Explicit Lyrics: freedom of speech or a dangerous precedent?
Music executives worry profanity has become the new normal
Carol Ozemhoya | OW Contributor | 9/19/2013, midnight
Today’s modern music is often laced with material that was not so long ago considered taboo. Profanity, sexual content and racial slurs have become widely accepted. And contrary to popular opinion, usage is not limited to Rap or Hip hop music either.
Pop artists such as Maroon 5 and Katy Perry and soulful crooner Brian McKnight have been prone to use explicit lyrics as well as Hip Hop acts such as Lil Wayne, Eminem and 2 Chainz.
Are these artists just expressing themselves, or has what they are saying become a deeper issue that is negatively impacting our society?
There are studies that claim profane and sexually overt lyrics do have an impact on young people (more on that later). But where does the responsibility lie to shield kids and society? Who would serve as police? Radio? Record labels? Artists? Parents?
An even bigger question may be: Is it even necessary?
Let’s get to the legalities first. “There is no regularity limitations on music,” declares Kendall Minter, renowned entertainment attorney (JadaKiss, Ashanti, Backstreet Boys, Goodie Mob, etc.) and founder of BESLA (Black Entertainment & Sports Lawyers Association). “It’s a wide-open and an artistic decision. The artist has to make the conscious decision to find a balance between art and responsibility.”
However, the signal is mixed, as FCC regulations indicate otherwise, specifically for commercial radio, differentiating what is “indecent” and what is “obscene.”
According to FCC regulations for radio: “Obscene material is not protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution and cannot be broadcast at any time. The Supreme Court has established that, to be obscene, material must meet a three-pronged test:
- An average person, applying contemporary community standards, must find that the material, as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest;
- The material must depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable law; and
- The material, taken as a whole, must lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.
In contrast, material that is deemed “indecent” comes with a different set of rules. According to the FCC, “The courts have held that indecent material is protected by the First Amendment and cannot be banned entirely. It may, however, be restricted in order to avoid its broadcast during times of the day when there is a reasonable risk that children may be in the audience.”
The FCC has defined “profanity” as music “including language so grossly offensive to members of the public who actually hear it as to amount to a nuisance.” Like indecency, profane speech is prohibited on broadcast radio and television between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
Commercial radio has a responsibility via the above FCC standards to police language, if stations want to keep their licenses. But the pressure is on to be competitive against the Internet and satellite radio, both of which basically go unregulated.
The heat is on for advertising dollars, and those come about through a ratings system for commercial radio and a “hits” system for the Internet. They are all competing for listeners.