Back when MTV aired videos nonstop, some of their programming was just too hot for TV audiences to handle. Now in the YouTube era, some videos are still too controversial, if not more. Despite being what fans perceived as a progressive network, MTV actually had a penchant for censoring videos, or they would air them after midnight. Even today, nudity and violence aren’t accepted in music videos, but many artists still place those aesthetics into their work. The controversy surrounding these videos piqued fans’ curiosity and made the videos extremely popular. Even though these videos were initially banned from airing on TV, or pulled from YouTube, they can all be easily found online.
10. “Smack My Bitch Up” – The Prodigy
From the UK electronic group’s 1997 album, The Fat of the Land, both the song and the accompanying video were met with sparks (the title alone offended people). The video centers around a debauched night out in London, where drinking, drug use, domestic violence—you name it—are prevalent throughout the clip. It’s revealed at the end that we are watching a female, not a man, that’s creating all the violence. The video went on to win a couple of MTV Video Awards and in 2002, MTV named it their most controversial music video in history.
9. “Born To Die” – Lana Del Rey
In 2011, the pop diva starred in a bloody video for the titular song from her Born to Die album. Lana Del Rey and “her lover” kiss, smoke pot and drive around in a car. At the end of the video, her lover carries her bloodied body from a background of flames, insinuating she died in a car crash. MTV refuted the video simply because of her violent death. Unintentionally harkening back to the video, Del Rey recently told a reporter she wished she was dead.
8. “Prison Sex” – Tool
Even though the video uses stop-motion animation to depict troubling visuals, MTV still banned it. A puppet-like robot is stuck in a bleak room—possibly a prison—and takes implied sexual and physical abuse from a dark figure. After a few viewings, MTV pulled the video from its rotation. In an interview, Tool’s lead singer stated: “This song is about recognizing, identifying, the cycle of abuse within yourself. That’s the first step of the process: realization; identifying. The next step is to work through it. But this song is about the first step in the process, which is recognizing.”
7. “Stupid Hoe” – Nicki Minaj
You’d think the name alone would get the video banned, but it was actually Nicki Minaj repeating the “stupid hoe” line over 50 times that caused BET not to air the video. Besides the language, the video features annoying sound effects, dizzying quick cuts and Minaj shaking her booty in an animal cage. When the video debuted on VEVO.com in 2012, 4.8 million people viewed it during its first 24 hours. There’s also a cleaner version of the video called “Stupid Stupid” but it doesn’t have quite the same appeal.
6. “What It Feels Like For A Girl” – Madonna
Instead of causing a fury over sex, Madonna drummed up controversy with violence. In the 2001 video, Madonna tasers a man, threatens cops with a gun, wrecks cars and runs people over. Her ex-husband, Guy Ritchie, directed the video. MTV didn’t like the crime spree element in the video (especially the gun violence) and at first, they banned it completely but then reconsidered and only aired the video after 9 p.m. Apparently, the network didn’t understand Madonna’s intention of “doing things that girls are not allowed to do.”
5. “Low” – Foo Fighters
Actor Jack Black teamed up with Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl in a bizarre video where the two portray rednecks getting drunk in a motel room. The beginning of the clip shows the pair drinking heavily while filming each other, but it soon gets weirder when they proceed to put on sexy women’s clothes. Black wears a homely pink bikini top with a pink skirt, and Grohl wears a black thong and garters. The booze makes things spiral even more out of control, ending with Black vomiting into a toilet.
4. “Blurred Lines” – Robin Thicke
Last year’s song of the summer had two video versions: one with sexy models wearing some clothes, and another with the same models only wearing flesh-colored g-strings and nothing on top. Robin Thicke, T.I. and Pharrell dance with the models and parade around them. YouTube cried foul when the uncensored video was posted—they removed it after a week but then restored it a few months later. In an interview, Thicke joked to GQ about the misogynistic aspect of the video: “What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman,” he said. “I’ve never gotten to do that before. I’ve always respected women.” His remarks didn’t seem to rile up enough people–the “PG-13” version currently has over 300 million views on YouTube.
3. “Girls On Film” – Duran Duran
As Robin Thicke learned, topless models will most certainly get your video banned. British New Wave group, Duran Duran filmed the salacious video before MTV launched in 1981, so they felt they could get away with explicit material, aka, art. The uncensored version features models wearing see-through lingerie, or nothing at all. In one scene, two scantily clad models mud wrestle and in other scenes, there’s a lot of sexual innuendo and phallic imagery. MTV and the BBC banned the video, but it went on to win a Grammy Award for Best Short Form Music Video. Apparently, nudity will win you awards.
2. “Born Free” – M.I.A.
Hip-hop/pop singer M.I.A. caused one of the biggest headaches in her already contentious career when she filmed and released a nine-minute short film/video, featuring genocide against gingers (redheads). The point of the mini movie was to depict real-life violence—what happens in places like The Middle East. Critics met the polarizing clip with either praise or disgust. Falling into the latter category in not seeing the artistic merit, YouTube removed the video after a day (it’s now back on YouTube). In an interview, M.I.A commented, “It’s amazing to me that is the state we’re in today—people are more moved by something synthetic than something real. And as an artist that’s the decision you have to make—whether to be real or synthetic shocking.” At least the video begins with a disclaimer.
1. “Justify My Love” – Madonna
At this point in ‘The Material Girl’s’ career (circa 1990), she was already an agent provocateur and had already caused a brouhaha with her, “Like A Prayer” video. She continued to push the envelope with this black-and-white video that features explicit imagery such as S&M and Madonna getting sexy with a variety of different sexual partners, while she sings in breathy vocals. MTV banned the video but Nightline showed it in its entirety. Madonna was a good sport, though, and parodied the video in a “Wayne’s World” SNL skit where she played truth or dare with Wayne and Garth.