Oops, they did it again. Another high-profile pop star sang an offensive lyric that brought backlash.
In June, it was Lizzo using an ableist slang term for “spastic” in the tune “Grrrls.” Last week, it’s Beyoncé singing the same derogatory term in “Heated.” After being called out by disability advocates, Lizzo rerecorded her song to eliminate the objectionable word while Beyoncé’s people have pledged to do likewise.
This isn’t the first time that big names received blowback and had to reconsider lyric choices. We’re not talking vulgar words in explicit songs. These instances are about being challenged by the PC police. Times change. Meanings change. Sensitivities change. Certain words become unacceptable. Sometimes even concepts become inappropriate.
Last month, newly elected Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Pat Benatar announced that she would no longer perform her signature song, “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” because of rampant gun violence in the United States. When the tune was recorded in 1980, it wasn’t about bullets but rather about pickup lines or romantic moves — or anything except artillery.
When rocker Hayley Williams of Paramore was 17, she wrote the song “Misery Business” with the line, “Once a w—e, you’re nothing more/ I’m sorry, that’ll never change.” Eight years later, in 2018, a newly woke Williams decided to eliminate “Misery Business” from Paramore’s concert set lists.
On Tuesday, Monica Lewinsky, the infamous 1990s White House intern, posted on social media that since Beyoncé is reassessing some lyrics, she should change the line in the 2014 single “Partition” that goes “He popped all my buttons, and he ripped my blouse/ He Monica Lewinsky-ed all on my gown.” No response yet from Queen Bey’s camp about that suggestion.
But other artists have listened to complaints. Here are some prominent songs for which stars retooled lyrics.
- Dire Straits, “Money for Nothing,” 1985
Original lyrics: “See the little f——t with the earring and the makeup?/ Yeah buddy, that’s his own hair/ That little f——t got his own jet airplane/ That little f——t, he’s a millionaire”
New lyrics: “See that little queenie with the earring and the makeup/ Yeah buddy, that’s his own hair/ That little boy got his own jet airplane/ That little boy, he’s a millionaire”
Note: This massive MTV hit reached No. 1 on Billboard’s pop and rock charts and it was nominated for Grammys for record and song of the year.
- Michael Jackson, “They Don’t Care About Us,” 1996
Original lyrics: “Jew me, sue me/ Everybody, do me”
New lyrics: “Do me, sue/ Everybody, do me”
Note: The song peaked at No. 30 on Billboard’s pop chart and No. 10 on R&B list. “They Don’t Care About Us” became popular at Black Lives Matter protests in 2014, 2015 and 2020.
- Black Eyed Peas, “Let’s Get R——ded,” 2003/ “Let’s Get It Started,” 2004
Original lyrics: “Everybody, everybody/ Let’s get into it (yeah), get stupid (come on)/ Get r——ded (come on), get r——ded (yeah), get r——ded”
New lyrics: “Everybody (yeah), everybody (yeah)/ Just get into it (yeah), get stupid (come on)/ Get it started, (come on), get it started (yeah), get it started.”
Note: A year after originally recording the song, Black Eyed Peas quietly revamped the title and song as “Let’s Get It Started.” The new version became a promo theme for ABC’s coverage of the NBA playoffs, climbed to No. 21 on Billboard’s pop list and earned a Grammy for best rap performance by a group. It also was one of five finalists for Grammy’s record of the year.
- Taylor Swift, “Picture to Burn,” 2008
Original lyrics: “So go and tell your friends that I’m obsessive and crazy/ That’s fine, I’ll tell mine you’re gay/ By the way”
New lyrics: “So go and tell your friends that I’m obsessive and crazy/ That’s fine, you won’t mind if I say/ By the way”
Note: The fourth single from Swift’s eponymous debut album reached No. 3 on Billboard’s country chart and No. 28 in pop.
- Future featuring Lil Wayne, “Karate Chop” (remix) 2013
Original lyric: “‘Bout to put rims on my skateboard wheels/ Beat that p—-y up like Emmett Till/ Yeah/ Two cellphones ringin’ at the same time”
New lyrics: “‘Bout to put rims on my skateboard wheels/ Beat the p—-y up like [silence]/ Yeah/ Two cellphones ringing’ at the same time”
Note: The lyrics in question came from Lil’ Wayne, who lost his endorsement deal with Mountain Dew because of the insensitive reference to Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Black boy who was murdered in 1955 in Mississippi for allegedly offending a white woman in a grocery store. The song peaked at No. 19 on the rap charts.
- Lana Del Rey, “Ultraviolence,” 2014
Original lyrics: “He hit me and it felt like a kiss/ I can hear violins, violins/ Give me all of that ultraviolence”
New lyrics: In concert, she just skips the line “He hit me and it felt like a kiss.”