16 times musicians have faced backlash from conservatives over their music
Wisconsin kids were barred from singing "Rainbowland" by Dolly Parton and Miley Cyrus at a school concert.
This isn't the first time musicians have drawn the ire of conservative politicians and pundits.
Bruce Springsteen, Cardi B, and more have been criticized for music with progressive themes or sexual lyrics.
"Rainbowland" by Dolly Parton and Miley Cyrus was deemed too controversial by Wisconsin school administrators.
"Rainbowland" was originally released in 2017 as the third track on Miley Cyrus' sixth album "Younger Now."
The song is a celebration of acceptance and individuality; Cyrus, who identifies as pansexual, duets with her godmother about a world "where we're free to be exactly who we are."
But when a first-grade class in Wisconsin wanted to sing "Rainbowland" for their spring concert, school administrators axed the plan.
In a statement provided to Insider by school-district superintendent James Sebert, he said the teacher who suggested the song "Rainbowland" checked with the school principal "to determine if the song would be acceptable to use in a first grade concert."
When the principal reviewed the song alongside a district policy about "Controversial Issues in the Classroom," they "determined that the song could be deemed controversial in accordance with the policy," the statement said.
Lil Nas X's "Montero (Call Me By Your Name)" drew ire from several high-profile Republicans.
Lil Nas X's "Montero (Call Me by Your Name)" rode a wave of conservative backlash to a No. 1 debut on the Billboard Hot 100.
The song is about "gay sex," in Lil Nas X's own words. He told Genius that he intentionally included some explicit lyrics to help "normalize" queer lust in music.
This angered some parents, who claimed Lil Nas X betrayed children who loved his hit debut single, "Old Town Road."
The music video — which shows Lil Nas X riding a stripper pole down to hell and giving Satan a lap dance — also sparked outrage from conservative pundits and politicians, including Candace Owens, a right-wing media personality, and Kaitlin Bennett, better known online as the Kent State "gun girl," as well as commentators on Fox News.
The controversy even elicited a response from South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, who slammed Lil Nas X for promoting the song by releasing a limited line of "Satan Shoes."
Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion brushed off right-wing backlash to their hit song "WAP."
Right-wing media personalities had a collective meltdown in 2020 when Cardi B released "WAP," her hit collaboration with Megan Thee Stallion.
The song delights in filthy wordplay and explicit expressions of lust, with both rappers bragging about their healthy signs of arousal.
Conservative talk-show host Ben Shapiro even took the time to read the lyrics of "WAP" out loud on his live radio show, declaring, "This is what feminists fought for."
Cardi wasn't fazed: "I can't believe conservatives soo mad about WAP," she tweeted, and reposted a collection of fan-made memes about Shapiro reciting her "vulgar" lyrics.
Megan told Time she was "taken aback" by the backlash: "Like, why is this your focus right now? If you have an issue with what I'm saying don't listen to it. Tune out, 'cause I didn't ask you to tune in."
Cardi also responded to the outrage surrounding their rendition of "WAP" at the 2021 Grammy Awards, which reportedly drew more than 1,000 complaints to the FCC. Fox News host Tucker Carlson told viewers, "they're intentionally trying to degrade our culture and hurt our children," while Candace Owens called the performance "a destruction of American values."
"Yaaaayyyyyyy WE MADE FOX NEWS GUYS !!! Wap wap wap," Cardi wrote on Twitter.
Taylor Swift infuriated conservatives by endorsing Democratic candidates, and then again with the release of "You Need to Calm Down."
Taylor Swift became a target for conservative politicians and members of the alt-right when she broke her political silence in 2018, endorsing two Democratic candidates in her home state of Tennessee.
"Let's say that I like Taylor's music about 25% less now," President Donald Trump told reporters at the time.
The following year, Swift built upon this momentum with "You Need to Calm Down," a pro-gay song that explicitly advocated for the Equality Act, a bill that would create anti-discrimination regulations for LGBTQ Americans.
Conservative websites like The Daily Signal slammed the song's message, while Kellyanne Conway, then serving as senior counselor to the president, used Swift's own lyrics to mock her activism.
However, "You Need to Calm Down" was also criticized by progressive audiences. Some said the song trivialized the fight for LGBTQ rights — using the word "shade" to describe dangerous homophobia, for example — and that Swift's allyship came at a professionally convenient time.
Childish Gambino's "This Is America" inspired several horrified articles from right-wing websites.
Childish Gambino's 2018 single "This Is America" became an overnight cultural phenomenon, praised for its harsh commentaries on gun violence and racism in America.
However, not all reactions were positive. Everyday conservatives called it "evil garbage" on Twitter, while professional conservatives wrote scathing essays about its "superficial" lyrics and "paranoid" message.
Far-right political commentators like Alex Jones and Gavin McInnes were similarly scandalized, describing the music video as a "voodoo dance" and declaring, "Black violence is a bonfire."
