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In recent years, society has become increasingly outspoken about the past transgressions of people and brands. Naturally, a large part of that involves reevaluating and rebuking taboo imagery in entertainment.
Among the primary culprits of such objectionable material are rock and metal music videos. Simply put, they’ve often depicted various acts of debauchery (whether sexual, violent, blasphemous and/or other) that likely couldn’t be endorsed in our modern cultural climate. Yes we’re looking at you, Crue and a number of others as well. After all, rockers are rebels who – for better or worse – tend to disregard the rules anyway, so they’re going to do what they’re going to do no matter how society reacts.
Consider the following 10 examples, which – if premiered now – would surely get their creators canceled because of their disagreeable content (even if said provocativeness is essential to their pointed social commentary).
“Girls Girls Girls” (1987)
The title track and lead single of Mötley Crüe’s fourth record, the song itself might still be enjoyed as a crude but fun ‘80s rocker about strip clubs.
On the other hand, Wayne Isham’s visualized version (shot at the Seventh Veil on the Sunset Strip) would almost certainly be chastised for its emphasis on scantily clad female dancers being ogled by domineering bikers and other men.
Sure, you could argue that it’s promoting the performers’ ownership of their sexuality, but that’d be quite a stretch. Really, it’s just a sleazy celebration of the male gaze that’d upset many viewers today.
“Drown in the City” (2008)
A Skylit Drive
Post-hardcore troupe A Skylit Drive wasted no time crafting a provocative film, as this one comes from their first collection, 2007’s She Watched the Sky EP.
In it, we see footage of a heterosexual couple having sex on a pool table during a party. Later, the woman sees the man chatting with other women and tries to make a scene, only to be aggressively forced out by two other guys. She then tears her room apart as she thinks about his betrayal.
Although it’s relatively tame, its allusions to sex, violence against women and mental health struggles are sufficiently alarming.
“If You Think This Song is About You, It Probably Is” (2010)
Destroy Rebuild Until God Shows only made one album – 2011’s D.R.U.G.S. – and that may’ve been for the best given how gratuitously abrasive this one is.
It opens with foul-mouthed interrogation leading to a glimpse of the vocalist contemplating suicide with “a noose and a chair.” Then, there are persistent flashes of empty pill bottles and a naked woman being verbally and physically assaulted by said singer. By the end, it’s implied that he’s killed her and is burying her by some deserted road.
Clearly, it’s ripe with illustrations of misogyny, drug use, self-harm and murder that significantly challenge modern sensibilities.
“The Show Must Go On” (2013)
Famous Last Words
2013’s Two-Faced Charade is a concept album about a schizophrenic outsider who becomes infatuated with his neighbor, discovers that she has a boyfriend and kills the couple prior to cutting his wrists.
Unsurprisingly, frontman Jeremy Tollas’ video for the two-part closing track doesn’t shy away from the tragedy. Playing the part of his disgruntled protagonist, he binds and screams at the woman while literally arguing with himself.
Eventually, she escapes but is soon captured and choked to death before Tollas rams a mirror shard into his stomach.
Eight years later, viewers would absolutely not be okay with its offensive implications.
“Y Control” (2004)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
It’s an unwritten rule in entertainment that you don’t glorify dead animals or children (there’s even a website for cataloging movies and TV shows that do). Evidently, famed director Spike Jonze didn’t know that, as his clip for “Y Control” depicts many deviant kids mistreating a deceased dog as the band performs.
Likely inspired by Stephen King’s Children of the Corn, the youths also wield weapons, flip off the camera, destroy property, butcher each other and indulge in other sinister acts.
Back then, MTV preempted a censored version with a disclaimer from Jonze. Today, it couldn’t be shown at all.
“Jesus Christ Pose” (1991)
Soundgarden’s “Jesus Christ Pose” video – which shows a woman being crucified in the desert, a burning cross and the band stretching out their arms messianically, amongst various other unsettling images – was so controversial upon release that MTV stopped playing it.
The fact that the track and video were meant as criticisms of “celebrities and rock stars who had pulled that vulnerable, suffering sort of pose and/or attitude on their fan base” didn’t matter. Regardless of context or intent, the video was deemed too improper for consumption.
Three decades later, audiences have only become even more sensitive to such seemingly sacrilegious subject matter.
Directed by Mark Pellington, it was hugely popular at the time, eventually winning four MTV Video Music Awards in 1993.
Of course, it deserved nothing less because its troubling yet poetic (and partially nonfiction) chronicle of an abused teenager taking his own life in front of his class was a heartrendingly prophetic cautionary tale.
Sadly, similarly extreme incidents have become all too commonplace in America since “Jeremy” came out, making the video too disturbing and divisive for 2021.
In particular, the newly released “uncensored” version of the Pearl Jam clip actually reveals Jeremy putting the gun in his mouth, so it’s especially triggering and polarizing.
“Heart-Shaped Box” (1993)
Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” is as surreal as it is scandalous, showcasing an unsettling and shocking fever dream conceived by Kurt Cobain and filmmaker Anton Corbijn.
It follows a dying man in a hospital bed who enters his subconscious and crucifies himself while wearing a Santa hat. Along the way, there’s also a young girl ostensibly dressed in a Ku Klux Klan uniform who dances around him amidst reaching for hanging fetuses from a tree.
Like “Jeremy,” it’s been widely praised by critics over the years, but that doesn’t mean that markedly puritanical or religious spectators wouldn’t try to reprimand all involved.
Nine Inch Nails
Taken from Nine Inch Nails 1994 album The Downward Spiral, Mark Romanek’s macabrely abstract visual interpretation is a fascinating, inventive and bold journey that’s also ceaselessly incendiary.
Among its problematic portrayals are a frightened monkey tied to a cross, an exposed heart beating, scurrying cockroaches, a graphic diagram of a vagina, a severed pig head spinning clockwise, a nude woman and frontman Trent Reznor donning various bondage accessories.
Admittedly, not all of that is equally insidious, but the video nonetheless creates a cumulatively distasteful environment – both in terms of what is shown and what’s merely implied – that’d put Reznor and company in hot water now.
“Bad Girlfriend” (2008)
Theory of a Deadman
Colin Minihan’s racy adaptation of “Bad Girlfriend” is like an even more archaic successor to Mötley Crüe’s “Girls, Girls, Girls.”
It centers on an exotic dancer who hides what she does by telling her boyfriend that she works at a hospital. One night, he unknowingly visits her club with some friends and proceeds to party with other employees before seeing his partner perform.
Unbelievably, she’s not angry at him for being a bad boyfriend; instead, she invites him onstage and rewards his behavior, thereby promoting outdated instances of female sexualization and at least a couple of gendered double standards.