllable "fuck" in the line "Imma be fucking her". This was censored by "Imma be freaking her". Similarly, Robbie Williams' song "Bodies" has the word "fucking" bleeped near the start of the song, where he says "UK and entropy, I feel like it's fucking me".
In the Simple Plan's song "Your Love is a Lie", the word "fucked" was partially censored in the line "And do you think about me when he fucked you?" The radio edit still replaced the word "fucked" with "touches" even though the word "fuck" was censored.
In Mya's My Love Is Like... Wo, the word "ass" was censored in the line "My ass is like wo" even in the "unedited version" of the video. Taylor Swift's Teardrops on My Guitar has two versions: the uncensored version which has the line "I laugh 'cause he's so damn funny" () and the other which replaces said line with "I laugh 'cause he's just so funny" 
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Examples of artists who have had their work edited or censored:
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In 1993, when Nirvana's In Utero (album) album was released, it was forced to be censored by their label as well as by distributors Walmart and Kmart. Nirvana's frontman, Kurt Cobain, responded by saying, "I just feel bad for all the kids who are forced to buy their music from big chain stores and have to have the edited music." The name of the song "Rape Me" was changed to "Waif Me" for these stores. The name change only appears on the back cover. The original title is still stated in the liner notes and the album insert.