Censored But Not Muted: Musicians Who Have Been Boycotted And Banned

May 9, 2016  |  
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Musicians, much like other artists, have been censored by radio stations, universities, libraries and practically any other space you can think of for decades.  Before them, writers who spoke out against atrocities committed by governments the world over had their books burned and banned. Typically, musicians are targeted for censorship because their lyrical content is deemed too risqué or inappropriate.  Or, their music videos are considered sexually suggestive or outright explicit and therefore unfit and unsafe for public consumption.  But censorship and the flat-out banning of songs and videos always seems to work in favor of the artists – earning them more public attention and ultimately more album sales, giving credo to the saying there’s no such thing as bad publicity.  Controversy, whether intended or not, sells, and these artists clearly aren’t afraid to push boundaries or to speak their minds.  Here is but a small list of artists whose music was at one point or another censored, boycotted or banned.


Pro-police activists and unions like the Miami Fraternal Order of the Police wrongfully attacked King Bey after the release of her “Formation” video.  You know, because it was supposedly rife with anti-police imagery.  Her Super Bowl performance put them even more over the edge, calling for a boycott of the singer’s world tour.  In the singer’s hometown of Houston, members of the Coalition of Police and Sheriffs boycotted Beyoncé during the first leg of her Formation tour.


The Parental Advisory label that adorned CDs back in the day came to life after Tipper Gore, wife of then-senator Al Gore, purchased the Purple Rain album for her then 11-year-old daughter.  Embarrassed, surprised and angered by the sexual lyrics in “Darling Nikki,” Gore spearheaded the Parents Music Resource Center.


Law enforcement officials saw the rap group N.W.A. as public enemy No. 1.  Their music was banned from countless radio stations, libraries and retail chains.  The group was also banned from performing the song “F–k tha Police” during their first major tour back in 1989.

Billie Holiday

Legendary jazz songstress Billie Holiday penned one of the most harrowing songs in music history about the racist, inhumane practice of lynching with “Strange Fruit.”  But radio stations banned the song from hitting airwaves when it was released in 1939.


Back in 2007, the gunshots in M.I.A.’s song “Paper Planes” were apparently too much for the sensitive, impressionable ears of MTV viewers.  The song, which was a response to the singer being denied a visa by the U.S. government, was also censored by Late Night with David Letterman during a performance.


Ciara’s 2010 music video “Ride” featured the singer riding a mechanical bull and dancing in a sexually suggestive manner.  Apparently, the visuals were entirely too sexy for BET, and they refused to air the video.

Donna Summer

The disco queen’s 1975 song “Love To Love You Baby” was banned by the BBC because they considered it too suggestive, what with all the moaning going on.

Sam Moore

When President Obama first ran for office, Sam Moore, one-half of the music duo Sam and Dave, asked that Obama stopped playing his song “Hold On, I’m Comin’” at rallies.  He wrote a letter to the would-be President saying he was pleased the country came far enough to consider a man of color for the presidency, but that he did not endorse Obama and his vote was a private matter.

Robin Thicke

Some universities in the U.K., like Edinburgh University, the University of Leeds, the University of West Scotland and the University of Derby banned Thicke’s hit song “Blurred Lines” due to its lyrical content, which they claimed promotes sexism and trivializes rape.

Nicki Minaj

BET refused to play the video for Minaj’s song “Stupid Hoe” from her Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded album, largely in part to the explicit lyrics repeated toward the end of the song: “f–k a stupid hoe.”

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