Have you ever heard the phrase “why would they even go there?” As in, why would someone even think the thought that they though, and then presumably put it on paper. Why do people talk about controversial subjects in art when they know that clearly someone will be hurt in the process?
And here is the crux of the art game: the fact that art, and music by extension, can be dangerous. That the thoughts that occupy your head can actually threaten the safety of someone else. This is not an arguement to go out and offended everyone simply or the sake of. But what it is to say is: don’t feel ashamed of the things you think, and don’t be afraid to express them. There’s always a greatful audience.
Let’s take a look at some historical context. When Chuck Berry first started his rock and roll tour across the United States, it was a much different landscape (notably, a more segregated one.) Chuck had the best sound, no doubt, and people all across the country were in love with the sound. Sadly, they weren’t pleased to find he had a darker complexion than White America was looking for, and so he had to change who he was to play the venues they frequented. (They even had to make posters that lightened up his complexion.) His very existence threatened theirs, because he was a talented musician who put their own country stars to shame with hits like Maybalene.
Should Chuck Berry had stopped playing simply because he threatened certain audiences?
Let’s look at a more recent example: in 1997, Senator Joe Lieberman called rock and roll sensation Marilyn Manson “the sickest group to ever be put out by a mainstream record company.” There isn’t a lot of need for context about what exactly he meant by this: he was saying they are too sick to even be allowed to publish their music. Think of the children!
And in the now, there are several groups (musicians and otherwise) who are considered too “triggering” for college campuses. Entire op-eds are written about what artists really mean when they write controversial songs. If it doesn’t fit society’s narrative, it’s considered dangerous. It’s considered hate speech, in some cases. Even journalists who have no political dog in the fight are labeled as hate speech based on what topics they decide to pursue. That’s nothing to say of the many performers who can’t go to college campuses because they “threaten the safety” of the community.
Art has, and never will be, safe. Art is there to challenge, to provoke, and to inspire. If you are pissing people off with your version of the truth, it’s probably at the very, VERY least a very interesting point of view. This is not a call to needlessly offend, but instead a call to remain pure in your artistic integrity even in the face of adversity. If you started tone-policing yourself, how can you ever be true in your dealings?
Tone policing is the death of good art. For the sake of good music everywhere, let people indulge in what’s true to them. Let’s not paint artists as moral criminals. After all, it’s just art. Ideas are only as powerful as you let them become.