Conservative commentators were scandalized when Beyoncé released "Formation."
Beyoncé's "Formation" sparked such a pronounced white-person panic that it earned its own "Saturday Night Live" parody.
The surprise single, which Insider named the third-best song of the 2010s, was described by music critics as a "celebration of southern fried blackness" and "a tapestry of Black women's colorful, textured lives."
But the visuals that accompanied the song became particularly contentious. Beyoncé performed "Formation" at the 2016 Super Bowl alongside dancers in black berets, paying homage to the Black Panther Party, who fought for Black liberation in the '60s.
The "Formation" music video also contains explicit references to the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality, and Hurricane Katrina's disproportionate devastation in Black communities.
During an appearance on "Fox and Friends," Rudy Giuliani called these visuals "outrageous." In a post on Facebook, US Rep. Peter King decried Beyoncé's "anti-police" attitude. Many conservatives and cops called for fans to boycott her music.
Later, Republicans would attempt to use Beyoncé's lyrics about having sex with her husband to paint Democrats as hypocrites — including Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama — for criticizing Trump's offensive language in the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape.
Kendrick Lamar was lambasted on Fox News for "Alright," an anthem about Black resilience.
Fox News pundits were up in arms after Kendrick Lamar's powerful performance of "Alright" at the 2015 BET Awards.
The song includes lyrics condemning racism and police brutality ("We hate po-po / Wanna kill us dead in the street fo sho").
"This is why I say that hip-hop has done more damage to young African-Americans than racism in recent years. This is exactly the wrong message," Fox News anchor Geraldo Rivera said.
Lamar later responded to Rivera's comments during an interview with TMZ.
"How can you take a song that's about hope and turn it into hatred?" he said. "Hip-hop is not the problem. Our reality is the problem of the situation."
The rapper also sampled the news segment on his 2017 album "Damn."
A right-wing watchdog group warned against "The Miley Cyrus Effect" when she released "Can't Be Tamed."
In 2010, one year before "Hannah Montana" ended, Cyrus released a new single called "Can't Be Tamed."
The electro-pop song celebrates freedom and self-expression, especially in the face of scrutiny. In the music video, Cyrus plays a caged bird who's gawked at and photographed.
In response, the Media Research Center issued a statement titled "The Miley Cyrus Effect: Young Girls Acting Like (Trashy) Adults."
The right-wing group, which describes itself as "America's media watchdog," slammed Cyrus for "dancing provocatively" and apparently normalizing "highly sexualized representations of women."
A conservative Christian organization lamented Katy Perry's loss of "wisdom" when she released "I Kissed a Girl."
"I Kissed a Girl" was released as Katy Perry's official debut single in 2008.
However, she had previously released contemporary Christian music under her birth name, Katheryn Hudson.
The queer fantasy in "I Kissed a Girl" inspired a small moral panic from her former audience. Adam Holz of PluggedinOnline — a division of the conservative and anti-gay organization Focus on the Family — condemned the song in an article titled "A Tale of Two Katys."
"At the moment, Katy Hudson's flirty and 'dirty' alter ego is in the ascendant. Whether or not she'll ever 'come to her senses' as the Bible says the prodigal son did in Luke 15 remains to be seen," Holz wrote.
He added: "Katy is indeed living down to a damaging, demeaning stereotype, one that our culture has already branded as 'girls gone wild.' Perhaps one day she'll recall the wisdom of her youth."
Instead, as the years went on, "I Kissed a Girl" was seen as increasingly problematic on the other side of the aisle. Many progressives have criticized the song for trivializing lesbian relationships and feeding a biphobic narrative.
Perry told Glamour in 2018 that she would change the lyrics if she were to release the song today: "Lyrically, it has a couple of stereotypes in it. Your mind changes so much in 10 years, and you grow so much."
Britney Spears was condemned as a bad role model when she released "I'm a Slave 4 U."
"I'm a Slave 4 U," the lead single from Britney Spears' third album, was met with a radio boycott and a tidal wave of concern for "the children."
Spears told Rolling Stone that the song is about being a slave to music, but as writer Jenny Eliscu noted, "the lyrics are soaked with double-entendre."
Paired with the seductive production and a scantily clad, dimly lit music video, "I'm a Slave 4 U" arguably launched the backlash era of Spears' career.
Then just 19 years old, she was loudly condemned by the Parents Association of America, and her python-assisted performance of the song at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards was criticized for "overt sexuality." Entertainment Weekly called Spears "a lightning rod for parental concern." The University of Oregon's student newspaper opined, "She is an adolescent boy's wet dream and a feminist's nightmare."
Kendel Ehrlich, wife of former Maryland governor Robert Ehrlich, even said that if she "had an opportunity to shoot Britney Spears, I think I would."
