Why The ‘F Word’ Matters Little In Music Anymore


Madonna, Rebel Heart © Interscope

Honestly, nobody (few) cares about the ‘f-word’ anymore when it comes to music anymore. The sentiment is one of “f**k it!” who cares if “For Under Consent of the King” is used or not? In the past, using the most obscene of obscenities wouldn’t come close to being acceptable, but at this point, the word has grown to be more permissible as opposed to taboo. Sure, there is still at least some shock value that is programmed within when the word is incorporated within a song, but no longer is it unexpected or at least surprising in an earth-shattering way.

In 2015 alone, it’s difficult to find an album – labeled parental advisory or not – that doesn’t feature the f-word. During the 00s and even more so in the 10s, the ‘acceptance rate’ of usage has increased tremendously, hence why our programming as music listeners seems to be changing. Call it the radicalization of music if you want, or maybe, it’s just a more ‘extreme’ reiteration of what has already happened in the past. Parents certainly didn’t approve of rock and roll and these days, the parents of a new generation of rebels don’t approve of the explicitness of not only hip-hop, but every genre at this point that has embraced a similar calling card.

In 2007 on his album Raw Footage, Ice Cube has a notable song entitled “Thank God” that features an entire introduction about people blaming gangsta rap for the problems in society. While Ice Cube ultimately doesn’t care and embraces the skepticism, the charge can’t be solely left on the footstep of anyone genre, even if hip-hop did indeed play a role. All of them as aforementioned have a newfound rebelliousness and edge that’s being exploited. Sure, country music CAN’T drop f-bombs freely – that just doesn’t work despite the fact artists supposedly freely say it – but even the heightened level of booze, sex, and slang in such music is progressive.

Sufjan Stevens, Carrie & Lowell © Asthmatic Kitty

Indie Singer/Songwriter Sufjan Stevens’ use of the f-word is arguably the most surprising considering that throughout most of his career, he’s not been considered ‘edgy’ and is known for being Christian. No his use of f-bombs doesn’t suddenly make him a pagan, but when it first appeared in a song entitled “I Want To Be Well” from 2010 effort The Age of Adz, it was certainly surprising. Stevens is among the last folks you expect to hear “I’m not f**king around” from. Furthermore, the fact that such language isn’t merely part of the hip-hop idiom dispels myths and confirms growing liberal usage.

On his latest album Carrie & Lowell, there is a distinct instance Stevens embraces the most profane of profane on “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross,” when he sings, “There’s blood on that blade / f**k me, I’m falling apart.” Contextually, the song is about rebellious reactions Stevens made to his mother’s passing, hence why such intensifying language like the f-word only strengthens his message. Does the album receive the infamous parental advisory tag? No, and it rarely happens for one word or many indie releases.

Father John Misty, I Love You, Honeybear © Subpop

Staying within the alternative, singer/songwriter genre itself, look at Father John Misty. His latest album I Love You, Honeybear is filled with profanity, beginning with the opening title track where he confidently asserts, “You f**k the world damn straight malaise / it may be just us who feel this way.” On “The Night Josh Tillman Came To My Apt,” he goes nerd on the listener, singing “and the malaprops make me want to f**king scream.” And one more – on the boldly titled “Holy Shit” (which never features the phrase), Misty sings “Carbon footprint, incest dreams / f**k the mother in the green.” Basically, Misty approaches his album intellectually, but also is unafraid to keep it real and embrace the way may folks converse these days, particularly younger folks.

Pop-punk/Emo outfit All Time Low is a perfect example of a band that appeals to more youthful listeners that manages to sneak as many f-bombs in as possible. It’s no surprise that 2015 album Future Hearts once again “gets away with murder” without that label that Tipper Gore fought for. On “Kicking & Screaming” the f-bomb is used to intensify emotion (“Fantasy competes to be my only / I’m f**king lonely”). On only track three “Something’s Gotta Give,” the f-bomb rears its explicit head again, this time as front man Alex Gaskarth gets all über dramatic singing, “Maybe I’m a f**king waste / filling up empty space.” The list goes on and on, capped off on “Missing You” with it’s obligatory “f**k the world!”

It’s less surprising to see most R&B, hip-hop, and even some pop albums be labeled explicit, specifically due to the f-bomb. Yeah, maybe “shit” is thrown in there, but if less and less people care about the f-word, even fewer care about the s-word. Madonna enjoys the f-bomb on Rebel Heart, notably uttering “well, f**k you” on “Unapologetic Bitch.” Jazmine Sullivan left a bit of her refinement behind her on Reality Show’s “Stupid Girl” when she sings, “Men roam the world looking for us / someone they can f**k around with…” Mark Ronson’s Uptown Special gets the f-bomb treatment thanks to the infectious collaboration with Mystikal where the veteran MC asserts, “Feel right in this motherf**ker.”

There are numerous other instances where the f-word has become cool or maybe just less objectionable. Should it be? That’s a debate that is hotly contested as everybody has his or her own opinions. It might even be that people who utter the profanity themselves may not enjoy music that goes f-bomb overkill – who knows! Regardless, artists at least have said, “f**k it” and are embracing the lingo of the youth, which is certainly based around the once taboo intensifier.

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2 comments

  1. oh it matters, its this racist,low on words industry that prmotes and pushes that to the forefront as if everybody is cool with it. just like the N Word. they put it so direct and say embrace it though, it shows lack of intellect and nothing is challenged. I mean Stevie, Wonder, Lionel Richie,Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson, curtis Mayfield, the Beatles,Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Marvin Gaye,Bill Withers, RIck James,Barry White,etc… didn’t have to resort to saying it to sell records. alot of time folks talking about it, ain’t about that life. they make everybody seem as if they have edge and the bottom line alot of them are corn ball. its one thing when a artist is making a statement because something has hit them,however alot of these acts are being Pimped into doing what is in chic to sing or say and its very dangerous.

    • True. The truly greats didn’t have to go there and I think everyone can agree that the music of all those artists that you mentioned is much more memorable and timeless than the work of artists today by all means. I may be younger, but I know where the ‘bread is buttered’ and it is those veterans which you mention.

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