Popular music is no longer just a pleasure to the ear as it used to be; it has become a number-one teaser to the eye and a legitimate vent for our incessant secret desires. The music industry of today has turned into a race which is most often won by those who know how to shock the audience. What with all the booties shaking, drug snorting, guns flashing, cars speeding…
Ever since artists started making visual companions for their music, censorship has been in the picture, never missing to demonstrate its firm grip when it comes to curtailing the graphic images and the inappropriate lyrics. Even before the era of such provocateurs like Madonna and Lady Gaga, music videos were censored. Few people probably know that the first video ever to be not only cut here and there, but totally banned by MTV due to the abundance of explicit homoerotic scenes, was Queen’s 'Body Language'.
For more than three decades now many artists have been balancing between the highly demanding requirements of the business to deliver an attractive product and the pending threat that too much sex, violence, and drugs will get them into trouble. With that being said, here are 15 music videos from the last 15 years that underwent drastic censorship.
15 Madonna - What It Feels Like For A Girl (2000)
The artist that is probably most often associated with the word “scandalous” is Madonna. Throughout her turbulent and always-catching-the-public-eye career, she has shattered more than one or two taboos. She made waves in areas where few got their hands dirty– she has been at war with homophobia, sexism, and religious hypocrisy. Logically, one expects that videos such as 'Justify My Love' and 'Erotica' to have been subject to censorship, but the truth is that her most censored video is the one where she shows the least amount of flesh. 'What It Feels Like For a Girl' is perhaps the most badass video in her career. It was quickly banned from daily rotation on MTV and VH1– both channels didn’t approve of the crime spree that ends with a suicidal crash. Not only fans, but also critics showed their indignation of the drastic measures back then. They claimed Madonna had fallen victim to the double standard policy of the almighty music television. If you only remember MTV’s insanely popular original program Jackass, there is no way that you’ll find Madonna’s video as violent, and yet she was totally silenced (so to speak). Besides, there have been other, undeniably more aggressive and testosterone-driven videos, by Limp Bizkit and Korn for example, which, have been left untouched by the MTV’s Inquisition Department.
14 Lady Gaga - LoveGame (2009)
Some music lovers wouldn’t even think of Madonna if they have to name the most provocative female performer today. Lady Gaga is considered the ultimate trend-setter in terms of sex, shock, and outrage. Seven years ago, LoveGame was a huge night-club hit, but some grouchy Australian TV censors found the line “I want to ride your disco stick” too obscene and banned the video in the country. The explanation behind their decision was that the video is loaded with “frequent verbal and visual sexual references”. Lady Gaga herself never bothered to twist the things around or to apologize. When asked to explain the meaning behind the infamous line in question, she put it simply, “It’s another of my very thoughtful metaphors for a c*ck.”
Of course, we cannot confine Gaga’s controversial tendencies to only one video, for the eccentric performer has upset the apple cart many times. The video to Do What U Want, for example, put her in a lot of trouble. It was directed by an alleged sexual predator (Terry Richardson) and another one played in it (R. Kelly, who was accused of sexually assaulting underaged girls). Some found this unacceptable and the video was never released in its original form.
13 Nicki Minaj - Anaconda (2014)
Lap dancing, skimpy outfits, intense shaking-baking-booty-quaking… A television censor must be blind and numb at the same time to fail to notice such a drastic breach of le bon ton! Two years ago, the video broke Vevo’s 24-hour streaming record by accumulating 19.6 million views only on the first day of its release. Besides, the song was nominated for Best Rap Song at the 2015 Grammy Awards. Despite the positive reviews, however, the song received many negative reactions. The arguments for censoring the video were based on solid accusations– it promoted prostitution, drug abuse, and immorality to young females. Some critics suspected that Minaj had actually become desperate in her attempts to get her crown back as Taylor Swift had beaten her record with Bad Blood, accumulating 500,000 views more than Minaj. That’s obviously why she had no other option but to make such a vile video. In February 2015, YouTube released a “clean” version of the video, which they promoted with the following line, “Now you can listen to 'Anaconda' with your family!” Sure, except the kids in the family had long before watched the uncensored version of the dreadful “snake”.
12 Rihanna - Man Down (2010)
This time the bad guy in the picture is not the notorious BET, because the real instigator of all the drama around this video was started by the Parents Television Council. On the background of a heartening reggae beat, Rihanna sings about getting even for a rape by shooting the sexual offender in the head. The rape itself isn’t shown in detail, but the shot in the head is! The above mentioned Parent Council reacted at lightning speed and appealed to BET and MTV to stop it from airing. When Rihanna received the news, she was beside herself with rage and replied with an infuriated tweet: “U can’t hide your kids from society, or they’ll never learn how to adapt. This is THE REAL WORLD!” BET refused to pull the video, and although no actual censorship has been implemented, Rihanna is still called a victim of the false morality of today.
