Contributor: Casey James
Music censorship has never made much sense to me. It seems as though the people in charge of such a task make their decisions on a case by case basis. I am more than supportive of radio stations bleeping out cuss words that any passing child may hear, but for them to completely forbid a music legend to even mention marijuana in a legendarily chart-topping song is mind-blowingly confusing to me.
Songs about the detailed instructions of cooking crack cocaine and distributing it amongst inner city youths is totally fine for stations to play in their entirety. Tunes about lewd sexual dances or acts are loudly playing from stagnant cars at traffic lights. But the moment Columbia Records caught wind of Billy Ray Cyrus thinking about mentioning weed in his featured verse on Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” Remix, they damn near lost their minds.
For those unaware, “Old Town Road” is the insanely catchy country/rap hit from Lil Nas X that has achieved instant stardom and legendary status. How legendary you ask? Well, for starters, this song stood in the number one spot on the Billboard charts longer than any other song – ever.
That is right people. That charming song about “Horses in the back…” is now, by definition, the most popular song of all-time. While many other musical snobs would love to waste their breath arguing against that statement, I can’t help but feel like Lil Nas X is more than deserving of such a compliment. Especially considering that he only paid $30 dollars for the beat, and was couch-surfing this time last year. Any sort of rocket to stardom like that is more than deserving of respect, in my humble opinion.
To be honest, “Old Town Road” has been surrounded by controversy since it hit the scene. When it was first released, given its lyrics and cowboy-like nature of delivery, it was on the country charts. Sure enough, it slid into the number one spot on this chart in no time. However, this didn’t sit very well with country music purists who thought there was too much of a “hip hop” vibe to the tune for it to be considered “country music.”
In my opinion, such a statement is misguided, uneducated, and utterly racist. But, in the end, these morons got their way, and “Old Town Road” was removed from the country chart altogether. This move was widely criticized and the internet was ablaze with rage as soon as Billboard made this idiotic decision.
One to always roll with the punches, Lil Nas X simply shrugged and enlisted the stylings of one of the most beloved (but equally controversial) country stars to feature on his remix. That singer, ladies and gentleman, was none of than Mr. Achy Breaky Heart, himself – Billy Ray Cyrus.
I say Billy Ray Cyrus is controversial because when his aforementioned single first hit the charts, may country purists of the time thought the beat was too “pop-y” for it to be in the country western category. Though they didn’t remove Billy’s song from the list back then, he still caught a lot of flack for not being deemed “country enough” by his peers. Which is the same predicament Lil Nas X found himself in. So, when Billy got the call to help out on a remix, he was more than enthused to offer up his services.
While in the studio, penning some lyrics for the remix, Billy found himself chuckling at a potential line. The line being, “Baby’s got a habit, diamond rings and marijuana.” This line is mainly humorous because it is a witty, succinct way of saying his significant other is one who enjoys the “finer things in life.”
There is obviously no real addiction to these items mentioned – it is simply a metaphoric way to represent this person’s undying desire to enjoy the best that life has to offer. Which, more often than not, isn’t always the cheapest thing to support. To be fair, it is quite a comical lyric.
During a recent interview Cyrus did with Taste of Country Nights, he went more in-depth with how the record company reacted when they saw this line on his first draft of lyrics. When he got notes back from the higher-ups in the label, Cyrus remarked, “They said, ‘Everything but the ‘marijuana’. And [the producer] said, ‘How about fendi sports bra’, and I said, ‘What? It’s probably good, I don’t know what it is.” And that was that.
Cyrus didn’t put up a fight. He merely took the note, and changed it to the new lyric suggested by his producer to fit the rhyme scheme. And that is the version that ultimately made it to the radio – and it has been a smash hit ever since. Which, to be honest, is the best vengeance against those naysayers and archaic thinkers who campaigned for this song to be removed the charts.
I really have to applaud both Cyrus and Lil Nas X for overcoming the controversy in the classiest (most profitable) way possible. I am deeply saddened at the level of censorship displayed by Columbia Records in this instance. I am truly puzzled as to why they feel it is more appropriate to envision Billy Ray Cyrus’ significant other scantily clad in expensive lingerie, as opposed to calmly rolling a joint or something.
What is even crazier is this lyric would have actually been a factual statement. Apparently, Mrs. Cyrus (mother of Miley) is a massive proponent for all things cannabis. There was even a Facebook post by the legendary country music singer with a photo of his beloved wife in front of a veritable mountain of bud. Which, in my opinion, is proof that his girl loves marijuana – as the original line would have suggested.
If that is not enough, Miley, herself, has doubled-down on these statements about her mother’s infatuation with ganja. During an interview, wherein the subject was broached, Miley said, “My dad’s got a farm and [mom’s] like ‘I’m just going to quit everything and grow.’ She’s my manager. So if my mom quits everything, that’s quitting me to go home and, like, grow weed.” Which has me wondering, even more than before, why Columbia felt so compelled to censor this otherwise incredibly factual, almost heartwarmingly charming lyric. It truly makes absolutely zero sense to me.
Obviously, this song didn’t really need much help in reaching its epic level of fame – but who knows how much better this song could have done had this fun, completely harmless mention of cannabis been included? I suppose we will never know. However, seeing as how this song had so many learning lessons for the record industry, I am hoping this sort of needless censorship will become a thing of the past.
Companies need to let artists create. They can’t re-mold a work of art just because their needlessly afraid of how some people might wrongly react to it. That is crazy, and it will never allow any musician to feel like they can fully be themselves – without a record label breathing down their necks every time they bust out the pen to start jotting down some lyrics.
Give these artists the creative room they so earnestly deserve – and I promise the art that comes from it will be even more enjoyable than it is now.
Especially if there is more weed involved – that is for sure.