Rihanna, “Man Down”
In the video for her latest song “Man Down,” Rihanna sings to a reggae beat about avenging a sexual assault by shooting the perpetrator in the head. The sexual assault isn’t displayed in detail, but the shot to the head is. The Parents Television Council has protested the video as violent and inappropriate, calling on BET and MTV to stop airing it. When news of the backlash got back to Rihanna on June 2, she tweeted, “I’m a 23 year old rockstar with NO KIDS! What’s up with everybody wantin me to be a parent?” and later: “U can’t hide your kids from society,or they’ll never learn how to adapt! This is the REAL WORLD!” When BET refused to remove the video from the air, Paul Porter, co-founder of Industry Ears, a think tank that supports banning the video, said: “While we all agree rape is a terrible crime, ‘Man Down’ offers no positive solution for rape victims except vigilante justice.”
This isn’t the first time one of Rihanna’s videos has been called into question. Earlier this year, her song “S&M” generated a video full of all the things you would expect a song of that title to contain: chains, whips, sexually suggestive poses and bare skin. The video was banned in 11 countries and users trying to watch it on YouTube have to verify their age.
Fiona Apple, “Criminal”
In her 1997 music video for “Criminal,” an emaciated Fiona Apple, surrounded by what appear to be tranquilized models, undresses as she croons lyrics such as, “I’ve been a bad, bad girl.” Apple’s appearance, described by The New Yorker as being similar to that of an “underfed Calvin Klein model,” spurred accusations that the video promoted a “heroin chic” and had “overtones of child porn.” Taking a fiercely uncompromising stance against her critics, Apple said, as she accepted her MTV Video Music Award for best new artist later that year, “Everybody out there that’s watching … this world is bullshit and you shouldn’t model your life about what you think that we think is cool.”
Madonna, “Like A Prayer”
A word of advice: if you don’t want to anger religious organizations, don’t make a music video that includes a scene in which a woman seduces a saint. Madonna’s music video for the title track off her 1989 album Like a Prayer — which also features burning crosses and stigmata — was denounced by the American Family Association and by Pepsi Co., which had reportedly paid the pop star $5 million to use the song in a commercial and didn’t appreciate the negative press.
Erykah Badu, “Window Seat”
Stripping down to nothing in broad daylight is inherently controversial — especially when it’s in a music video. In the one-take video for “Window Seat,” R&B singer Erykah Badu walks along Dallas’ Elm Street, taking off articles of clothing as the song progresses. Finally, completely nude (but blurred), she falls down in Dealey Plaza, near the site of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, as if she herself was shot. The singer said her video, released in March 2010, was a protest against “groupthink” and a culture that discourages individual expression. But Badu’s move wasn’t only controversial, according to the city of Dallas, it was also illegal as Badu never got a permit to film. After an Dallas resident filed a complaint, Badu was charged with disorderly conduct. She paid a $500 fine and served six months probation.
Garth Brooks, “Thunder Rolls”
Though it was named CMA Music Video of the Year in 1991, Garth Brooks’ “Thunder Rolls” caused quite a storm in the country music scene. The video’s depiction of domestic violence between a vengeful wife and a cheating husband, caused The Nashville Network (TNN) and Country Music Television (CMT) to ban its airing. But the criticism wasn’t unanimous: several radio stations started “Save the Video” petitions arose and some women’s shelters voiced support. Brooks’ own wife allegedly disapproved of scenes in the video, but later defended her husband when the controversy drew public attention.
The Prodigy, “Smack My B____ Up”
Named by MTV the most controversial video ever aired on the network, “Smack My B____ Up” depicts a whirlwind, first-person night-on-the-town gone horribly wrong. Not only do the song’s lyrics promote violence, but the video also includes sex with prostitutes, cocaine use, female nudity, drunk driving and violence against women. For the video, The Prodigy was accused of misogyny and glorifying violence despite the twist ending (hint: the protagonist is a woman), and the video was initially banned from television. Fans demanded that MTV show the video, however, so the network relented and included the song on an after-hours countdown.
Marilyn Manson, “(S)aint”
In his 2003 song, “(S)aint” Marilyn Manson sings that you should “hold the S because I am an AINT.” And with a music video featuring scenes of self-mutilation, full female nudity, masturbation, cocaine snorting and cunnilingus, parent label Interscope Records agreed. They refused to release the music video — which was self-funded by Manson — in the United States. Japan and Germany allowed the video, but blurred out both genitalia and sexual acts. Yet, despite the censorship, the most unsettling part of the video is watching Manson take a bath
Eminem has never been one to portray a stable family life, engaged in a near-constant feud with two-time ex-wife Kimberley Scott. But in “Stan,” his 2000 track about an obsessive and deranged fan, the assault takes a physical turn. Stan, who describes himself as Em’s “biggest fan,” is looking for a simple reply from his hero. With each letter that goes unanswered, Stan sinks deeper into rage, which he takes out on his pregnant wife. The oft-censored (or even outright banned) video shows Stan’s string of domestic abuse coming to a head when he puts his wife in the trunk of their car and then crashes off a bridge. MTV, for one, spliced out all traces of Stan’s wife bound in the trunk of the car and removed one scene showing him guzzling vodka while driving. But even without the most graphic scenes, the dark video manages to paint a gruesome picture of the deranged fan.
Nine Inch Nails, “Closer”
The Description Doesn’t Appear
Christina Aguilera, “Dirty”
This 2002 song from Christina Aguilera’s album Stripped had plenty of raunch and chaps, but it was a message hidden to most that raised a flag — in Thailand. Amid the grinding, suggestive hand motions and scant clothing, are signs that hint at illegal sex trafficking in Thailand in the background as Aguilera dances in a boxing ring. Translated from Thai, the signs read: “Thailand’s Sex Tourism” and “Young Underage Girls.” While Aguilera’s record label contended the singer had no idea what the signs meant when translated, Thailand banned the video from airing in the country.