Moral Panics & Music

How heavy metal and Satan gave us this sticker” — Vox, 2019, 20:50 —

How did a moral panic affect the music industry of the 1990s? This video examines the infamous parental advisory labels placed on explicit music albums. We see moral crusaders who believe children are being harmed by filthy language, sexuality, and devil worship. These claimsmakers were able to spur national debates over censorship and appropriate language. However, the concern over lyric content may have been little more than a distraction from more important social problems. The moral campaign of the Parents Music Resource Center did not change the lyrics but it did get us that nifty sticker (which ironically helped boost sales of explicit content).

Is this particular explicit label still necessary? Are other content warnings on today’s music needed? How might concerns over obscenity be a scapegoat for other issues?

From the video’s description: The explicit lyrics sticker is one of the most recognizable images in American music. Its placement on an album cover signifies you’re going to hear something for adult ears only, and it’s an image we often take for granted. The story behind how we got that sticker is bonkers, to say the least. The very public discussion around the advisory label involved the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), a group led by the wives of Washington politicians and a few musicians including Frank Zappa, Dee Snider, and John Denver. While the PMRC’s involvement was allegedly sparked by some raunchy lyrics from Prince’s 1984 album Purple Rain, the debate over rock lyrics had been infiltrating American culture and politics for a decade. The driving force behind that debate was the rise of heavy metal, a genre that saw explosive popularity with the launch of MTV in 1981, and the growing influence of the religious right, who saw rock music as a powerful threat to Christianity.