You c*n't say that on the radio!
Listening to Cee Lo Green's recent hit single, 'Forget You', a couple of months back on Radio One, I couldn't help rolling my eyes heavenward. Before I explain why, though, perhaps I should ask anyone who's offended by swearing to stop reading now! You've been warned...
The reason I rolled my eyes wasn't because the song's original hook ('Fuck You') had been overdubbed with a cleaner alternative for radio purposes. No, that just seemed like sound commercial sense, and entirely understandable in the circumstances. What I found so ridiculous was that no‑one had thought to do a better job with all the remaining expletives! I mean, honestly, who were they trying to kid? Any eight‑year‑old could fill in the blank in vocal lines like "Oh sh.. she's a gold‑digger,” (0:57) and "Ain't that some sh...” (1:28) — hey, I'd even give the Pope a sporting chance! In fact, the former phrase is actually little clearer in the 'uncut' version, simply because its final phonemes are so heavily masked by a simultaneous drum beat, so you wonder why anyone bothered at all. (There's clearly some kind of offensiveness 'points system' at work here, though, because they scotched the word 'nigger' entirely. Now that's an internal record‑company memo I'd love to see! Alongside the one from Microsoft about why Word's automatic spell‑checker doesn't underline 'fuck' as a misspelling, but neither does it offer it as a correction if you accidentally type in 'fuckk' by mistake. But I digress...)
It wasn't just Cee Lo Green, either, who intruded rudely on my Sunday afternoon washing‑up session. In the very same hit parade there was Mike Posner singing "You wear them around like it ain't sh..,” in 'Cooler Than Me', and Eminem rapping "She fu.. hates me,” in 'Love The Way You Lie.' If you're the kind of person who's going to be offended by 'shit' or 'fucking', how exactly are these flimsy cover‑ups meant to shield your sensitive disposition? It's pathetic.
And then, as if to take the transparently unconvincing coyness to new heights, along came Travie McCoy's 'Billionaire', which appeared to be attempting to use a tape‑stop effect to conceal the end of the lyric "adopt a bunch of babies that ain't never had shit” during the first rapped section. However, the "shi‑ohh” which resulted from this convenient magnetic malfunction was, if anything, better at conveying a sense of the original word than if he'd just sliced the end off of it like Cee Lo Green! But this was nothing compared to the pièce de résistance of Usher's 'OMG', where the tape‑stop treated us to "Motherfohhh...” in the second verse, leaving about as much to the imagination as a penis‑shaped fig‑leaf!
My basic point is that all this is just paying lip service to the idea of 'clean' language, like those tedious French Connection UK T‑shirts, and isn't fooling anyone — least of all those mythical 'sensitive schoolchildren' that the radio lyric police are apparently trying to safeguard. So what would I suggest? Well, either overdub the word or mute it entirely, or make a feature out of it, like Tinie Tempah did in 'Pass Out', where the expletives were replaced with random sound‑effects. The advantage of the last approach, of course, is that anyone who's going to be impressed by copious swearing is made bountifully aware of each cuss as it zips by, but anyone who's been brought up in a convent can just marvel innocently at the quaint 'Rewind'‑esque absurdity of the sonic interjections.
Mike Senior is one of SOS's regular contributors, and the author of the book Mixing Secrets For The Small Studio (www.cambridge-mt.com/MixingSecrets.htm). He's been called many other things too, few of which are printable.