"Let me make one thing clear: I never want to promote derogatory language."
Musicians put their heart and soul into the lyrics they write, but they don't always resonate with the people who hear their words. In fact, some listeners actually take offense to an artist's lyrics, even if they weren't intended to do any harm. And while some of the time these problematic words were unintentionally used, a musician is left to decide whether they actually want to take action to change them.
Thankfully, artists like Lizzo and Taylor Swift have chosen to make things right after learning of their lyrical indiscretions. By choosing to alter their original lyrics, they've shown that they've made an effort to learn from their past mistakes.
Original lyric: "Spazzin' on that a--/ Spaz on that a--/ Fan me quick, girl, I need my glass."
Changed lyric: TBD
After the release of Beyoncé's new album, she came under fire for her use of the word "spaz" in her song "Heated." The word is derived from "spastic," which is considered demeaning to people with spastic cerebral palsy. In response to the criticism, Beyoncé's representative told Billboard that the word was "not used intentionally in a harmful way," and confirmed it will be replaced.
Original lyric: "Hold my bag/ Do you see this s---? I'ma spaz"
Changed lyric: "Hold my bag/ Do you see this s---? Hold me back"
In the days following the release of Lizzo's single "Grrrls," she also faced backlash for using the word "spaz." The rapper quickly took action, editing the song and taking accountability for the unintentional use of the hurtful word.
"Let me make one thing clear: I never want to promote derogatory language. As a fat black woman in America, I’ve had many hurtful words used against me so I understand the power words can have (whether intentionally or in my case, unintentionally). I'm proud to say there's a new version of 'GRRRLS' with a lyric change. This is a result of me listening and taking action. As an influential artist I’m dedicated to being part of the change I've been waiting to see in the world," Lizzo said in a statement."
Original lyric: "So go and tell your friends that I'm obsessive and crazy/ That's fine, I'll tell mine you're gay, by the way"
Changed lyric: "So go and tell your friends that I’m obsessive and crazy/ That's fine, you won't mind if I say, by the way"
In 2008, Taylor Swift released her song "Picture to Burn," which included a lyric that inferred being gay was negative. It wasn't long before Taylor decided to change the lyric and looking back, she says the song doesn't quite reflect who she is now.
"I had this song called 'Picture to Burn,' that's talking about how 'I hate your truck,' and 'I hate that you ignored me,' 'I hate you.' Now, the way that I would say that and the way that I would feel that kind of pain is a lot different," she told MTV in 2011.
The original version of the Black Eyed Peas song "Let's Get It Started" was actually titled "Let's Get Retarded" and used the derogatory phrase throughout the chorus. The song was reportedly changed so that it could air as part of the 2004 NBA Playoffs in April 2004 and when it was much more well received by the public, it was given an official single release with the title "Let's Get It Started."
Original lyric: "Once a whore, you're nothing more"
Changed lyric: "Once a -- you're nothing more"
When Paramore released "Misery Business,” singer Hayley Williams was just 17 years old. Years later, fans began to point out the derogatory use of the word "whore" and in 2018, Hayley decided that the band would no longer perform the song live.
"I'm a 26-year-old person. And yes, a proud feminist. Just maybe not a perfect one. The thing that annoyed me was that I had already done so much soul-searching about it, years before anyone else had decided there was an issue…I was a 17-year-old kid when I wrote the lyrics in question, and if I can somehow exemplify what it means to grow up, get information, and become any shade of 'woke,' then that's A-OK with me," Hayley told Track 7.
In 2022, Hayley joined Billie Eilish on stage at Coachella and she performed the song for the first time in years, completely skipping over the offensive word.
Original lyric: "He hit me and it felt like a kiss"
Changed lyric: Omitted in live performances
Lana Del Rey's "Ultraviolence" includes a line from the 1963 Crystals song "He Hit Me," which references an abusive relationship. Looking back on her choice to mention abuse in a positive light, Lana says she no longer sings the line in concert.
"I don't like it. I don’t. I don’t sing it. I sing 'Ultraviolence,' but I don’t sing that line anymore. Having someone be aggressive in a relationship was the only relationship I knew. I'm not going to say that that [lyric] was 100 percent true, but I do feel comfortable saying what I was used to was a difficult, tumultuous relationship, and it wasn't because of me. It didn't come from my end," she told Pitchfork.
Original lyric: "Jew me, sue me/ Everybody, do me/ Kick me, k--- me/ Don't you black or white me"
Changed lyric: "Do me, sue me/ Everybody, do me/ Kick me, [censored] me/ Don't you black or white me"
When Michael Jackson released "They Don't Care About Us," he didn't realize the antisemitic nature of his lyrics. While he initially explained that the words were "not antisemitic because I’m not a racist person," he eventually changed his mind. He went on to rerecord the song, removing the offensive lyrics. While the original words remained in some music videos for the song, the antisemitic phrases were covered up with sound effects.
Original lyric: "I'm artistic, you n------ is autistic, retarded"
Changed lyric: Completely removed from the song
Back in 2013, Drake teamed up with J. Cole for their song "Jodeci Freestyle" which offensively used the words "autistic" and "retarded." Following backlash from fans, they both released apologies for their words.
"In a recent verse on the song 'Jodeci Freestyle,' I said something highly offensive to people with Autism. Last week, when I first saw a comment from someone outraged about the lyric, I realized right away that what I said was wrong. I was instantly embarrassed that I would be ignorant enough say something so hurtful. What makes the crime worse is that I should have known better," J. Cole wrote on his Dreamville website at the time.
In a statement, Drake added, "I share responsibility and offer my sincerest apologies for the pain this has caused. Individuals with autism have brilliant and creative minds, and their gifts should not be disparaged or discounted. This was a learning lesson for both of us, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to try to right this wrong. J. Cole and I believe that it is the right, responsible, and respectful decision to remove the lyric from the song."
When the song was rereleased in 2019, the verse was removed.
Original lyric: "'Bout to put rims on my skateboard wheels/ Beat the p---- up like Emmett Till"
Changed lyric: "'Bout to put rims on my skateboard wheels/ Beat the p---- up like --"
After the release of Future and Lil Wayne's "Karate Chop," fans condemned the use of Emmett Till's name in the song. Emmett Till was a young Black teen who was brutally abducted, tortured and lynched in 1955, after being accused of offending a married white woman. Following the inappropriate usage of his name in the song, Lil Wayne issued an apology to fans as well as Emmett's family and promised to no longer perform or use the line.
"It has come to my attention that lyrics from my contribution to a fellow artist’s song has deeply offended your family. As a father myself, I cannot imagine the pain that your family has had to endure…Moving forward, I will not use or reference Emmett Till or the Till family in my music, especially in an inappropriate manner. I fully support Epic Record's decision to take down the unauthorized version of the song and to not include the reference in the version that went to retail. I will not be performing the lyrics that contain that reference live and have removed them from my catalogue," Lil Wayne wrote in an open letter to the Tills.