- In 2018, many radio stations banned “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” because critics said the lyrics told a story of date rape.
- Other similarly controversial songs by today’s standards include The Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar” and Tim McGraw’s “Indian Outlaw.”
- It’s unlikely that the 16 songs on this list would have been released today.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
It’s officially holiday music season, which means that classics like “Jingle Bell Rock” and “White Christmas” are starting to become ubiquitous on airwaves across the nation.
It also means the return of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and questions over its appropriateness and meaning. In recent years, some radio stations have refused to play the song, which critics say has a date rape narrative.
If the song was released today, it probably wouldn’t fly, and the same goes for numerous other songs released decades ago. Here are 16 songs that would be considered politically incorrect â€” or outright offensive â€” if released today.
“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” has long been criticised for its problematic lyrics.
When Frank Loesser wrote “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in 1944, it was as a parlor trick for him and his wife, Lynn Garland, to sing at parties.
However, amid society’s reckoning with sexual abuse and predation sparked by the #MeToo movement in 2018, the song was criticised for what some considered to be a date-rape narrative. Despite the female singer stating, “I really can’t stay … Say what’s in this drink? … The answer is no,” her male date continues to pressure her into staying.
Loesser’s daughter and others have defended the song, and in 2018, historian Thomas Liis told Insider that it was considered a feminist anthem at the time of its release. Yet many radio stations have stopped playing it.
“Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl is another Christmas song criticised for its language.
The use of the words “sl–” and “fa—-” haunt this 1987 Celtic Christmas song.
Earlier this year, BBC Radio 1 – a popular British radio station with a target audience aged between 15 and 29 – announced it would no longer be playing the original song to avoid shocking its young listeners. Instead, it will play a version with the lyrics “You’re cheap and you’re haggard.”
“We know the song is considered a Christmas classic and we will continue to play it this year, with our radio stations choosing the version of the song most relevant for their audience,” the BBC said in a statement.
Singer Shane MacGowan has defended the song in the past, explaining that it’s sung by a character “down on her luck.”
“The word was used by the character because it fitted with the way she would speak and with her character,” he said in 2018. “She is not supposed to be a nice person, or even a wholesome person. … Sometimes characters in songs and stories have to be evil or nasty in order to tell the story effectively.”
“Summer Nights” from the 1978 movie “Grease” contains a line that is also uncomfortable today.
This classic song performed by Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta from the movie “Grease” is marred by the lyric, “Tell me more, tell me more / Did she put up a fight?”
Although the song recounts each character’s side of a romantic evening, this question from Travolta’s friends make him seem more like a sexual predator than a suave greaser.
In 2016 when Fox aired the “Grease: Live” Broadway musical, other controversial lines from the original film were replaced with more politically correct phrases, but the lyric “Did she put up a fight?” remained.
Refinery 29 quotes Salon critic Sonia Saraiya writing in a now-deleted tweet, “certainly there is some other rhyme somewhere, right, that has some vague sexual innuendo?”
The lyrics of The Rolling Stones song “Brown Sugar” describe slavery and other violence.
The Rolling Stones’ 1971 song “Brown Sugar” is one of the band’s most widely known hits. But most people are too busy tapping their feet to the song’s catchy blues riff to even notice the outright racism and misogyny of its lyrics, which describe slavery, abuse, sex, and heroin.
The first verse reads, “Gold Coast slave ship bound for cotton fields / Sold in the market down in New Orleans / Scarred old slaver knows he’s doin’ all right / Hear him whip the women just around midnight.”
The band has defended the song, saying they wrote it in only 45 minutes and didn’t think much about the meaning. Mick Jagger told Rolling Stone in 1995, “God knows what I’m on about in that song. It’s such a mishmash. All the nasty subjects in one go.”
Elton John’s “Island Girl” includes degrading, patronising lyrics about women of colour.
In the 1975 song, John sings about a New York City prostitute who is “Black as coal, but she burn like a fire.” He then asks, “Island girl / What you wanting with the white man’s world? / Island girl / Black boy want you in his island world.”
