MUSIC

13 of the Most Controversial Music Videos Ever

From Kanye West to Madonna, these gory and graphic clips got people talking — for better or for worse.

Music videos are a perfect opportunity to expand the story of a song.

The best music videos can showcase killer choreography, Halloween-ready attire, or movie levels of cinematic gold; others can spark controversies, no matter how well-intended. Whether centered around copious bloodshed or near-pornographic nudity (sorry, Mom and Dad), there's one thing all controversial music videos have in common: They get people talking.

Here are 13 music videos released over the past 30-plus years that have sparked disputes. Watch at your own risk.

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TV News

Sarah Palin Was on "The Masked Singer" and America Is Doomed

The former vice presidential candidate sang "Baby Got Back," because she's #relatable.

The Masked Singer is simultaneously a mysteriously popular reality show and a furry's wet dream.

The singing competition series combines the celebrity appeal of Dancing With the Stars with the good old-fashioned talent contest of American Idol or The Voice. Notable public figures sport particularly frightening head-to-toe ensembles and take turns singing songs, and the judges must guess who is in the suit. And, as is the case with any reality show, things get cringey—especially when a costumed Sarah Palin gives a rendition of Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back."

That's correct: The one-time vice presidential candidate (and Most Famous Alaskan Probably Ever) removed a monstrous bear head (as the entire crowd yelled "take it off," which isn't at all creepy) to reveal her identity before diving into the 1992 hit. She made sure to note that she tweaked the lyrics to be about men's butts instead. Because we can excuse a former governor for opposing same-sex marriage and being a life member of the NRA if they're funny and relatable, right? Right?

Before host Nick Cannon signed off, Palin assured the crowd: "This is something that our country needs right now, too." I can't say I agree, considering I'm typing this through an anxiety-ridden self-quarantine, but to each their own. Funny and relatable! We are in hell!

Watch the haunting performance below:

www.youtube.com

Image via GQ

Pharrell Williams is evolving.

In a new interview with GQ, the singer, producer, and fashion innovator discussed personal and political evolution, spiritual warfare in America, and his newfound appreciation for the fact that we live in a "chauvinistic" culture—an appreciation he gained through criticism he faced for the lyrics of "Blurred Lines," the 2013 hit he cowrote with Robin Thicke.

When that song first appeared, it was quickly criticized for its "rapey" implications and coercive lyrics that pushed the boundaries of consent. Williams defended the song at the time of its release, and he told GQ that when he created it, he believed the song was actually a tribute to women's independence and sexual liberation. Also, the fact that some women enjoyed the song somehow led him to believe it would be enjoyable for all women. "I didn't get it at first. Because there were older white women who, when that song came on, they would behave in some of the most surprising ways ever… So when there started to be an issue with it, lyrically, I was like, 'What are you talking about?' There are women who really like the song and connect to the energy that just gets you up." (Because older white women are obviously the arbiters of all women's sexual preferences).

Fortunately, his views and understanding changed over time. "I realized that there are men who use that same language when taking advantage of a woman, and it doesn't matter that that's not my behavior. Or the way I think about things," he said. "It just matters how it affects women…. I cared what they were feeling, too. I realized that we live in a chauvinist culture in our country. Hadn't realized that. Didn't realize that some of my songs catered to that. So that blew my mind."

While Pharrell's comments are indicative of a lifetime of ignorance, they actually reveal something that should be praised more: a growth mindset.

Most men, and humans in general, are not born with innate knowledge of what is acceptable and what is not in terms of sexual consent, and a great deal of media and social norms (like hit songs like "Blurred Lines") only serve to rehash distorted perceptions of what is acceptable and what is not, perceptions usually shaped by the very chauvinistic culture that they help perpetuate.

Although Pharrell's comments on "Blurred Lines" might make us cringe, at least he's realized that consent isn't something people should be coerced into, that women often have different ideas of what constitutes consent, and that desire should always be clarified and re-confirmed prior to each sexual act. If more people were like Pharrell, open to learning about what it actually means to be a feminist and willing to listen to others' voices, then we would be living in a very different world.

