If you listen to music from past decades, you may come across a few songs on the radio, on TV, or in movies that give you pause. Some songs from the past could never be written today - cultural mores have changed, and what was passable yesterday may no longer be acceptable, especially in terms of racial sensitivity.
The following songs from past decades all feature lyrics that are considered racially insensitive by today's standards. Many of these were even hits when they were released, and they're the products of some of the biggest names in the industry, including Elton John, Cher, and Guns N' Roses. Can we still listen to these songs as we did in past years, or do their less-than-appropriate lyrics make us want to change the station?
Guns N' Roses left the song "One In A Million" off the reissue of their 1988 debut EP, G N' R Lies. With lyrics mentioning police, homosexuals, and the N-word, the song was controversial even when it was released.
Singer Axl Rose and guitarist Slash defended the song when it came out, but the band has since changed its tune. Slash said, "We collectively decided that it just didn’t have any place in that box set."8288Are these lyrics offensive?
'Wig Wam Bam' By The Sweet
The Sweet were more popular in the UK than they were in the US, so they may not have faced as much backlash for their song "Wig Wam Bam" as they would have if they were well-known in the States.
The lyrics are rife with insensitive references to the Native American community, as the song is a rock version of Henry Longfellow's poem, "The Song of Hiawatha," published in 1855. The band usually dressed in Native American costumes when they performed the song.4059Are these lyrics offensive?
'Turning Japanese' By The Vapors
"Turning Japanese" by British band the Vapors was released in 1980. The song features the infamous Orientalist riff, as well as some questionable lyrics. The phrase "turning Japanese" is said to describe someone squinting as they reach climax. Some claim it also means the song's narrator is obsessed with his lover's photos and wants more, perhaps playing off a stereotype at the time depicting Japanese people as camera-obsessed tourists.
Despite these claims, singer Dave Fenton said that "Turning Japanese" is not a racially insensitive song, nor does it have anything to do with Japan. Instead, it "could have been [turning] Portuguese, Lebanese, anything that fit with that phrase. It had nothing to do with the Japanese."4790Are these lyrics offensive?
'Half-Breed' By Cher
The term "half-breed" is considered offensive in Native American communities, though this didn't stop Cher from releasing a song of the same name in 1973. She insisted at the time that she was part Cherokee, which may have stifled any protests against the song when it was released.
She performed the song in a full feathered headress on the The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour and has done so ever since. Outside of a claim that her mother has some Cherokee blood, Cher is fairly far from a spokesperson for Native American culture, and she became involved in several Twitter feuds over the song and her heritage in 2017. Despite the controversy, she refuses to remove it - or the costume - from her shows.51102Are these lyrics offensive?