Music videos have become just as integral a part of music as the songs themselves. Oftentimes, a song is recognised by its accompanying video rather than just by its sound.
Over the years, music videos have evolved from mere visual recordings of an artist miming their song to an intricate video-graphic production on par with that of a movie or TV show. Music videos have also helped the artists themselves branch out as more well-rounded entertainers and can also be used to help them push a certain theme or message.
Music videos have ranged from humorous, touching, profound, or just plain weird. While some have been remembered fondly for their creativity and uniqueness, others have become controversial.
We’ve seen our share of videos that were perhaps too raunchy, violent, or just plain offensive and they deservedly attracted their fair share of controversy.
However, what we’re looking at today is a slightly rarer occurrence. In this list, we will take a look at 4 supposedly controversial music videos that upon closer inspection or clarification ought to not be as controversial as they actually are. Without further ado, let’s begin!
#4. Baby Got Back: Sir Mix-A-Lot
Starting off this list, we have Sir Mix-A-Lot’s 1992 hip-hop hit, Baby Got Back. Best known for its opening line of “I like big butts and I cannot lie,” it may seem quite obvious at first glance as to why such a song would leave a bad taste in quite a few mouths.
Aside from the subject matter seemingly focusing on people’s backsides, the accompanying music video also featured its fair share of butts and what was for the time, some rather provocative dancing. However, was it truly deserving of a ban from MTV?
The song, while cheeky, is not extremely obscene. When asked to clarify the true meaning of Baby Got Back, Sir Mix-A-Lot stated that the song was written not to objectify women but rather to spread the message that one can be attractive without the need to conform to the traditional norm of beauty standards. When one looks closely at the lyrics and even the video itself, it becomes quite apparent.
Speaking of the video itself, while it does indeed feature various women dancing and constant close-ups of their posteriors, this too is not done in a way that is overtly sexual or demeaning. Compared to more recent videos such as Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda which samples the song, Baby Got Back is far tamer and is clearly meant to be more lighthearted than titillating.
In many ways, it is ironic that a song with such a positive message has attracted such controversy due to the failure of some to see past its playful and humorous tone. Thankfully, sensibilities shifted and the ban on its video did not last very long.
#3. This Note’s For You: Neil Young
Neil Young has had his fair share of controversial songs. After all, many of the Rock legend’s greatest hits have dealt with all manner of heavy topics. Songs like Alabama and Southern Man dealt with slavery while Ohio dealt with the Kent State shooting. With socially relevant lyrics and politically fuelled songs, they certainly got people talking.
However his 1988 song This Note’s For You was somewhat different. While most of Young’s songs got attention from their lyrics, this one turned just as many heads because of its music video. The song, whose title parodies Budweiser’s slogan, “This one’s for you,” was written as a response to the over-commercialization of the music industry in the 80s by a musician who refused to profit off sponsorships and other similar deals.
While the song’s lyrics made it quite obvious, its music video really drove the point home. Featuring lookalikes of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston, the video also poked fun at numerous other commercials that featured popular musicians of the time.
Despite the video being meant as a lighthearted parody of the current musical scene, MTV was quick to take it off the air. Initially believed to be a measure to protect the company from lawsuits from artists like Jackson, whose infamous hair-burning accident was parodied, it soon became apparent that there was another reason. As MTV was airing Weird Al Yankovic’s Fat, which itself was a parody of Michael Jackson’s Bad, it became clear that This Note’s For You was banned in order to keep sponsors happy.
In the years to follow, far more scathing songs would freely make the airwaves with little resistance while Young’s blunt but humorous take on the current climate suffered the indignity of being banned. In the end, however, Young got the last laugh as This Note’s For You won the Video Music Award for best music video.
In what can only be described as poetic justice for the star, he received an award for his video from the very same group that sought to ban it in the first place. Eventually, This Note’s For You would serve as the first chapter in Neil Young’s career resurgence.
#2. We’re Not Gonna Take It: Twisted Sister
Known best for their unique look of wild hair and heavy make-up, Twisted Sister is an iconic staple of the Heavy Metal genre. Able to mix an instrumentally heavy sound with a far more lighthearted accompanying video, not everyone seemed to see it that way.
The band’s hit song, We’re Not Gonna Take It, was listed among the Parental Music Resource Centre’s “Filthy Fifteen.” The committee, chaired by Tipper Gore cited We’re Not Gonna Take It as a song that promoted violence, basing their claim on its lyrics and music video.
Twisted Sister’s lead singer, Dee Snider memorably testified in front of Congress in order to clarify the song’s meaning and to show that the basis of the song’s controversy was not well-founded. Referencing the song’s lyrics, Snider points out that not once is any call to violence explicitly or implied in We’re Not Gonna Take It.
In regards to the music video, Snider first made it clear that a song’s lyrics and video may tell different stories. Once again, it is apparent in the video itself that there is no violence or gore of any sort. The antagonist of the video is never seen to be injured by anything that has happened to him and is comically annoyed as he instantly hatches another ridiculous plan to stop the main hero.
Snider himself has said that the video was meant to be based on The Looney Tunes skits featuring Wile. E Coyote and The Roadrunner. The music video itself was directed as a slapstick comedy and was based on Snider’s own collection of children’s cartoons. Thus it is clear that any assertion of violence or gore could not be further from the truth.
In the end, We’re Not Gonna Take It was Twisted Sister’s attempt to write a rock anthem with a catchy chorus and a positive message. True enough, it has since been used as both a protest song and in various political rallies which campaign for some sort of change.
#1. I Want To Break Free: Queen
Recognised as being among those who pioneered the concept of the music video as we know it, Queen’s already impressive musician repertoire was further enhanced by their own accompanying videos. Be it the more traditional clips or the more elaborate skits that went along with their songs, few bands did it better than Queen.
Unfortunately, even a band of Queen’s caliber was no stranger to having one of their videos banned. In this case, it was their 1984 song, I Want To Break Free. The song’s music video featured all four of the band’s members in drag.
At the time, crossdressing was not something that was seen as acceptable in the mainstream, and with the constant speculation as to Freddie Mercury’s sexuality, MTV banned the music video out of fear that it promoted crossdressing and homosexuality.
The truth behind the controversial music video could not be more innocuous. The reason the band was in drag was to parody the popular British soap opera, Coronation Street. Each member was dressed as one of the show’s characters and were seen in a flat that was almost identical to the one seen in the program.
Those in the UK instantly caught on to the joke, but those in America did not as the show did not air in the States. Thus, it gave rise to all manner of unfounded speculations that gave I Want To Break Free its controversial reputation.
It also came to light that the decision to dress up in drag was not Freddie Mercury’s but rather Roger Taylor’s as he was a fan of the long-running series. Also, unlike in America at the time, cross-dressing for comedic purposes was popular in the UK as it dated back to the era of Shakespearean comedies.
It goes to show that sometimes, one should first take some time to understand the context behind what they see before coming to an incorrect conclusion based on their own prejudices. Fortunately, I Want To Break Free grew into one of Queen’s most popular songs and can freely be enjoyed today in a more tolerant and well-informed society.
That does it for this list! If you made it this far, let me thank you for taking the time to read this! It was personally quite entertaining to see how controversy could be stirred up from the most mundane or innocent places and serves as a lesson to never jump to a conclusion before understanding the true facts.
If you know of any other similar examples, do let me know. I may make a follow-up to this list somewhere down the line. Until then, take care!
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