It hit No. 1 in the US in November 1975, but John hasn’t played it live for 30 years, according to the Guardian, which placed “Island Girl” last on its ranking of his top 50 songs.
It’s hard not to feel uncomfortable listening to the adult men of Winger sing about a 17-year-old girl in “Seventeen.”
The hair rock group Winger’s 1988 song “Seventeen” is all about lusting after a 17-year-old girl. Lead vocalist Kip Winger sings, “She’s only seventeen / Daddy says she’s too young, but she’s old enough for me,” and later, “Feels good (ha), dancin’ close to the borderline.”
Kip Winger has said he’s “at peace with the song,” explaining in a 2008 interview with Metal Sludge, “When I wrote that song, I didn’t even know that 17 was underage. I was just taking my cue from that Beatles line, ‘she was just seventeen and you know what I mean.’ I was completely oblivious!”
Similarly, an older man’s infatuation with a 16-year-old in Kiss’ “Christine Sixteen” gives off stalker vibes.
Kiss’ 1977 song “Christine Sixteen” also has lyrics that fantasize about a younger girl.
Gene Simmons sings, “I don’t usually say things like this to girls your age / But when I saw you coming out of the school that day / That day I knew, I knew (Christine sixteen) / I’ve got to have you, I’ve got to have you.”
The older man in the song is not only in love with the underaged Christine but appears to be watching her without her knowledge.
Tim McGraw’s “Indian Outlaw” is filled with derogatory stereotypes.
In his 1994 song “Indian Outlaw,” Tim McGraw sings that he’s a “half Cherokee and Choctaw” outlaw. He adds, “You can find me in my wigwam / I’ll be beatin’ on my tom-tom.”
Not only did McGraw falsely assume another ethnicity – he is neither Cherokee nor Choctaw – on “Indian Outlaw,” he is also incredibly insensitive to indigenous peoples by typecasting them as wild or uncivilized.
According to a 1994 Los Angeles Times article, two country radio stations in Minneapolis refused to play the song after receiving complaints that it was offensive to Native Americans, sparking WaBun-Inini, president of the Minneapolis-based National Coalition of Racism in Sports and the Media and a national representative for the American Indian Movement, to call for radio stations to cease playing the song.
McGraw, 26 at the time, told the paper, “You’re concerned any time somebody doesn’t like something you do, but you’re never going to please everybody.”
Carl Douglas’ 1974 hit single “Kung Fu Fighting” has also been accused of propagating negative Asian stereotypes.
Carl Douglas’ comedic 1974 hit “Kung Fu Fighting” has lived on in Geico commercials and movies like “Kung Fu Panda.” But the song’s use of derogatory terms and stereotypical Asian last names for the fictional fighters has been criticised.
In 2011, a man was arrested for performing Douglas’ song at a bar in the UK after a Chinese man said he was “subjected to racial abuse,” according to the BBC. But after the incident, Douglas defended his song, saying, “This is not a racist song. It’s a happy, kicking, disco song,” according to a 2011 Metro article.
Katy Perry’s “Ur So Gay” is problematic on many levels.
After opening with the line, “I hope you hang yourself with your H&M scarf,” in her 2007 song “Ur So Gay,” Katy Perry goes on to deride a boy saying, “I can’t believe I fell in love with someone that wears more makeup than me / You’re so gay and you don’t even like boys.”
The lyrics are not only inconsiderate towards people struggling with mental health issues or who have been affected by suicide but also derogatory toward gay people.
“For a pop star who became a gay icon of sorts in the latter half of her career, it’s shocking she has a song in her discography with such offensive queer tropes,” Christopher Rosa wrote for Glamour.
Perry explained to Prefix in 2008 that the lyric was not meant to be homophobic, but was her way of dealing with her anger over a former love interest.
“I’m not the type of person who walks around calling everything gay,” she told Prefix. “That song is about a specific guy that I used to date and specific issues that he had. The song is about my ex wearing guyliner and taking emo pictures of himself in the bathroom mirror. The listeners have to read the context of the song and decide for themselves.”
Who knows what John Lennon and Yoko Ono were thinking when they released the track “Woman Is The N—– Of The World.”