GQ.com

This doesn't mean we should be willing to forgive inappropriate behavior or provide abusers with a cushion of forgiveness. Too often, men who are implicated in #MeToo cases are willingly reintegrated into society and allowed to continue with their careers, while research and follow-ups with women who reported assault cases reveal that these groups often suffer, in terms of their careers and mental health and other aspects of their lives.

So instead of being preemptively forgiving of willful ignorance, we should be willing to embrace people like Pharrell who reshape their worldviews after learning from their past mistakes. Most of the interview finds Pharrell speaking with a highly tuned sense of moral and ethical responsibility as well as a strong feminist ethic. He openly supports women's leadership and criticizes white male-led masculinity while addressing the fallout that is resulting from the downfall of this ancient and destructive hierarchy. "Man, what would the world be like if women held all of the highest positions worldwide?" he said.

He also addressed the fact that gender politics can't be extricated from other issues like race and class. "If you ask me, when we talk about masculinity, it's also very racial, this conversation," he said. "Because the dominant force on this planet right now is the older straight white male. And there's a particular portion of them that senses a tanning effect. They sense a feminizing effect. They sense a nonbinary effect when it comes to gender."

It does seem like he's had thick blinders on for a very long time. For example, he states that he "just read the Declaration of Independence the other day" and his "jaw dropped" when he saw that the document "[refers] to the Native Americans as merciless savages." On the other hand, while these ideas might be well-known in progressive circles, much of America still celebrates Columbus Day. To collectively grow, we're going to have to be open to a lot of people having these kinds of revelations, which are of course too little too late, but are better than nothing.

GQ

Maybe the wisest thing Pharrell says in the whole interview is, "I don't think my opinion is everything. I don't know anyone else's plight." As Socrates once said, "All I know is I know nothing, and I am not quite sure I know that." These ideas are the polar opposite of the message of "Blurred Lines," which is, of course, "I know you want it."

That's not to say that we should forgive people who disregard others' rights to exist or walk safely in the streets, or that anyone should be expected to corral their anger when faced with bigotry. But instead, maybe we should be more open to those who have done the work and grown and changed, and allies should never pretend to be authorities on others' experiences.

The Internet's algorithm may thrive off dissent and snap judgments, and nuance and active listening may be lost causes in this age of polarity, but change and evolution are some of this life's only constants. In light of this, we need to be more comfortable with growth and with admitting that we've done wrong in the past. We need to listen to the voices of others and accept discomfort and criticism instead of resisting them.

Recently, the actress Jameela Jamil faced heat for stating that she only recently learned of the extent of George W. Bush's war crimes in Iran, and in response, she started the hashtag #ProgressNotPerfection in order to emphasize the importance of being open to learning, to questions, and to changing our minds in order to change the world.

So in the spirit of #ProgressNotPerfection, here's to Pharrell speaking the truth and denouncing "Blurred Lines" six years after the fact. It would've been nice if that happened before the song's release, and if we could've been spared the collective trauma of watching Miley Cyrus twerk on Robin Thicke—but that's in the past. Today we're living in the era of flying cars, hopefully a female president, and finally admitting that we don't know a damn thing.

GQ

MUSIC

Oliver Heldens Talks Creative Freedom and the Trends of Future House

The DJ caught up with Popdust right before his performance at Electric Zoo 2019.

Rotterdam-based producer Oliver Heldens refuses to be boxed in.

The 24-year-old told Popdust prior to his energized set at Electric Zoo this year that he's excited to see dance music "getting bigger and bigger." Heldens exploded on to the scene in 2013 with "Gecko (Overdrive)," a track that established Heldens as a pioneer of future house. We spoke more with the DJ on his big break, his inspirations, and what's next for him.

You have had tremendous growth these last few years and you're absolutely crushing it. We caught you down in Miami as well. Where do you get your inspiration from when you're creating your tracks?"

[Definitely] 'Gecko' still. That was my big breakthrough song, and I just love it and the impact it had on the whole scene. I'm really still so proud of it."

Where do you see the scene going?

