MTV or music television was once the network where you would see and hear about new bands alongside more established musicians peddling their music to the masses. MTV is now more famous for showing some fairly pathetic so-called reality shows like ‘Jersey Shore’ and ‘Teen Mom’. Unfortunately, the station is less focused music videos and music culture.
But before MTV gave up on music, the popular music channel swept through every American household by featuring brave and interesting videos from bands and artists that would come to define an era of music legends. Because no one else was doing this at the time, MTV conquered the music television world and established themselves as heavyweights in the music industry.
Racism, murder, nazism, drugs, sex, bestiality and religion are just of the few of the subjects contained within this list of the most controversial music videos of all time. Despite how popular all genres are, it seems that music will remain a source of controversial content in our modern society. The videos are in no particular order.
1. Relax – Frankie Goes To Hollywood
The debut single by Frankie Goes To Hollywood hovered in the top 40 when it was released in October 1983. Because of the racy artwork and provocative lyrics, Radio 1 DJ Mike Read refused to play the song on air during his top 40 countdown. Admittedly, “Relax” has a subtle evocation to homosexuality, but it was not a problem until BBC completely banned the song from all radio and TV stations. Ironically, all the negative publicity encouraged the British public to buy the single. It sold millions.
2. Anarchy In The UK – Sex Pistols
Ah, the Sex Pistols. You either love them or hate them. Their debut single “Anarchy In The UK” launched a social and musical firestorm when it was released in 1976. The Pistols were already revolutionary in the British music scene and had long since left behind established rules of building audiences. Coupled with their aggressive and provocative stance, music industry insiders were worried about possible repercussions for the band. With Johnny Rotten spewing discontent backed up by Glenn Matlock, Steve Jones and Paul Cook, The Sex Pistols shook the establishment and gleefully pushed every button it could surrounding British fears of punks running wild in the streets and creating political instability. The single was eventually pulled out because of the accompanying outcry. They were kicked off their label after 3 months, lasted in A&M for a week before settling with Virgin, who released their only studio album “Never Mind The Bollocks”.
3. Angel Of Death – Slayer
Slayer, one of the big four bands of trash metal, have never shied away from controversial subject matter. The band was accused of being nazi sympathizers and racist because the lyrics of “Angel Of Death” refer to the Nazi physician Josef Mengele, who conducted crazy and hideous human experiments at Auschwitz concentration camp during WWII. They detailed the psychological and physical atrocities in graphic detail, including surgeries without anesthesia, sex change operations, removal of limbs and organs, gassing, injections with lethal germs and isolation endurance. Because of its sensitive lyrics, the record label distanced themselves from the single release, but this did not stop Slayer from writing controversial lyrics and performing in front of thousand of fans.
4. Jeremy – Pearl Jam
Pearl Jam fans know that their hit song “Jeremy” is based on the real life story of Jeremy Delle, a sophomore student who killed himself in front of his classmates at school. The video dramatizes Jeremy’s torment that culminated in his suicide. The next shot showed his terrified classmates covered in blood and completely still. MTV showed the edited version which did not depict the gun. Pearl Jam won several MTV awards in 1996 but they did not make another video until they released “Do The Evolution” in 1998.
5. Like A Prayer – Madonna
There’s no gore, blood or nudity here, but Madonna didn’t need those subjects to irk the church and the world. Miley Cyrus, step aside. Toying with classic taboos of 80’s society, Madonna has sex with an African-American man inside a church and sings in a field with burning crosses to add fuel to the fire. This video was extremely offensive to a lot of people, including the Pope, who declared Madonna persona non grata in Italy. Pepsi also dropped their sponsorship with her when Christian groups began boycotting the soda giant.
6. Killing In The Name – Rage Against The Machine
The song by the politically-charged RATM was featured on their debut album and presented an indictment of police brutality. The song was released 6 months after the LA riots, where 4 white police officers were acquitted for beating black motorist Rodney King. The song is a loud, guitar heavy, foul mouthed and explosive tirade against police brutality and the sickness of American society. Throughout the 5 minute song, Zack De La Rocha spits out the F word 17 times. It also earned its notoriety when a BBC DJ played the uncensored version live on air during his top 40 countdown.
7. Dear God – XTC
XTC pushed the boundaries of freedom of speech when they tackled one of the most controversial subjects of all. The lyrics were written by Andy Partridge and addressed directly to God and detailed the full angst of human suffering. In the song, God is blamed for all the unwanted and unnecessary suffering on Earth. With its anti-religious and anti-God sentiments, the song is very controversial and pushed many record shops not to stock their single in fear of a religious backlash.
8. Heart Shaped Box – Nirvana
Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl made a groundbreaking move with their popular song “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Nirvana was more punk as compared to other bands during the early 90’s and they were not damaged by any controversy. When Nirvana won 2 MTV music awards in 1994 for “Heart Shaped Box”, the lyrics were a homage to the female genitalia and other metaphors for sickness, death and the weakness of the human body.
9. F*ck Da Police and Straight Outta Compton – N.W.A.
Everything about N.W.A reeks of controversy, from the way the group was formed to how they make their music. The group was formed in the late 80’s when Eric Wright aka Eazy E, an admitted drug dealer, founded Ruthless records with his earned drug money. He later started N.W.A by recruiting his friends MC Ren, Ice Cube, Yella and Dr. Dre. When they released their debut album “Straight Outta Compton” in 1989, it painted a picture of their ghetto life in Compton, California. One song in the album titled “Fuck DA Police” is a headstrong challenge to law enforcement and an outright insult to police officers. It contains claims of police brutality and racism within law enforcement. MTV refused to show the debut video of “Straight Outta Compton” because they say it glorified violence. Despite the limited playtime, the album sold a million copies and made the 5 rappers hip hop stars.
10. God Save The Queen – Sex Pistols
Another classic from The Sex Pistols launched their angry attack on the Queen and fascist regimes. The song was released during Queen Elizabeths’s Silver Jubilee, the song’s lyrics and the cover artwork caused an immediate uproar and yet the band’s original intention was simply to draw attention to the plight of the working class citizen. It was supposed to be a song that signifies a love for their country as opposed to animosity, as John Rotten once said. The song was banned by the BBC of course, but became a punk classic nevertheless.