Popular Music and Society Volume 40 , Issue 3, July 2017

Popular Music and Society Volume 40

Introduction: Researching Popular Music Censorship
Annemette Kirkegaard

The present volume brings together six articles which all address issues of censorship in music. While restrictions on free speech in popular music are often ascribed to the semantic content of lyrics or images, the authors in this special issue take their point of departure from the perception that the musical sound in its complexity rather plays a major role in silencing musicians and artists. Drawing on diverse cases of restrictions in various popular music genres, the volume expands knowledge on how censorship affects music life and how it can be theorized.

Music is continually censored by actors, states, religious leaders, radio stations, companies, parents, and the artists themselves. Censorship is common in autocratic societies and societies where legal security is low, but censorship is also an issue in more democratic societies where, for example, corporate censorship is a recurring phenomenon. This special issue presents six articles on different aspects of music censorship, a topic as important today as ever.

Popular musics—which all of the present articles concern—are frequently exposed to censorship, even if the actual number of bans on musics might be relatively low compared to the vastness of the field (Street, “Pop Star” 50). An important reason behind censorship is that popular music is disseminated quickly through its various media. Ideas can be shared very broadly to the obvious dismay of opponents, not least since “pop music is inherently oppositional” (Peddie xvii). The exact reasons for censorship, however, vary greatly and no particular pattern can be detected, although the issue of power is always the starting point (see Cloonan). As music can be a strong marker of social affinities as well as exclusion, lyrics or even the mere sounds of music—including the references in sound to locality and communities—may be deemed offensive and controversial. Tunes may be censored because they are considered impermissible, played in the wrong key, with the wrong instruments, or for a variety of other reasons. Due to the complexity of the institutions and agents behind the restrictions on music, the limits to freedom of expression provide important field in popular music studies in both political and scholar terms.

The liberal minded often think of censorship as bad for culture; still, many would probably agree that it is reasonable to censor agitating hate music. This take on censorship relates to strategies for protecting children from potentially scary and traumatizing cultural products, measures taken to avoid conflicting or harmful activities, and, ultimately, to secure so-called social peace, in which respect for the rights of others is the aim. However, this approach, embedded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is somewhat in conflict with more radical ideas of unrestricted freedom of expression. Accordingly, the difficulty of holding a clear, thought-through agenda on censorship is often elucidated when addressing the securing of social peace: The sensitivities of one’s own society are seldom questioned while those of other societies equally trying to protect social peace are seen as repressive. As Street suggests, the capacity and the will to censor by different actors and the multiple reasons for censorship must thus be studied in context (Street, Music 14), an insight that not only opens up the field for a humanities approach to the various stories, but also makes censorship an interesting and challenging topic of research.

The Nordic network “Researching Music Censorship” (RMC) was initiated in 2010 and funded by the Nordic research agency, NordForsk, an inter-Nordic organization for research funding. At the outset, the aim of the network was stated as follows:

to question the often uncomplicated and simplified definitions of the concept in popular discourse, and based on a firm understanding of music as a socially organized means of communication and through identification and documentation of discourses on restrictions and regulations in musical expression, the participating researchers will examine global, regional and local frameworks for music censorship. (RMC website)

The RMC network was officially brought to an end in late 2014, but the rich outcomes are only now starting to appear. The network has engaged almost 50 scholars and PhD researchers from Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden, plus associated researchers from other parts of the world. Their varied academic backgrounds include popular music studies, music education, ethnomusicology, law, and religious studies. Through conference presentations, papers, and articles, RMC members have shared their research perspectives with peers and have raised public awareness of the topic through media appearances and their teaching at universities and university colleges. Based on the many presentations at seminars and conferences organized by RMC, 25 articles were selected for publication. Seven articles have been published in Danish Musicology Online in a special issue, Researching Music Censorship, 2015. In 2017, Cambridge Scholars will publish a volume featuring both theoretical articles and case studies based primarily on papers given at the international conference on music censorship arranged by RMC in Copenhagen in June 2013. Finally, the PhD researchers engaged in the RMC network (several of them now holding a PhD) have edited a volume which will be published in 2017 as a report by Freemuse (freemuse.org), an organization itself engaged in advocating and defending the freedom of expression for musicians and composers.