"Well in general in the last couple of years we've seen dance music, in general, getting bigger and bigger, where whether it's techno or tech house or future house or deep house, it's really growing and that's really nice. I definitely see Trance going more upwards, back to the roots and getting more danceable and less aggressive. It seems like that dance music, in general, is getting so big, and it's only been mainstream since like 2010, so like right now is the perfect time for people to really dive in deeper, and it's really nice to see that you can be a really niche sounding artist, and it can be very dark and not mainstream but you still have a big crowd to play for. That's what's really nice about the scene right now. I feel like people are very open-minded nowadays and they like multiple genres."

Oliver Heldens - Summer Lover (Lyric Video) ft. Devin, Nile Rodgers www.youtube.com

Your Heldeep Radio has really grown and includes so many great underground artists. Your song choice in particular has gotten you a lot of recognition. How do you narrow down what to include?

I go through a lot of tracks, and the ones that excite me I put them on the show. When I started doing monthly mixtapes, they became so popular that so many radio stations were asking me to do a weekly mix, and in the beginning, it was quite hard for me, because to deliver quality tracks every week was quite difficult, and at that time there weren't many producers making future house or like this kind of mix between bass and tech house. But over the years more and more people started to make more of that more music...and Heldeep Records kinda developed from doing Heldeep radio shows, because with the Heldeep Radio shows I got so many demos and promos from undiscovered talents, e-mails, people on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook etc. So I decided to start Heldeep Records. Also, at that time, I wanted to create an alias for my more underground, more bass-driven and darker tracks. So it all came together perfectly. Even though I felt kinda young to start my own record label, but luckily there were a lot of my inspirations when I launched the label and a lot of artists were really keen on releasing on Heldeep, which was both inspiring and motivating.

Will you be focusing more on the Heldeep sound as you go forward?

"Over the last few years, we've been trying to do more Heldeep shows, Heldeep stage hostings at big festivals, and that's been going great so far. So definitely wanna do that more and more."


What type of sounds are you mostly looking for now?

"I'm never looking for a specific sound, I'm very open. I love to be doing the in-between, the underground, and the commercial, and the mainstage. I really like to be in that spot. I'm very open to different things."

What's a piece of advice you can offer those underground acts?

"I would say to aspiring DJs and producers, take your time, don't feel rushed to breakthrough. Sometimes it just feels better to just take more time, and it takes time to develop your own sound. So don't try to go for shortcuts or, yeah, it's important that it's fun and that you like the music...especially if you're very young your tastes can shift very quickly. Sometimes it's important just to take time and think about what kind of music you really want to make, and don't go off too much on trance, stay true to yourself and support it."

Follow Oliver Heldens on Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

TV Reviews

"The Masked Singer" Is America's Favorite Joke

With 10 million viewers tuning in, this Donnie Darko nightmare of a singing competition has claimed the ratings' top spot.

Every contestant on The Masked Singer is a cross between a Vegas showgirl and the monster under your childhood bed.

Nearly 10 million Americans tuned in for the singing competition's premiere last week. Viewers' reactions range from horrified to conversion to furry fandom, as twelve so-called "celebrity contestants" compete while costumed as: Deer, Lion, Monster, Peacock, Unicorn, Rabbit, Alien, Raven, Poodle, Bee, Hippo, and Pineapple.

Official Trailer | Season 1 | THE MASKED SINGER youtu.be

Hosted by Nick Cannon, the bizarre show is the American version of the popular South Korean competition, King of Mask Singer (on which Ryan Reynolds has appeared as a unicorn singing "Tomorrow" from Annie). The concept is both simple and over-the-top, as costumed singers introduce themselves to give hints as to their identities–and not only are they dressed as giant anthropomorphic creatures, but each costume is replete with a ridiculous voice-changing filter. After each contestant karaokes America's most overplayed songs, a panel of C-list judges evaluates their performances and takes a stab at guessing who could be under the mask. At the end, whoever displayed the least amount of talent is eliminated and forced to remove his/her disguise.