Bonus: Another video of hers, 'S&M', was banned in eleven countries and if you want to watch it on YouTube, you have to verify your age. But of course, even before watching it, you can guess what it is all about. And you will probably like it, especially if you are a 50 Shades of Grey fan.
11 Eminem - Just Lose It (2000)
The white boy who dared to challenge the origins and foundations of the hip-hop culture and industry has never restrained himself from delivering powerful provocations to go with his messages. Sometimes, however, he’ll go too far in making a point and this, of course, won’t leave those affected by him indifferent. In his 2004 video, there is a moment when we see a noseless Michael Jackson impersonator on a bed, surrounded by children. Jacko reacted instantly and called this depiction of him “inappropriate and disrespectful”. Black Entertainment Television (BET) stepped in and resolved the case by deciding to ban the video. In fact, Michael Jackson was not the only celebrity who was depicted in the video in a rather derogatory way; Madonna and Vanilla Ice were also parodied, but at that point, all of the attention was fixed on Jackson, who had been going through a tough time trying to fight back against the child molestation charges.
10 Christina Aguilera - Dirrty (2002)
There was a hidden intention behind the creation of this video. At some point, Aguilera got so fed up with how people had been manipulating her image that she finally decided to gain control over her own persona and portray it as it truly is. The result was this R&B and hip-hop song, which seemingly features people engaged in sport activities such as mud wrestling. But it is, in fact, about sex. As planned, the video did put an end to her image as bubblegum teen sweetheart, but it also received tons of critical comments in news publications and from other artists. In Thailand, it was banned because they claimed to have seen signs in the background, with Aguilera dancing in the boxing ring, that hinted at illegal sex trafficking in their country. Translated from Thai, the signs read, “Thailand’s sex tourism” and “Young underage girls”. Of course, Aguilera denied knowing what those inscriptions behind her meant, but nevertheless, the video was banned from airing in Thailand.
9 Ciara Ft. Ludacris Ride (2010)
The folks from Black Entertainment Television must have ignored the serious workout routines and the enviable physical form demonstrated by Ciara Princess Harris Willson, a.k.a Ciara, in this video, and saw it only with the eyes of Puritans. As a result, they labeled it as “too hot” and banned it. This spoiled the pleasure of many naughty viewers (and rodeo lovers, for that matter!), as the footage features the R&B diva enjoying herself in a very suggestive manner while riding a mechanical bull. Ironically, in another video of hers, featuring Justin Timberlake, 'Love Sex Magic', there is a lot more explicit sexual content than in 'Ride', but somehow BET turned a blind eye to it and let Ciara rub her gorgeous body against Justin’s undisturbed. As regards 'Ride', the singer/record producer/dancer/fashion model made a video to the song’s remix, featuring Andre 3000.
8 Adele - Rolling In The Deep (2010)
The news that this deeply moving ballad has actually been censored might be easily omitted as a false fact, but it is too fun not to mention it. The video to the song seven got MTV Music Awards Nominations in 2011, thus making it the most nominated video of the year. At first sight, there is absolutely nothing alarming about the song or the video, which begins in an abandoned house, where Adele is simply sitting on a chair singing. No nudity, no guns, no illegal substances, nothing. The only moment that might be considered as moderately violent is the scene with the china being thrown and breaking on the wall in the staircase. Despite the undeniable virtuousness of the spoken messages and the images, some television and radio stations censored Adele’s product, the reason being that the line “reaching the fever pitch” had been misheard as “reaching the fever b*tch”. “Ship” was also misheard as “sh*t”. The only reasonable comment to this ridiculous mishap can be this one: some people in the music business should really go and check their ears before they accuse the next artist of any wrongdoings.
7 Miley Cyrus - Adore You (2013)
While watching this video, every sensible person would find themselves asking the logical question, “Why would anyone take a bath in their clothes?” But Miley Cyrus is not anyone. When she wants to make a point and show us how much she suffers, either because she is going through a rough break-up, or is experiencing the thrills of reciprocal love, she sure knows how to do it in the most effective way. The music video to 'Wrecking Ball' was, mildly put, sexy, but in comparison to 'Adore You', it looks sloppy. Throughout the video, Miley is on a bed holding a video camera and pleasuring herself. Unfortunately, the censors didn’t like these moments of privacy and it was released only after some serious “editing”. At present, one must put some time and effort in finding the uncut version of the video, because most sites offer its less obscene edition.
6 M.I.A - Born Free (2010)
“This video may be inappropriate for some users.” The warning will appear on your display if you try to watch it on YouTube. Back in the year of its release, it was almost impossible to find it due to the complaints of disturbed users and the prompt actions of YouTube’s content-monitoring staff.
