“Little gay looking boy/So gay I can barely say it with a straight face looking boy/You witnessing a massacre/Like you watching a church gathering take place looking boy/Oy vey, that boy’s gay, that’s all they say looking boy” – Marshall Mathers III: 2013
Those lyrics have reignited a debate that has been going on since the birth of modern music and will still be a source for deliberation long after anyone reading this has met their maker. Upon who does the responsibility lie to police the moral borders of the music industry? Where does such a border begin and end? When does the need to safeguard the social stability of future generations become more important than an artists self gratification? Moral responsibility or the freedom to express oneself?
Sex and/or controversy sell. The Doors, Madonna, Prince, NWA, Marilyn Manson, Eminem, Lady Gaga, Rihanna and more recently Miley Cyrus are proof of that. Whether overtly (NWA’s 100 Miles and Runnin’) or somewhat covertly (Rihanna’s Cake) artists are constantly pushing, and in some cases stepping over, the boundaries of what is deemed by mainstream society as morally acceptable. Yet with each passing generation what was once reprehensible simply becomes the norm. Madonna and Britney Spears kiss and Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction both came about because of this. But if we were to simply let that cycle continue where would that leave society in say… 10 generations time. Is porn going to make a dramatic return to mainstream viewing via MTV’s latest premiere of the current superstar singers headline grabbing song? Is actual violence going to be carried out on screen in order to distinguish one record labels next big thing from another?
Extreme? Definitely. Exaggeration? Probably. Impossible? Not unless a time travelling A&R comes back from the future and tells me otherwise. Whose to say what the future holds? The industry in its current state simply doesn’t care. Everything is about the next hot ticket and what it takes to make them a dead cert. Anyone who really thinks that Miley Cyrus simply went off the rails has lost their thinking cap. Anyone who thinks the views of Eminem and Marshall Mathers III are one and the same needs to remove the wool from their eyes. Both are simply ploys to make sure that they are in the spotlight when their music is released and who can blame them? They are under pressure from their respective labels to produce the numbers.
So it is then down to those labels to steer the industry out of the spiral in which it now finds itself. Well…. No. The artists started out in the industry to do what they love and some part of them still has that inside them but the labels are in business to make money. Anyone looking towards a large scale record company for any sign of a proper moral compass will be holding their breath for quite some time. That compass only kicks in if the antics of their ‘beloved’ artist could have a negative impact on sales while the ‘hounds’ make sure that the legal compass is in perfect working order. This, I fear, is not the place to look to for help to stop the cart rolling off the cliff.
So then it is left to the fans, or their parents when necessary, to treat music simply as the entertainment that it is meant to be and not as the gospel according to -insert famous name here-. For me this is clearly the most realistic option, until I see five, six and seven year olds reciting Rihanna’s undercover porn duet with Chris Brown, or see gang affiliated youths adopting poses with a two fingered gun salute and posting them on numerous social media platforms in the name of their favourite ‘gangster rapper’. Or see acts of sexual aggression attributed to something the offenders heard on their favourite radio stations current number one request. Society is no longer capable of policing this type of immorality. Raising our children used to be done by the community and social media was non existent. Our children no longer run around in parks. They have iPhones and blackberries, are sharing all of their music with each other and watching the x-rated version of their favourite artists videos on Vevo. But if art imitates (aspects of) life then why is anyone surprised by the current state of affairs?
Which then leaves the people in the spotlight. The ones with the talent, the fame, the fans and the exposure to make a far reaching impression. UK duo Rizzle Kicks placed their heads a good distance above the parapet recently when they shared a wish that the industry wasn’t built this way. That sex, violence and misogyny weren’t the only ways to entertain the masses. If all the major artists decided to get together and take action, their ‘bosses’ wouldn’t have a choice but to tow the line. What are they going to do? Find new superstars overnight? Grab the nearest chief executive and put him in a SnapBack, some bling and a pair of Air Force 1’s? That many artists, getting together for a cause bigger than themselves? For the reclaiming of the moral high ground? For the greater good of future generations?…..Yeah right!
Originally written in 2013 for OnTheComeUpTV