In this special issue we have gathered six insightful but rather diverse case studies all exploring and analyzing censorship through popular music. The first two articles deal in different ways with censorship and moral considerations in connection with music and school shootings, one case in the US (Carpenter), the other in Finland (Anttonen). Taking as a point of departure the alleged violent impact of heavy metal/hard core musics and challenging the opinion that music can in fact be harmful, they reflect on the way in which self-censorship is part of the strategic concerns inevitably surrounding artists and musicians. The third and the fourth articles, with historical points of departure, address the negotiations of spaces for musical expressions in two former states in Eastern Europe, East Germany (Rauhut) and Czechoslovakia (Husák). Here the protest form is a model of how agents like the church and the mediascape can circumvent the tight grip of a censoring state and its agency. The following two articles look into the phenomenon of regulation and its relationship to censorship. The fifth article (Kallio) discusses music pedagogics in Finland and the implicit censorship of “unwanted music” in teaching. The claim is that the educational goals for teaching music to schoolchildren, in practice, result in de facto censorial procedures leaving out most forms of popular musics. The sixth article (Krogh and Kaargaard Nielsen) looks into corporate censorship and the role of the music industry in regulating popular music styles. This final article examines the often-held opinion that the market in its selective practices performs a certain kind of censorship, which musicians and artists believe to be based on aesthetic as well as outright political preferences—a claim which again touches on the ability of music to express meaning.

Both Carpenter and Anttonen study censorship in situations in which artists have their music associated with actual violence, forcing them to make tricky decisions about censoring their live performances and their recordings. Carpenter explores the consequences of artists’ accepting, or being forced to address, the causality between a song and someone else’s action. He dwells on the dangers surrounding such argumentation and how it is likely to lead to artists being overtly cautious and self-censorial in their music making. Anttonen suggests that a situation similar to the one described by Carpenter may be understood by taking seven different censorship discourses into account. Through those, Anttonen produces an analysis in which censorship may be seen both as a sign of respect and the maturity of a band (not performing a song referred to in a school shooting) and as a sign of inauthenticity (being merely posers, not truly meaning what they are singing about). Censorship may not only further harm a band’s reputation, but may also increase interest in the band. Both articles complicate the idea that censorship is mainly exercised by an institutionalized governmental agent and focus on the role of the artists themselves—as personas and as public persons.

The articles of Rauhut and Husák respectively develop an understanding of how countercultural spaces—with social resistance to censorship—flourished in the post-war years up until 1989 and the fall of the Soviet system. Rauhut finds that the Church in East Germany developed a space for jazz, blues, rock, and punk and with it also a discursive space for critical discussions and dissent. Drawing from his case study of rock music in Czechoslovakia, Husák illustrates how the censorial strategies of a state with a strong distaste for rock music are undermined by resisting artists and enthusiasts trying to find alternative ways of communicating through rock music. In both cases, their respective versions of socialist or Marxist politics were crucial to the value-laden understanding of so-called Western-style music. It is interesting to see how both authors agree that music had a function politically subversive to the political system. In fact, if read in connection with the first two articles, we find it is reasonable to claim that one of the key issues of censorship and music studies is the actual or imagined effect of music on the community at large.

As popular music nowadays is part of school curricula, music teachers end up trying to promote “particular values and norms” while still encouraging individual participation and the inclusion of the popular music of pupils. Kallio introduces the concept of deviantization of popular music, pointing at the process of deeming certain musics appropriate and others inappropriate. In this, the teacher becomes an unwilling curator and an agent of censorship, or an ethical agent as Kallio also calls the role, a role that Kallio contrasts with ideals of inclusivity and democracy. Krogh and Kaargaard Nielsen also discuss regulation but in relation to the record industry. Traditionally, censorship studies have often looked at cases framed by a certain national territory, but Krogh and Kaargaard Nielsen study how a commercial product on the Danish market is dependent on legal and moral considerations and “corporate music self-censorship” in the US market. They brand this process “spillover censorship.” At the same time, they challenge their own conclusion by calling into question whether the censorship concept can be used in the situation they describe, as many of the actors are anonymous and simply try to cater to a market in the most efficient way.