The scenes we witness in this 9-minute long highly controversial video are for sure violent and even the most callous viewers might find them too extreme. The video by the English rapper of Indian origin shows military troops forcing red-haired people to run across minefields and executing them. It further contains scenes of nudity and a particularly shocking one of a 12-year-old child being shot in the head. Although defenders of the video angrily objected to the ban, saying that the video raised people’s awareness of the atrocities of genocide in all its forms, the critics fought back sternly, arguing that it’s not a positive message to use violence in order to end violence.
5 Robbie Williams - Rock DJ (2000)
We have learned so far that many performers were censored for exhibiting too much nudity in their music videos. This one, however, goes even further showing us how sexy it can get if one strips oneself of his… skin. 'Rock DJ' was insanely huge in the United Kingdom in 2000. In the accompanying video, Williams is doing his best to impress a female DJ by stripping naked. But he won’t stop with removing only his clothes; he goes on by getting rid of his skin and muscles, and ending up as a skeleton. The video ends with the reassuring note that “no Robbies were harmed during the shooting of the video.” 'Rock DJ' won Best Music Video at the 2001 BRIT Awards. But when there is such a success, there is always also a “but” lurking from behind the bushes. The video instantly aroused controversy because of its explicit content. Its ending was cut by most European music channels, and in The Dominican Republic, it was banned altogether after allegations of Satanism.
4 Eminem - Stan (2000)
Yes, it seems that Eminem is amongst the most “favored” children of the censorship, because, as a matter of fact, a considerable part of his video production has been evaluated as inappropriate for large audiences. In this particular video, Stan is an obsessive guy, who describes himself as Eminem’s biggest fan. He keeps on writing and writing to his hero, but all his letters are left unanswered. The non-censored version shows Stan as a violent domestic abuser who one day goes berserk, puts his wife in the trunk of their car and crashes it off a bridge. There was simply no way for the censorship to stay indifferent. For starters, MTV cut off all the scenes with Stan’s wife lying tied up in the trunk of the car. This didn’t seem to be enough though, because their second move before airing the video was to also remove the scene with Stan gulping vodka while driving. But with or without the cut-off scenes, the message of the video stays intact– ill-managed fandom can go really wrong.
3 Jay-Z - 99 Problems (2004)
If you want to be a successful rapper nowadays, you should be able to pull magic out of your sleeve in order to impress the audience. In this business, all valid attributes of the ghetto gang style seem to be already rapped out and visualized. Some of the rappers, however, choose to step out of the cliché and this is how songs like '99 Problems' are born. In this pretty autobiographical video, Jay-Z tells a story about racial profiling from a police officer and aggressor who insists on searching his car. The song and the video, which is shot entirely in black-and-white, won a number of prestigious awards and gained widespread acclaim. And yet, there was something about the video which deeply concerned the censors. In the final scene, the hero gets shot. MTV decided to show it only with an introduction from Jay-Z himself, assuring everybody that it was a metaphorical death, not a real one.
2 Marilyn Manson - (S)aint (2003)
A list like this one won’t be completed if the name of Marilyn Manson is missing from it. Throughout his career he hasn’t ceased to shock his audience in all possible ways. But in the video to his song '(S)aint', he trespasses many boundaries and delivers a product that not only shocks, but also scares. The video offers the full package of X-rated scenes to the vultures from the parent label Interscope Records to feed on: self-mutilation, full female nudity, cocaine snorting, masturbation, cunnilingus. Although the video’s release was, not surprisingly, denied in the USA, it was aired without any problem in Japan and Germany. And yet, even in these very progressive countries, the genitalia and the most explicit sex scenes were blurred. However, now, when revisiting this 2003 video, one may find all the graphic footage only mildly troubling in comparison to the seemingly innocent scene where Manson is taking a bath.
1 Dixie Chicks - Not Ready To Make Nice (2006)
Those rebellious girls have long now fallen from grace. But not because they ride poles, bulls, and people half-naked, or because they use the dreaded F-word indiscriminately, but because of their political stand and their habit to speak their minds. Everything started back in 2003 when the vocalist Natalie Mains made a harsh critical comment about then President George W. Bush and the forthcoming invasion in Iraq. As a matter of fact, many performers at that time expressed their discontent with the aggressive course of the President’s foreign policy, but it was the Dixie Chicks that took the blow. As a country act, the girls were supposed to be conservative, but they were everything but that, which made a lot of people uneasy. Their shows in some Republican states were dropped and the radio stations refused to advertise their tours. The song to the video 'Not Ready To Make Nice' was the band’s reaction to being treated like outlaws and gave expression to how they felt about censorship, controversy, and freedom of speech in the modern society. Of course, the video is very effective, but it would have spoken the girls’ convictions even louder if they had flashed at least one boob…