The song was meant to call attention to the fact that women aren’t viewed as equal in many cultures across the world, but the duo’s use of the N-word counteracted any good intentions they hoped the song to convey.
In 2018, Bette Midler apologised for referencing the lyrics in a tweet, which she said she wrote in response to the sexual assault allegations against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, according to The Washington Post. Her tweet received thousands of negative responses and she eventually deleted it.
“The song was problematic during its release nearly five decades ago, and the reception of Midler’s tweet is no different today,”USA Today reported at the time.
Guns N’ Roses also used the N-word in the highly controversial song “One in a Million.”
Watching YouTuber Scribe Cash’s reaction to hearing Axl Rose sing the verse, “Police and n—–s, that’s right / Get outta my way / Don’t need to buy none of your / Gold chains today” is all you need to do to understand how wrong it is that GNR included the N-word in this song.
But the offensive language doesn’t stop there. One line also calls out immigrants and uses a slur word for gay people, adding, “They make no sense to me.”
In a 1988 Rolling Stone interview, Axl Rose defended the lyrics, saying they came from multiple bad experiences he had had with people. But the song was cut from a 2018 reissue of the album Appetite for Destruction.
“We collectively decided that it just didn’t have any place in that box set,” Slash told Rolling Stone at the time.
Last year, bassist Duff McKagan said in an interview with Yahoo that the song was misunderstood and was told from a bigoted character’s point of view and that people needed to examine its lyrics. He added he thought it was “brilliant and super-brave of Axl to step out and do that.”
Similarly, Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane” is a protest song about racial injustices, but his use of the N-word has marred the song’s legacy.
Bob Dylan’s 1976 song “Hurricane” was written in protest of boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter’s arrest. Carter spent 19 years in jail after being wrongly convicted twice for fatally shooting three people in 1966, according to The New York Times. According to the Times, Dylan’s song “championed [Carter’s] innocence and vilified the police and prosecution witnesses.”
But there have been listener complaints over his use of the N-word in the song, showing that even some of the best intentions can fall short.
Despite their good intentions, the Band Aid supergroup was patronising toward the people of Ethiopia in the song, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”
When the supergroup Band Aid came together in 1984 to raise money to help fight famine in Ethiopia, the members surely had good intentions. But the lyrics of the song have since been criticised as tone-deaf.
One of the verses reads, “And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time / The greatest gift they will get this year is life / Where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow / Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?”
In a stinging summary of the track, Vice’s Alex Robert Ross described “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” in 2018 as “an oblivious mess of smug, paternalistic bulls—.”
He added, “It’s a cringe-inducing belch of a song that could only have been performed by the chronically self-satisfied and cocaine-addled. It hurries from one patronising nonsense line to the next without pausing or catching a glimpse of itself in the mirror.”
“Under My Thumb” is another song by The Rolling Stones with misogynistic lyrics.
In “Under My Thumb,” Mick Jagger sings about a woman who has been groomed to dress, talk, and do as he tells her to, even as he freely ogles other women. It’s evident right off the bat when he says, “Under my thumb / It’s a squirmin’ dog who’s just had her day.” He also calls her “the sweetest … pet in the world.”
Mick Jagger defended the song in a 1995 Rolling Stone interview saying, “It’s a bit of a jokey number, really. It’s not really an anti-feminist song any more than any of the others … it’s a caricature, and it’s in reply to a girl who was a very pushy woman.”
Taylor Swift says she would approach the homophobic lyric on her 2006 song “Picture To Burn” differently today.
The lyric “So go and tell your friends that I’m obsessive and crazy / That’s fine, I’ll tell mine that you’re gay” is one of two censored lyrics on Taylor Swift’s debut album, according to Genius.
In a 2011 interview with MTV, Swift blamed the lyric on being an immature 16-year-old but explained that she’s come to terms with the blunder.
“Now, the way that I would say that and the way that I would feel that kind of pain is a lot different,” she said, adding, “I look back on the record I made when I was 16, and I’m so happy I made it. I got to immortalise those emotions that when you’re so angry, you hate everything. It’s like recording your diary over the years, and that’s a gift.”
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