Year of the F-Word [December 2010]

When Lily Allen’s “F**k You” made the Billboard Hot 100 in 2009, it turned out to be a harbinger.  Since then the F-word has gone mainstream.  The year 2010 started with Mumford & Sons’ “Little Lion Man,” eventually peaking at No. 61 in November.  After Gwyneth Paltrow performed her version on “Glee” during TV’s November sweeps, Cee Lo Green’s “F**k You” cracked the top 10.  Then by year’s end, Enrique Iglesias debuted in the top 20 with “Tonight,” an example of the lamest use of the F-word in a song.

Since Green’s recording has received Grammy nominations for record of the year and song of the year (Mumford & Sons picked up a nomination in the best new artist category), we can expect more musical F-bombs in the future.  Pink is already waiting in the wings with “F**king Perfect.”  Oy vey.  As Antoine Dodson would say, hide your kids.

To see what Tipper Gore has to do with all this, read our F-Bombs Away Note.

F-Bombs Away [September 2010]

Thanks to Tipper Gore (more on her campaign below), song lyrics have become more explicit than ever.  As coincidence would have it, two R-rated songs of note are getting quite a bit of buzz.  What’s remarkable is that both songs feature the F-word prominently in the chorus and neither is a hip-hop song.

When Mumford & Sons performed “Little Lion Man” on “Late Show With David Letterman” last February, they changed the offending line to “I really messed it up this time.”  Now the U.K. quartet’s debut album has already cracked the top 20 stateside, and this song is a top 10 hit at alternative radio and doing well at triple-A.  It just might crossover to top 40 radio.

In just a few days after Cee Lo Green posted the official video for “F**k You,” it has garnered over 700,000 views on YouTube.  The radio version, renamed “Forget You,” looks to be Green’s first top 40 solo hit.  You might remember him as one half of Gnarls Barkley and the man behind The Pussycat Dolls’ “Don’t Cha.”

The use of profanity in pop music is gratuitous in most cases.  Alex Chilton’s “No Sex” is one of the rare exceptions (refer to our Chilton obituary in April 2010).  Radiohead’s “Creep” is another exception.  So why are so many artists dropping the F-bomb these days?  Well, we have Tipper Gore to “thank” for that.  It’s another case of unintended consequence.

The wife of then-senator Al Gore co-founded the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) in 1985 to lobby the recording industry to put a warning label on sexually suggestive or violent music.  The small but politically connected organization didn’t go after profanity per se.  Indeed, one look at the group’s “Filthy Fifteen” and sex was clearly the main target.  We can all laugh about it now (the list included such offenders as Prince [“Darling Nikki”], Sheena Easton [“Sugar Walls”], Madonna [“Dress You Up”], and Cyndi Lauper [“She Bop”]), but there was a Senate hearing and everything.

We’ve no doubt Tipper Gore meant well, but as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for.  The industry blinked and agreed to use a warning label voluntarily.  With the “Tipper sticker” in place—and PMRC off the industry’s back—even mainstream artists would in time think nothing of using profanity.

So you have Madonna uttering the F-word on “American Life,” Gwen Stefani repeating the H-word all over “What You Waiting For,” and Justin Timberlake trying to toughen his image on “SexyBack.”  Timberlake’s case is particularly interesting because Al Gore actually joked about “bringing sexy back,” not fully appreciating the irony that PMRC would certainly find “SexyBack” objectionable because of the use of the MF-word.

While the music industry’s warning label isn’t quite a badge of honor, it does carry a certain cachet to some.  And just as some movie directors would rather earn an R-rating instead of PG-13 for their work, some recording artists see nothing wrong with a warning label.  We predict Justin Bieber’s first album after he turns 21 will have a warning sticker on it.

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