With "celebrity" judges including Robin Thicke, Nicole Scherzinger, Ken Jeong, and Jenny McCarthy, the qualifications seem lax. As the judges make increasingly outlandish guesses, from Beyoncé to Barack Obama, social media has certainly enjoyed the joke. #TheMaskedSinger remained a trending topic on Twitter during both weeks' airtimes, with posts ranging from reality TV personalities to common, decent people.



But The Masked Singer could very well become America's next favorite joke. After last week's premiere garnered over 9 million viewers only to reveal the identity of Hippo was NFL player Antonio Brown (he sang Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative"), the show's second episode still entertained over 7 million viewers. The contestant unmasked Wednesday night was Pineapple, revealed to be Tommy Chong of beloved Cheech and Chong's Adventures (he sang "I Will Survive" and it was brutal).

Fox

The Seattle Times

Ridiculous as it is, this Donnie Darko nightmare of a singing competition still held the ratings' top spot for Wednesday night among viewers from 18-49 years old. The Masked Singer airs every week at 9PM. Who do you think is Alien?

FOX


Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.


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Music Features

Ed Sheeran is Headed to Court

Ed Sheeran could lose up to $100 million for allegedly plagiarizing Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get it On."

NBC News

Ed Sheeran — a wedding singer who seemingly won a Faustian contest of mediocrity that elevated him to super-stardom — is facing legal trouble.

Given his repetitive songwriting and greasy "dude, let me copy your homework" vibe, it doesn't come as much of a surprise that he may or may not dabble in plagiarism.

On Friday, a US judge rejected Sheeran's call for the court to drop a legal case accusing him of copying parts of Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On." District Judge Louis Stanton said he found "substantial similarities between several of the two works' musical elements." Now, the case will go before a jury to be decided. According to the BBC, "The action has been brought against Sheeran, Sony/ATV Music Publishing and Atlantic Records by the estate and heirs of the late producer Ed Townsend, who co-wrote Let's Get It On with Gaye." The suit states that Sheeran and his co-writers "copied and exploited, without authorization or credit, the 'Let's Get it On' composition," copying various elements "including but not limited to the melody, rhythms, harmonies, drums, bass line, backing chorus, tempo, syncopation, and looping." They're asking for $100 million in damages.

Hollywood Reporter

The song in question is Sheeran's 2014 number-one hit, "Thinking Out Loud," a love song so generic that it could have been written about any human being that ever lived as a musical product of any time period since the invention of the guitar. If you listen to "Let's Get It On" and "Thinking Out Loud" in quick succession, you're not struck by their similarities, but by the extraordinary contrast between the two songs. Marvin Gayes' song is a timeless, soulful masterpiece; while, in comparison, Sheeran's song seems like a tepid lament from a Tinder date who's just tired of going to the movies by himself.

However, if you can look past the disparity in quality between the two hits, you may recognize a few familiar moments in Sheeran's song, as the two songs share many of the same chord progressions and have a similar groove. However, as Power Station Studio's Audio Engineer Joshua Taylor put it to Popdust, "90% of pop songs are written at basically the same tempo and all use the same two or three chord progressions, so really cases like this have to be about the melody" — which means that it's unlikely that these similarities are enough to validly claim plagiarism, since the songs are melodically very different.

Unfortunately for everyone's favorite lazy-eyed Raggedy Andy, when a case like this goes in front of a jury, the facts of musical composition tend to lose importance. For example, in 2015, Gaye's estate won $5.3 million after a jury decided Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams' 2013 hit "Blurred Lines" infringed upon Marvin Gaye's 1977 composition "Got to Give It Up." As Variety puts it, "Jurors in such cases are rarely musical experts and similarities based on gut — or as the 'Blurred Lines' decision put it, 'feel' — instead of musical notation can carry the day."

That and Ed Sheeran's case have raised concerns throughout the music industry about who should be allowed to decide questions of musical plagiarism, as the lack of musical expertise among the average jury leaves artists open to possibly undeserved legal prosecution. After all, should Ed Sheeran really be punished for making indistinct, soulless music that sounds like every other song you've ever heard?


Brooke Ivey Johnson is a Brooklyn based writer, playwright, and human woman. To read more of her work visit her blog or follow her twitter @BrookeIJohnson.


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