Two years later, Diane Sawyer played that audio clip during an interview with Spears, saying the singer "has upset a lot of mothers in the country."
"Goodbye Earl" by The Chicks was boycotted by some radio stations.
"Goodbye Earl" is now known as one of The Chicks' most iconic hits, but when it was released as a single in 2000, some people were alarmed.
The song, written by Dennis Linde and initially recorded by Sons of the Desert, tells the story of two women named Mary Ann and Wanda, who murder Wanda's abusive husband with poison.
"The debate centers on whether the record sheds light on the problem of domestic violence or condones a murder by the abuse victim and her friend," the Los Angeles Times wrote at the time.
Indeed, many country radio stations refused to play the song.
The backlash even compelled The Chicks to include a disclaimer in the album's liner notes: "The Dixie Chicks do not advocate premeditated murder, but do love getting even."
Three years later, The Chicks came under far-heavier fire for condemning the Iraq War and President George W. Bush. Conservative fans began boycotting their music, demanding radio stations do the same. A group of protestors even bulldozed their CDs.
Bruce Springsteen's anti-brutality song "American Skin (41 Shots)" caused police officers to boycott him.
Bruce Springsteen wrote "American Skin (41 Shots)" after Amadou Diallo, a 23-year-old Black man, was shot and killed by New York City police in 1999.
The four officers fired 41 shots after Diallo, who was unarmed, apparently reached for his wallet. They were indicted on charges of second-degree murder and reckless endangerment, but eventually acquitted of all charges.
The song includes the lyrics, "You get killed just for living in your American skin."
Springsteen performed "American Skin" at Madison Square Garden in 2000, which prompted fury from the NYPD.
As the New York Times reported, Springsteen was criticized by then-Mayor Giuliani, then-Police Commissioner Howard Safir, and Patrick J. Lynch, then-president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, who urged officers to boycott Springsteen's concerts.
Body Count's "Cop Killer" was denounced by President George H. W. Bush, who was in office at the time.
Ice-T's hard-rock project Body Count is most famous for their 1992 single "Cop Killer," a protest song about racial profiling and police brutality.
Shortly after its release, President George H. W. Bush condemned "sick" rap songs and other forms of "filth" that "rejoice in standing up against law enforcement."
"It is wrong for any company," he said, apparently referring to Ice-T's label Time Warner, "to issue records that approve of killing a law enforcement officer."
Vice President Dan Quayle also criticized the song as "outrageous." Senator Al Gore's wife Tipper Gore, who's partially responsible for "Parental Advisory" labels on CDs, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post that compared Ice-T's rhetoric to Hitler's.
2 Live Crew's album "As Nasty as They Wanna Be" was declared legally obscene by a U.S. District Court in Florida.
"As Nasty as They Wanna Be," the 1989 album from rap group 2 Live Crew, was banned from sale in southern Florida after a U.S. District Court declared the album "legally obscene."
In his opinion, U.S. District Judge Jose A. Gonzales Jr. of Fort Lauderdale wrote that 2 Live Crew's lyrics "are replete with references to female and male genitalia, human sexual excretion, oral-anal contact, fellatio, group sex, specific sexual positions, sado-masochism, the turgid state of the male sexual organ, masturbation, cunnilingus, sexual intercourse, and the sounds of moaning."
As the Washington Post reported, possession of obscene material in Florida was punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. Some record store owners were arrested and convicted for selling the album.
Members of 2 Live Crew group were also arrested for performing songs from the album in Broward County.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the ruling in 1992 on the grounds of artistic value.
"Fuck Tha Police" by N.W.A. is one of the most controversial songs of all time.
N.W.A.'s iconic protest song "Fuck Tha Police," which appeared on their 1988 album "Straight Outta Compton," was so reviled by law enforcement that it elicited rebuke from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Milt Ahlerich, assistant director of the FBI office of public affairs, mailed a letter to the group's label, Priority Records, calling the song "discouraging and degrading."
"Advocating violence and assault is wrong," he wrote, "and we in the law enforcement community take exception to such action."
Indeed, many police officers boycotted N.W.A. and refused to provide security for their concerts.
The Sex Pistols' anti-monarchy anthem "God Save the Queen" was reviled by conservatives and banned by the BBC.
In 1977, amid Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee celebrations, the Sex Pistols released a song calling her reign "the fascist regime."
The anti-monarchy sentiments of "God Save the Queen" were immediately condemned by conservatives across the nation — as well as media companies, like the BBC, which instituted a total ban of the song from its radio stations.
London Councilor Bernard Brook Partridge, a high-profile Conservative Party politician, described The Sex Pistols as "the antithesis of humankind" and said he wished for their "sudden death."
According to the Guardian, the band was "hassled by police and attacked by nationalist thugs." Some tabloids even accused them of treason.
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