In conclusion, it follows that censorship in music—as documented in the six articles presented here—is always the result of negotiations orchestrated on the basis of the context of the music and the play of power among the stakeholders of various kinds. The fear of restrictions and the subsequent incitement to self-censorship are not easily reduced to universal terms, but are rather continually shifting following the political and social requirements of governments as well as aesthetic and/or moral currents in social movements.

As all the articles prove, censorship as a research topic is well worth pursuing, both when trying to map out and understand situations in which censorship (in its most straightforward forms) is taking place, but also when the focus on censorship provides new scholarly insight into practices of regulation and restrictions. As with most keywords one can always quarrel about the most appropriate definition, or one can, as we prefer, see what knowledge and perspectives different definitions may produce.

As guest editors of this special issue we hope you will find the present articles stimulating and will explore the other outputs of the RMC network. Many people have contributed to the completion of this special issue. The peer reviewers have given valuable comments and suggestions for which we are most grateful, but we would especially like to thank Helmi Järviluoma and Jan Sverre Knudsen who have been involved in the editing of the many articles and who have been instrumental in the organization of the RMC network over the years.
Popular Music and Society, Volume 40, Issue 3, July 2017


Music Censorship

Introduction: Researching Popular Music Censorship
Annemette Kirkegaard & Jonas Otterbeck

Original Articles

“Die Young”: On Pop Music, Social Violence, Self-Censorship, and Apology Rituals
Alexander Carpenter

This article examines the response of musicians to social violence, focusing specifically on the phenomenon of hybridized corporate/self-censorship by pop musicians in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, at the end of 2012. Immediately following the shooting, several popular songs with putatively inflammatory titles and lyrics—most notably, Ke$ha’s “Die Young” and Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks”—were pulled from the airwaves, largely in the name of a generalized sensitivity to the emotional needs of the listening public. This action received the vociferous support of the artists themselves, who issued concomitant pro forma apologies for their work. The tacit acknowledgment of the connections between music and acts of violence, the complicity of artists in the censorship or suppression of their own work, and their a posteriori participation in apology rituals are the focus here, with comparisons also drawn between similar acts of social violence—the Columbine school shooting of 1999 in particular—and the calls for and responses to the music censorship that followed.

From Justified to Illogical: Discourses of (Self-)Censorship and Authenticity in the Case of Two Finnish Metal Bands
Salli Anttonen

This article explores limiting expressions in the transgressive genre of metal, paying special attention to the value of authenticity. Focusing on the case of the Finnish metal bands Turmion Kätilöt and Stam1na, the study first charts the instances of (self-)censorship that the two bands have faced, starting with their reactions to the Kauhajoki school shooting in Finland, and, second, investigates how these instances have been discussed and interpreted. Based on the analysis of Internet and interview material, I identified seven discourses that construct a multifaceted image of censorship, ranging from useless and illogical to justified, further intertwined with the value of authenticity.

With God and Guitars: Popular Music, Socialism, and the Church in East Germany
Michael Rauhut

In the socialist German Democratic Republic (GDR), the Church entered into a long-term, complex and productive symbiosis with popular music. Beginning in the 1950s, reform-minded pastors opened their doors to jazz, and, later, almost the entire spectrum of popular music could be found in their churches: from pop hits, beat, rock, blues to singer/songwriters and punk. The interplay between the Church and popular music gave rise to a highly unique communicative space, a counterpart to the rigidly organized public realm. Here, political dissidents took refuge from a repressive system and were free to examine their society critically. This political force infused the alliance of the Church and popular music in East Germany with an explosive quality. To examine the specifics of this alliance, this article traces three major trends: the assimilation of African-American music, the reform of the traditional religious hymn, and the linking of youth ministry with popular music. The analysis of these three trends illuminates the particularities of the relationship between the Church and popular music in the GDR from a quantitative, qualitative, and historical perspective.

Rock Music Censorship in Czechoslovakia between 1969 and 1989
Martin Husák

Popular Outsiders: The Censorship of Popular Music in School Music Education
Alexis Anja Kallio

Spillover Censorship: The Globalization of US Corporate Music Self-Censorship
Steen Kaargaard Nielsen & Mads Krogh

Book Review

Love for Sale: Pop Music in America
B. Lee Cooper

Audio Reviews

Classical Gassers: Pop Gems Inspired by the Great Composers
B. Lee Cooper

State of Groove
Thomas M. Kitts

Popular Music and Society Volume 40